1 9 7 4 – 1 9 7 8 (USA)
109 x 30 minute episodes
“My name is Rhoda Morganstern. I was born in the Bronx, New York in December, 1941. I’ve always felt responsible for World War II. The first thing that I remember liking that liked me back was food. I had a bad puberty, it lasted seventeen years. I’m a high school graduate. I went to art school – my entrance exam was on a book of matches. I decided to move out of the house when I was twenty-four. My mother still refers to this as the time I ran away from home. Eventually, I ran to Minneapolis where it’s cold, and I figured I’d keep better. Now I’m back in Manhattan. New York, this is your last chance.”
The first of three spin-offs from the highly successful Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda was created as a vehicle for Valerie Harper, who had played Mary’s delightfully realistic best friend and upstairs neighbour, Rhoda Morgenstern.
The series – which debuted on CBS on Monday 9 September 1974 – starred Harper in the title role and began when Rhoda returned to New York City, her hometown, after having lived in Minneapolis for several years.
When audiences first met Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she had been a sharp-tongued, overweight and insecure young woman.
By the time of her homecoming, Rhoda had slimmed down and begun dressing more fashionably. Luckily her new self-confidence never diminished her facility for snappy wisecracks.
To provide contrast for Rhoda’s new, improved image, her overweight and insecure younger sister, bank teller Brenda (Julie Kavner), was her roommate in the show’s early episodes.
First-season plots followed a blossoming romance between Rhoda and handsome Joe Gerard (David Groh), who owned the New York Wrecking Company and was the divorced father of ten-year-old Donny (Todd Turquand).
The romance culminated in a special one-hour episode chronicling the couple’s marriage; the episode achieved stellar ratings on 28 October 1974
However, the writers of Rhoda found it difficult to wring much humour from the story of a happily married couple and once the wedding was out of the way, the show’s ratings began to decline.
For a while, the show’s focus shifted to Brenda’s troubled search for romance and to Rhoda’s career as the co-owner of a window-dressing company with her shy childhood friend Myrna (Barbara Sharma).
After two seasons of marital bliss proved not conducive to sitcom humour, Joe and Rhoda separated.
Thereafter, viewers followed their lives as unattached singles until Joe had been phased out entirely by the end of the third season.
Rhoda found a new friend in 39-year-old divorced airline stewardess Sally Gallagher (Anne Meara), and both she and Brenda were frequently escorted by platonic friend Gary Levy (Ron Silver). In the middle of that season, Rhoda began an off-again, on-again romance with egocentric Las Vegas-based entertainer Johnny Venture (Michael Delano).
At the start of the fourth season, Rhoda had a new job working for the Doyle Costume Company owned by Jack Doyle (Ken McMillan) and Brenda had a steady boyfriend called Benny (Ray Buktenica).
In a last reach for ratings at the start of the final season, Rhoda’s overly protective mother, Ida (Nancy Walker) was separated from Martin (Harold Gould), her husband of many decades.
Although Rhoda never achieved as much popularity as the series that had spawned it, the show is remembered fondly for its insights into the difficulties of married and single life in the big city.
Rhoda also introduced TV viewers to such future stars as Julie Kavner and Lorenzo Music (a former writer for The Mary Tyler Moore Show), who played the voice of the never-seen but always intoxicated doorman Carlton, who would preface every conversation through the intercom with “This is Carlton, your doorman”.
Lorenzo Music would later be well known as the voice of the animated cat Garfield but sadly passed away in 2001 of lung cancer.
Valerie Harper passed away, aged 80, on 30 August 2019.
Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard
Carlton The Doorman