Since great television comedy always begins with the script, this series of posts considers the individual episodes that have claimed the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series over the years.
The Emmy Awards are known for a consistency that occasionally lapses into pure redundancy. The act of rewarding yearly excellence in a cultural field of ongoing endeavor will naturally lead to a certain amount of encore winners. A show that’s great one year is likely to still be at a similar enough quality level the next to merit similar accolades. Even so, a record of constant dominance in a category is impressive. Recent sitcoms have had their own strong runs, but few reached the peaks of adulation enjoyed by The Mary Tyler Moore Show across its seven season run. Among its many feats, The Mary Tyler Moore Show holds the title for most consecutive wins in the comedy series writing category, collecting the trophy in each of its final four years.
In that four year run, the first winner achieved its own odd place in the Emmy annals. Because the Television Academy kept restlessly rejiggering its awards in the nineteen-sixties and -seventies, the array of categories for the 1973-1974 season included a general series writing category in addition to the prizes delineated between drama and comedy, part of a strange initiative of so-called Super Emmys. And so Treva Silverman, credited writer of the Mary Tyler Moore episode “The Lou and Edie Story” won two Emmys for the same script.
“The Lou and Edie Story” was the fourth episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s fourth season. Like a lot of the comedy series Emmy victors over the years, the episode likely prevailed in the three nominee category (against two M*A*S*H episodes) because its skewed in the direction of drama. By this point in the run of the series, there was a certainty to the characters that actually made the comedy fairly easy to develop. Just the simplest reaction from, say, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) could get laughs because it carried with it an detailed background knowledge of the character’s traits and foibles. And the episode is structured around that strength expertly, crafting strong punchlines out of little more than the discomforted inability of television news staffer Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) to refer to her supervisor as anything other than Mr. Grant (Ed Asner).
What most distinguishes “The Lou and Edie Story,” though, genuinely setting it apart from the era’s norm, is the rather lengthy stretch in the last act in which the performers largely play it straight. The plot revolves around the relationship woes of Lou and his wife, Edie (Priscilla Morrill). Initially, the episode develops gentle jokes from the embarrassment Lou feels about seeing a marriage counselor and his awkwardness in sharing the information with workplace confidantes. As it moves on, it actually starts to examine the underlying concerns within the partnership, notably Edie’s yearning to figure out who she is as a person apart from the defining role of spouse, a reflection of the time’s women’s liberation movement that comes across as genuine and empathetic rather flagrant grasping at topicality that many shows tried in emulation of Norman Lear, the television creative titan of the day.
Just as the comedy became more secure as the characters locked, in, it was easier for a well-established series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show to provide the breathing room needed for a creative departure such as “The and Edie Story.” And the episode arguably provided the earliest proof that the character of Lou Grant — and the acting acumen of Asner — could prosper in a distinctly different genre if given the chance.
Other posts in this series can be found at the “Golden Words” tag.