The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
Type: Spin Off
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the biggest sitcom hits of the 1970's and it spawned several spin offs, some of which did well and others that did not. Phyllis would make up the "did not" contingent.
Phyllis Lindstrom as played by Cloris Leachman started on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as lead character Mary Richard's friend and downstairs neighbor. Phyllis was a pushy busybody who was married to the often mentioned but never seen Lars. She had a daughter named Bess and, given how modern and mature their relationship was, Bess called Phyllis by name rather than calling her "Mom".
Phyllis served as a nice contrast to Mary's other friend and upstairs neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern. Rhoda was young, single, on the look for a man, worried about her weight and as unpretentious as they come. Phyllis was the opposite - a sort of middle class yin to Rhoda's city yang. She was older, married, always throwing her marriage in her single friends' faces, slim and pretentious as hell. Rhoda left the show for her own spin off in 1974 which met with immediate success. Given its success and probably the fact that Phyllis now had no one to balance out her behavior, the decision was made to try and duplicate Rhoda's success by spinning off Phyllis into her own show.
Like Rhoda did in her spin off, Phyllis moved back to her hometown. Phyllis' move was due to the death of her husband Lars. Where Rhoda was from New York, Phyllis was appropriately enough from the opposite side of the country - San Francisco. There Phyllis moved in with her mother-in-law and her husband.
Here's the problem though. You can take a feisty New Yorker like Rhoda, give her a show about her blossoming romance and it will work. Rhoda is likable and people want to watch and see if everything works out. But Phyllis? You cannot take a nosy busybody like Phyllis, upset her life by killing her husband and expect people to want to watch. It's a depressing starting point. Plus Phyllis isn't all that likable. It's one thing to have her as a supporting character where you see her just enough so that she is funny without becoming unlikable. But to center an entire show on her? Nope. Not even the great Cloris Leachman could pull that off. People don't usually go for shows centering on a character they don't really like a lot! At best Phyllis was a character you liked moderately.
The only way that might work would be if they reworked the character and even that wouldn't work. First, you'd have already have lost all the people who didn't care for Phyllis. They wouldn't know changes were in the offing, just that the show was about Phyllis. So then you'd be left with that part of the audience who did like her character and would probably not appreciate any changes made. Fiddling with characters is bad and the show Rhoda is proof of that. It started off huge and as the character of Rhoda and the show got fiddled with, the audience dropped off. The bottom line was that as a series Phyllis just wasn't going to really work. It did go two seasons but that's it.
Phyllis did return to The Mary Tyler Moore Show one last time for its final episode. In it, Mary and all her coworkers at TV station WJM are fired with the exception of anchorman Ted Baxter, the only person on the staff who was in fact sort of incompetent! Phyllis and Rhoda both returned to offer the fired Mary moral support. It also would not have been right to end the series without having all of the original cast on hand.Other Mary Tyler Moore Show Crossover Links
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda
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