‘Gruff but with a tender heart’ is the clichéd shorthand for these blokes with their sleeves rolled up and, in the old days, a cigarette dangling from their mouth or placed behind an ear.
These streetwise guys were always the beating hearts of busy newsrooms, dishing up the daily diet of violence and murders, occasional lurid sex scandals and more pedestrian stuff such as city council reports.
One of the most memorable newsmen in popular culture was a character called Lou Grant onin the 1970s. He was played by Ed Asner who died last month at the grand old age of 91. He went on to star in a TV show, , such was the popularity of this paunchy character.
But it was, starring a character called Mary Richards, who worked for Lou Grant on a fictional news programme in Minneapolis, that captivated me.
Quite simply, I wanted to be Mary, who wasn’t looking after a bunch of squally children but rather, working as a single, independent woman focused on her career.
We loved her apartment. This was an era in Ireland where a single woman, away from home, would live in a bedsit, or, if they were lucky, a flat. (Think linoleum-covered floors and brown Dralon furniture - death.) Apartments were, to our eyes, an American phenomenon, and therefore sophisticated. They were impossibly glamorous places where parties were thrown and life was lived as an adventure in a big city pad.
A career in TV, a la Mary, was the epitome of sophistication. Astonishingly, the actress created quite a stir when she appeared in ‘’ in the 1960s in trousers, or more specifically, Capri pants. This created such a stir that the writers of the programme limited her to one pant scene an episode. The problem was all about the butt. It made advertisers nervy. They used a term ‘cupping under.’ They didn’t like to see too much definition of Mary’s bum. Such twisted thinking.
Mary Tyler Moore didn’t demand the wearing of trousers as a feminist stance. Rather, she wanted the programme to reflect reality.
“I’ve seen all the other actresses and they’re always running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on - and I don’t do that. And I don’t know any of my friends who do that. So why don’t we try to make this real? And I’ll dress on the show the way I do in real life.”
Crikey, some of the battles women had to fight seem so petty now.
‘’ was regarded as ground-breaking in the era of second-wave feminism. It earned numerous awards. This was partly due to the fact that it had complex realistic characters and storylines as opposed to the more usual simplistic plots and unremarkable characterisations typically seen on television at that time.
While in jail, Mary befriends a prostitute who sought her help in a subsequent episode. And in a much lauded episode, Betty Ford made history by becoming the first First Lady to appear on a TV sitcom in a cameo role.
The makers ofmust have had great fun, throwing everything at it including Mary overcoming an addiction to sleeping pills.
Over the course of the show, Mary dated a number of men and got engaged twice. But she remained single throughout the series.
Initially, the plan was for Mary to be divorced, but, get this - divorce was still controversial at the time!
The cultural impact ofwas considerable. In 2007, magazine put it on its list of ‘ ’. It said that the series ‘liberated TV for adults - of both sexes’.
When the writers of the sitcomwere planning their series finale, they watched a number of other sitcom finales. One of the creators of said that the last episode of was the ‘gold standard’ and that it influenced the finale of .
So much for. You thought that was ground-breaking? had more at stake in a conservative era when getting married was the goal of most women. Mary literally and metaphorically wore the trousers with great attitude.