May 18, 2021

Mary and Rhoda and Gordie the Weatherman: 1970s Hip Sitcoms

During the 1970s, the success of All in the Family led to a fad for sitcoms with hip, relevant, "mature" themes.  Most were set in "real places,"  not New York or L.A., and juxtaposed the work and home lives of young adult professionals (if they were white) or poor families (if they were African-American).

All of the adults watched, but kids were leery, unless there were teenagers in the cast.

But who wanted to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), with the former star of  The Dick Van Dyke Show as a Minneapolis tv writer, when the other channel had The Most Deadly Game, with gay actor George Maharis (left) as a crime-fighting criminologist?

Or The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), about a psychologist with wacky patients, when the other channel had The Streets of San Francisco, with the hunky Michael Douglas as a detective?

Or Rhoda, Phyllis, Maud, Good Times, That's My Mama, MASH, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, Archie Bunker's Place....

So I didn't begin watching until 1974, when I was in ninth grade and trying to fit in with a hipster crowd, and then only occasionally, when I had nothing else to do.  I found some gay content.

1. Beefcake.  Not a lot, but occasional bulges or hints of hairy chests. Paul Sand had a hot older brother.  Joe (David Groh), the contractor who married Rhoda, deserved special attention.

As did John Amos, who played Gordie the Weatherman on Mary Tyler Moore before scoring his own sitcom, Good Times.  He also starred as the older Kunta Kinte on Roots (1977).

2. Bonding.  I missed the overt homoromantic bond between Mary and Rhoda on Mary Tyler Moore (left), but what about Hawkeye and Trapper John on MASH, or odd couple Chico and Ed on Chico and the Man?

3. Gay-vague characters. Not a lot, but I wondered about Howard Borden (Bill Daily, right), the next-door  neighbor who dropped in every five seconds on The Bob Newhart Show.  Bill Daily also played Tony Nelson's best friend on I Dream of Jeannie, and Leif Garrett's boyfriend on an episode of Chips..

4. The first gay characters on television.


  1. Um, Mary Richards was a tv news producer (she started out as the associate producer, then was promoted around 1976), not a tv writer.

  2. David Ghro was a fine looking man

  3. "Crime-fighting criminologist" redundancy made my brain hurt.

    1. Not redundant. A criminologist studies the causes of criminal activity, such as neighborhood, family dynamics, and subculture. They work in universities. They don't go out into the field and actually "fight" crime; that would be a police officer.

  4. Crime-fighting criminologist?

    Nick at Nite to the rescue! Yeah, I definitely remember Mary Tyler Moore and Laverne and Shirley and the like.

    Mature TV was weird for my generation. You watched fanservicey beach shows, you watched Xena (and yes, we all knew she and Gabrielle were lovers, and no one speculated Hercules and Iolaus despite the source material) and fanservicey knockoffs. (Beastmaster, another tipoff I liked dudes.) And 90210 and Melrose Place. Sign you're rich: Every cable network carried at least the same four premium channels: HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Disney. If you have them, you watch HBO and at least one of the others, but not Disney. HBO has plenty of intellectual content, Cinemax and Showtime have naked people, Disney has nothing.

    I remember Ally McBeal, about a single female lawyer, though. I saw bits of Northern Exposure, if you were an Indian, Darren Burrows was another "well he should be" actor. (For the unfamiliar, he played genius ditz Ed. Feel free to write Asperger's headcanons.) I remember Picket Fences. I remember CBS and A&E being "old people TV". I remember PBS being a mix of nature and anthropology shows, "baby TV", and "old people TV".

    I definitely remember uncensored movies, sometimes on Bravo!. A movie was always censored on broadcast TV but not necessarily cable, the logic being that your kids weren't able to watch it if you didn't sign up for it. Country families all had cable or satellite. You could tell censorship was absent by the presence of bare genitalia, but on premium channels or the rare basic cable examples, networks often censored penises and kept vulva in, under the logic that pubic hair hides female genitalia better (but really because the men in the audience are straight and wish to stay that way). So you have this funny thing of me watching a movie then renting it for some cock that I felt deprived of. Terminator, Blue Lagoon...


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