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On the Fast Track With Mary Richards at MTM Enterprises

June 27, 1987|Jack Mathews

NEWS ITEM: MTM (Mary Tyler Moore) Enterprises has one of the worst records in the television industry for hiring women and for providing equal pay, according to an 18-month study commissioned by the Writers Guild of America, West. The study reported that in 1985, only 15% of MTM's writers were women and that the women earned, on average, only one-fifth as much as their male colleagues.

Somewhere in MTM's Studio City offices, a telephone rings.

"Mary Richards."

"Hello Mary, it's Lou."

"Oh, Mr. Grant, hi. How are things at the Trib?"

"I don't know, Mary. Sometimes I'm glad this is an imaginary newspaper. Nobody reads anymore anyway."

"Television is the only thing that's real, Mr. Grant. I thought you would have learned that by now."

"Yeah, well, listen Mary, the reason I'm calling is that the Writers Guild of America has just released this huge study on discrimination in film and TV. Among other things, it accuses MTM of having the worst record in television for hiring and paying women. Since I know a woman writer there, I thought I'd do the story myself."

"That's what I like about TV. Where else would you find a city editor who does his own stories?"

"So, how are things going there for you, Mary? When you left Minneapolis, you said the only thing you wanted to do more than write for TV news was to write for a TV production company. MTM is the greatest. I'd hate to think where you and I would have been without it."

"The shows here are fine, Mr. Grant. . . . Whoops, can you hold a sec? (long pause) . . . I'm back. The shows are fine, but frankly, I'm a little disappointed with the stuff I'm writing."

"Which show they got you on, 'St. Elsewhere?' 'Newhart?' "

"Neither one."

"Then you're doing the new 'Hill Street' spinoff. What's it called, 'Beverly Hills Runts?' "

"Buntz. 'Beverly Hills Buntz.' Hold on (pause). . . . No, I'm not writing for that, either."

"What then?"

"I'm writing mostly for Harold, Tom, Randy, Daryl and Bobby. Once in a while, I write for Burt, Elwood and Sonny."

"Geez, those are terrible titles. What kind of shows are they?"

"They're not shows. They're people. Just a second (pause). . . . They're the names of some of the other writers at MTM."

"They've assigned you to work with some more experienced writers, huh? That's good. We'd be doing the same thing at the Trib if the newspaper actually existed."

" 'Dear Mr. Friedrich: Enclosed is a check for $2,300 to cover the additional cost of leather upholstery for the 450SL I have on order. Please notify your service department that I would also like to have a telephone installed in the car at the time of delivery.' "

"What's that?"

"That's something I've just written for Randy. Do you want to hear what I'm writing now for Elwood? It's a letter to his ex-wife. He's upset because she wants an increase in child support."

"You're writing their personal letters?"

"Once in a while I write their business letters, too. I just wrote one to Brandon Stoddard for Daryl. He's trying to get a staff job at ABC. Sorry, there goes the phone again (pause). . . . I'm back."

"It's none of my business, Mary, but for a television writer you sure get a lot of telephone calls."

"It's not my phone, Mr. Grant. I'm at the front desk filling in for Carol. She had to run down to Ellie's Deli to get the boys some sandwiches."

"You're relieving a receptionist?"

"No, the receptionist's name is Mark. Carol's relieving him."

"Wait a minute, you've lost me. You're answering phones for a writer who's answering phones for a receptionist?"

"Well, Mark is actually doing Carol a favor. While Carol was ironing some of the boys' shirts the other day, she got an idea for a TV series. Mark is over at NBC pitching it for her right now."

"Keep going. You might say something I understand."

"It's really very simple. Whenever Carol or I come up with an idea for a series, we send Mark over to the networks to try to sell it for us. The network executives are a lot more comfortable with him."

"Because he's a guy?"

"No, because he's their age. He's 23. Carol's 42 and I'm . . . uh, Minneapolis was a long time ago, Mr. Grant. As one of the studio vice presidents once said to me, 'If I want to dish with an old broad, I'll call my mom.' "

"I can't believe I'm hearing this about a company with Mary Tyler Moore's name on it. She's the quintessential modern career woman. At least, that's her image. Have you talked to her about it?"

"No, but the guy who wrote this column we're in tried to reach her to ask about the charges in the Writers Guild report. One of the publicists here said MTM would not comment on it at all."

"Fiction is a lot more fun than real life, isn't it, Mary? Remember that show we did in Minneapolis where you found out the guy who had your job before you made more money than you were making and I said it was because he was a man and he needed more money?"

"Yeah, that was maddening. I can't imagine what it would be like to actually have to put up with that."

"Oh, well-- c'est la vie. I have to run now. I'm on deadline."

"What deadline, Mr. Grant? Your show was canceled in 1982. The Trib is out of business."

"I know, but I have to stay in shape. Maybe MTM will give me another series. I always thought it would have been fun to have Lou marry Mrs. Pinchon and take over running the whole newspaper. Imagine the fights they would have at home."

"Well, if they do, Mr. Grant, I'll be happy to take over for you as city editor. As long as I get the same salary you got."

"Of course, Mary. In fiction, you can do anything you want."

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