That Girl is an American sitcom that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. It starred Marlo Thomas as the title character Ann Marie, an aspiring (but only sporadically employed) actress, who moves from her hometown of Brewster, New York, to try to make it big in New York City. Ann has to take a number of offbeat "temp" jobs to support herself in between her various auditions and bit parts. Ted Bessell played her boyfriend Donald Hollinger, a writer for Newsview Magazine..."The Mary Tyler Moore Show" did not begin until 1970. Look how similar the opening credits are for the 2 shows:
That Girl was one of the first sitcoms to focus on a single woman who was not a domestic or living with her parents. Some consider this show the forerunner of the highly successful The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and an early indication of the changing roles of American women in feminist-era America...
At the end of the 1969–1970 season, That Girl was still doing moderately well in the ratings, but after four years Thomas had grown tired of the series and wanted to move on. ABC convinced her to do one more year. In the beginning of the fifth season, Don and Ann became engaged, but they never actually married. The decision to leave the couple engaged at the end of the run was largely the idea of Thomas. She did not want to send a message to young women that marriage was the ultimate goal for them, and she worried that it would have undercut the somewhat feminist message of the show.
When I first saw the MTM opening credits I wondered how could they get away with such a rip-off. Also, I think MTM was a throwback to the 1960s and actively old, not new at all. Now, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" turned out to be a great, great show, undoubtedly one of the best shows in the history of television. I just hate to see descriptions of it that give credit for being ahead of its time. It followed "That Girl."
Here's how one NYT piece accounted for "That Girl":
Her predecessor, Ann Marie of “That Girl,” played by Marlo Thomas, was our first television singleton, but paired from the get-go with her boyfriend, Donald. She made her debut in the 1960s, a period that for women on the small screen was still the dark ages. Mary Richards had boyfriends, but they were ancillary to her real life, which played out at work.Mary's home life was also important. 2 of the main secondary characters — both women — were seen in the home setting. Mary was often getting ready to go out with men, we just saw little of those men, and there was no significant cast member to be the boyfriend. A good advance over "That Girl."
At a time when women's liberation was catching on worldwide, [Mary Tyler Moore's] character brought to TV audiences an independent, 1970s career woman. Other than Marlo Thomas' 1960s sitcom character "That Girl," who at least had a steady boyfriend, there were few precedents.The writer at Fox News, Robert Thompson, observes:
The norm for female characters in the early decades of television was in the role of “housewife” on shows like "Father Knows Best," "Leave it to Beaver," and "The Donna Reed Show." But there was a smattering of mature single women, even in the time before Mary Richards.Here's Linda Holmes at NPR:
In the 1950s, the leading character in "Our Miss Brooks" was an outspoken and confident high school English teacher. On "The Lucy Show," in the 1960s, Lucy, a widow, worked in a bank and lived with her divorced best friend. The principal goal of Miss Brooks, however, was to snag a marriage proposal from the dreamy but clueless biology teacher, and the hunt for husbands was also on the top of the agenda of both Lucy and Vivian.
"That Girl," which debuted in 1966, seemed at the time to be a groundbreaking series about an “independent woman.” It featured Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, an aspiring actress who’d left her suburban home to try to make it in the big city. But still—whenever she got into a jam, she always looked for help from not one, but two men: her father (whom she called “Daddy”) and her fiancé.
"That Girl" was still on the air when "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" debuted in 1970, and suddenly the show didn’t seem so groundbreaking and Ann Marie didn’t seem so independent. Mary Richards had a father, but he played very little role in the show. She went on dates with men, but had no steady boyfriend.
In fact, romance and matrimony seemed to be low on her list of priorities. The traditional husband-seeking gags fell to Rhoda, her upstairs neighbor. Mary was focused on her career, which she pursued with competence and dedication, and her colleagues at the local TV news show where she worked became her surrogate family.
Mary Richards was not TV's first working woman, or its first woman on her own. But before Mary, if you saw a woman without a partner at the center of a TV comedy, she was probably a widow, like Diahann Carroll's single mom on Julia or Lucille Ball on the show she did after I Love Lucy, which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, called The Lucy Show.At Vulture:
Mary didn't have a living husband, a dead husband, an ex-husband, or even a permanent boyfriend like Marlo Thomas did on That Girl. It wasn't that she didn't want one. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong wrote Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of the show. And in 2013, she told NPR how Mary stayed single for so long: The show tried out some possible boyfriends, but "no one was good enough for her."
There were programs before The Mary Tyler Moore Show that focused on women who were employed. Our Miss Brooks, which made the leap from radio to television in the early 1950s, starred Eve Arden as a witty high-school teacher. Julia starred Diahann Carroll — the rare African-American female lead on prime time television — as a nurse and ran on NBC from 1968 to 1971. That Girl, the Marlo Thomas comedy about a single woman trying to make it on her own in New York, is considered a forerunner to Mary Tyler Moore (James L. Brooks wrote for That Girl before creating the latter series), but Thomas’s Ann Marie was an aspiring actress who hopscotched through temp jobs. She didn’t represent a career woman in the same way Mary Richards did, who worked for the same station for the duration of the series.At The Guardian, here's John Patterson:
Unlike Julia, who was a widower, Mary had never been married. Unlike Ann Marie, she had a consistent job. And unlike Connie Brooks, Mary Richards was working in a position that was not typically given to women. The fact that Moore took on such a role when she was previously known for doing what most women on television did at the time — playing the housewife — made the evolution to working girl that much more significant.
As Mary Richards, Moore showed that a professional single woman in her early 30s could live alone and happily; date lots of men without being on a perpetual husband hunt; and could keep the coolest head in her male-dominated professional environment. Richards was not quite the first happy, single woman on American television. That honor goes to Marlo Thomas on the 1960s show That Girl! But Thomas, for all her pathbreaking charm, was also the daughter of an enormously influential TV executive, Danny Thomas. Moore, however, was the co-founder, with her husband Grant Tinker, of MTM (with its cute meowing-kitty logo satirizing MGM’s roaring lion), and was thus her own producer. That made her not just a pop culture feminist icon, but a powerhouse figure in network television.Here's Susan Silver (who wrote for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"):
In the beginning days of feminism, early 1970s... [t]he only comediennes were either second bananas, like Rose Marie or Imogene Coca, and neither was known for her looks. Lucille Ball was a comedy icon and businesswoman, but her characters were more slapstick. Finally, Marlo Thomas broke the mold with her unmarried career woman, Ann Marie in That Girl.And here's Marlo herself:
"I'm proud that we were in that groundbreaking sorority that brought single independent women to television. She will be deeply missed."