She can turn the world on with her smile. She can take a nothing day, yada yada yada. But when it comes to sprinting down a sidewalk, hurdling a rolled-up carpet carried by two workmen and flopping onto the pavement, Mary Tyler Moore would have been better off leaving the job to professionals. A stuntwoman was supposed to handle the scene, in which Moore's Mary Richards--now a 60-year-old widow--chases in high heels after a stray dog, but Moore decided to try the pratfall herself. "I became airborne and did a three-point landing," Moore says, and at one of those points, her right wrist, she broke two tiny bones: a metacarpal and the capitatum. The latter injury, quips Moore, "sounds like losing one's head, which is what I did when I suggested doing this stunt."
Say this, however, for Moore: if she's going to break her wrist, she will at least get her scene. And indeed the three-point landing makes it into Mary and Rhoda, the long-awaited--if ultimately disappointing--movie that revisits one of the most renowned friendships in TV. Having won an Oscar nomination (Ordinary People) and tried some unsuccessful series (e.g., New York News) since signing off as The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Richards in 1977, Moore two years ago began shopping around the idea of reviving the working-woman icon and her eccentric best pal, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper). Moore admits she once would have felt uncomfortable trying to re-create her 1970s success. "But then," Moore says, "I began to get more and more parts that fulfilled my need to do daring roles"--see her brilliant turn in 1996's Flirting with Disaster, in which she displayed her well-preserved upper torso for an embarrassed Ben Stiller. The reunion, she says, "is not going back. It's bringing into it all the age spots and the weather lines."
In demographic-happy television, of course, age spots and weather lines do not an automatic green light make, living legend or not. Moore took the idea to CBS, but the seven-year home of MTM passed. ABC bit instead, though it ultimately agreed only to a movie, not the series Moore and Harper hoped for. "Even four or six episodes, even short orders are a lot more money and a bigger gamble," Harper concedes. The network has, however, retained series rights. "We just hope it's a terrifically successful movie for the network, and then we can evaluate where we go from there," says Susan Lyne, ABC's executive vice president for motion pictures and mini-series.
The tension between wish and reality is written all over Mary and Rhoda, which, for a movie that's not a pilot, looks precisely like one. Granted, it's harsh to compare the movie with seven years of a sitcom great. Yet its script begs the comparison shamelessly. As on MTM, Mary is starting over after a longtime relationship (in New York City, after her Congressman husband's death) and lands a job in TV with an arrogant boss--this time a 33-year-old punk who's made his reputation with ghoulish reality shows.