PBS will air "Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration" tonight at 7 p.m.
PBS will air "Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration" tonight at 7 p.m.

Milwaukee producers present Mary Tyler Moore special on PBS

One tip for success is to surround yourself with good people. And if you are able to endear yourself to those folks, they will tell everyone else they know about how wonderful of a person you are.

That’s what happens in "Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration," a special production that airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday night on PBS. Television acting legends Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Gavin MacLeod, Valerie Harper and others share their love and appreciation for Moore, who some would say was America’s first television sweetheart.

"It just came together," said Steve Boettcher, who produced the special with Michael J. Trinklein. "The key players in her life had great stories to tell."

The Milwaukee-based pair and their production crew literally went through all of Moore’s career to pull some of the gems used in the presentation. That meant they had to watch every episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the latter featuring the actress as the single, working woman surrounded by wonderful characters at WJW-TV in Minneapolis.

For Moore, the spotlight started following her when Reiner cast the then-unknown actress as Van Dyke's wife. 

"That show was supposed to be about the dynamics of the office of the writers," Boettcher said. "But it was Laura Petrie (Moore’s character) that stole the show. It, instead, became a family show, a husband and wife show."

Boettcher said that actor John Amos noted those programs that Moore was known for became the stick that sitcoms of today don’t measure up to.

"Those shows still hold up," Boettcher said. "They are still watched today."

It is no secret that Oprah Winfrey is a huge Mary Tyler Moore fan. When her talk show aired locally on WISN-TV Ch. 12, her crew recreated Moore’s apartment set from "The Mary Tyler Moore" show. She was given a large "O" to put on her wall that was in homage to the "M" that hung in the TV show’s apartment.

"(Winfrey) is very busy," Boettcher said, "but she was excited to sit down with us and tell us how much that show meant to her."

One of the most telling moments of the special is when Moore said that she always considered herself an actress, one who was fed the lines by talented writers. Beyond that, Moore was instrumental as a trailblazer in television. She was both feminine and funny, breaking through old stereotypes and laying the foundation for many comediennes and actresses to come.

She also hired some of the greatest writers in the business. The special does a wonderful job of telling the story when her show came to an end. It wasn’t because of lack of an audience or poor ratings; it simply ended because the writers wanted to move on to something different. The writers wanted to find other successes. As Moore puts it, "They went on and did ‘Taxi.’"

As Moore’s health wanes, Boettcher said it was important for the special to be produced now.

"We wanted her to see it, to enjoy it," he said.

Part of the formula that Boettcher and Trinklein have become known for is the level of reverence and respect they have for the content they cull and produce. They interview the stars for hours and pore through incredible archives to put the "Pioneers of Television" set of shows together.

By going through the process – starting with the likes of Milton Berle and Sid Caesar and going up through Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano – they have more than a room full of material.

"We are really curators," Boettcher said. "What we have captured is the roots of television, and that’s through the people who were on the front lines."

Those stars that have become household names are members of an extended family. The land of make-believe is a place all of us have escaped to at one time or another. Seeing those faces and hearing those familiar voices is like settling into a favorite seat in our living room. We find comfort in these connections.

The celebration of the 45th anniversary of the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" comes with the special, showing just how much of an icon the actress was and is in our collective consciousness.

It is wonderful gaining greater insight and becoming more connected through scenes, stories and tears of the people Moore surrounded herself with. Watching Ted Knight master his craft, Ed Asner giving "Ol’ Mare" a huge hug or Dick Van Dyke dance with his favorite lady brings back a flood of memories. But it also bares a bit of our soul and becomes a touchstone to mark a truly special time in the golden age of television.

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