Brash, outspoken and an independent woman, this gal pal of Mary’s became the focus of a spin-off in the sitcom Rhoda.
Starring Valerie Harper, the half hour comedy was taken from her character as one of Mary Richard’s gal pals on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she was very popular with viewers as the outspoken neighbour from New York City.
Launched in 1974 on CBS TV, Rhoda Morgenstern goes back to her native NYC on holiday, spending time with her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner). She meets Joe (David Groh), a recently divorced Dad, who at the end of her two week holiday asks her stay in New York City.
The debut episode of Rhoda is the only first episode of a series ever to have hit number one in the Nielsen ratings, besting Monday Night Football for the record.
Initially Rhoda lives with Brenda, dates Joe and babysits his son, as well as dealing her Mother (Nancy Walker). She then moves in with her parents, but realizes that won’t work and then decides to live with Joe.
But the two of them decide to get married, and the hour-long wedding episode became the most-watched television episode until 1977, when mini-series Roots aired. It also became the second most watched episode of all time in television at the time, after the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.
Fans were so excited for Rhoda and Joe, they hosted parties to celebrate and watch the episode and gifts were sent to CBS to the fictional couple.
For the next couple of seasons, the viewers loved the married life of Rhoda and Joe, but the writers weren’t as thrilled. Deciding to upset the apple cart, Joe was shown less and less in the series and then the couple was separated. Eventually the couple divorced, with the focus back on insecure single gal Rhoda, her sister Brenda and her parents.
Viewers kept with Rhoda, but by the fifth season, the obsession was gone. CBS moved the show to another time slot and then cancelled the series in 1978 in mid-season.
I remember watching Rhoda all the time – especially to see her relationship with her sister Brenda, who was insecure and a self-doubter. It fascinated me as I didn’t have a sister.
But although the series was cancelled, Valerie Harper’s portrayal of a single woman and the trials of tribulations of being an independent woman in the 1970s was an accurate, comedic showing of the change in women’s reality and portrayal on television.