Within hours of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing last Wednesday, several tributes to her legendary TV career were planned. CBS, home to both The Dick Van Dyke Show (which co-starred Moore) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was the first — airing an hourlong tribute to Moore on Thursday night at 9pm that might have been better off saving until Friday to give themselves more time to put together.
It’s widely known that Oprah Winfrey is one of Moore’s biggest fans. Moore called into Winfrey’s daytime talk show in 1993 after hearing about her homage to the Mary Tyler Moore Show opening theme, surprised Oprah in 1997 (both the call and homage are in that clip) and made a final appearance in 2008 with the surviving cast of her eponymous 1970s sitcom. So it would make sense that Winfrey factor into any such tribute.
But for 23 minutes (including commercial breaks)?
Had the special been called Oprah Winfrey Salutes Mary Tyler Moore, she and gal pal Gayle King (who hosted) could have gabbed on and on for the entire hour and it would have been a fun, loving tribute from two accomplished women in their own right who were clearly very influenced by Moore and her work.
But the Oprah focus took away time that could have been better spent on Moore’s life after The Mary Tyler Moore Show, her charitable work (with interviews from spokespeople about how she brought awareness to the disease) and her lifelong struggle with diabetes (with something about it affected her later years and how she kept going). Instead, most of what was even said about any of that was tacked on at the end as if was included only because they would be remiss not to — which they would have been.
Oprah herself, at least on twitter, took some heat for taking up so much of the special. But in giving her the benefit of the doubt, I can’t imagine she would have known how much she would have factored into it until it was too late. But it’s always fun to watch Oprah and Gayle interact, so my only issue with those segments was their length because there were a lot of opportunities missed to either involve more of Van Dyke (who was none too pleased about the hour), Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke Show writer Bill Persky or any surviving co-stars from either series.
Instead, we get an author of a book on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and a movie critic from CBS’s morning show. Taking nothing away from them, that they factor more or even just as much as Van Dyke or Reiner or Persky is a major misstep.
To the special’s credit, it’s full of great clips from both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But at a certain point, it might have just been best to just let Moore’s work speak for itself with a montage of some of her best moments from both shows. Or, like Sundance TV with their 12-hour marathon of the final season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday, Me-TV with their three-hour of marathon of the best from The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Sunday and Decades with their weekend binge of The Mary Tyler Moore Show this coming weekend, simply run a mini-marathon of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a Saturday night — where the show ran at 9pm from 1970 to 1977.
Because what better way than mere words is there to tribute an icon like Mary Tyler Moore than by continuing to introduce her and her work to new audiences.
It’s certainly better than rushing to get a tribute on the air that might have benefited from an extra day to pull a few additional elements together that would have made for a better tribute.