Every reference you probably missed on The Mary Tyler Moore Show programming board
The Mary Tyler Moore Show introduced us to a cast of characters working at a TV station called WJM in Minneapolis. It took us behind the scenes of how TV was made, quickly becoming one of the best workplace sitcoms that ever aired. In a memorable scene from the third season episode "Who's in Charge Here?," the show even once flashed its internal programming board, giving us a glimpse at what WJM was showing its viewers and what we could be watching if we got WJM on our own TVs.
The episode is memorable because in it, Lou Grant gets promoted to program manager and Mary must decide (or at least she thinks she must) whether or not she wants Lou's old job as a producer. As Mary tangles with this professional choice, Lou decides to make some major shifts in the station's program, most notably shifting the news hour to try to catch new viewers. Mary and Murray, who actually ends up getting the producer gig before Mary makes her own call, try to talk Lou down from the radical changes. This is when we get a closeup of the WJM programming schedule, and if you paused the screen or read the board quicky enough, there are some pop culture references to catch.
First, perhaps most noticeably, a core part of Lou Grant's programming is reruns of Gilligan's Island! You can see Lou's master plan puts Gilligan and all the castaways at 3PM, directly following Homemaking and just before Coast to Coast.
What's interesting about the homemaking program for fans of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is that by this point, the character of Sue Ann Nivens has not yet been introduced. So instead of The Happy Homemaker, Lou's schedule reads Homemaking with Mimi Kirk. It's unlikely that name would ring a bell, but Mimi Kirk actually is the name of an actress who appeared once on the show. In the very first season, she played a phone girl in the episode "The Snow Must Go On," and Mary actually refers to her by her real name in her very brief scene. (In that way, we can pretend the phone girl got promoted at WJM even more quickly then Mary!)
That first season episode featuring Mimi Kirk is notably the first time we see Chuckles the Clown on the series, and he pops up again here as part of Lou's genius programming finagling. He argues they should move Chuckles before the sporting show and after another classic series WJM loves enough to show in reruns: My Mother the Car.
This sitcom actually has a direct tie-in to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as it was co-created by Alan Burns, who also co-created The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Much like Gilligan's Island and Burns' other sitcom The Munsters, the sitcom My Mother the Car had a highly imaginative concept, following a man's relationship with his mother, who happens to be a 1928 Porter automobile. Jerry Van Dyke starred in this series, and he actually turned down the role of Gilligan to do it, which is how Bob Denver came to land the iconic role instead.
Perhaps Lou Grant's programming board was trying to clue us into that connection between the two Sixties series? Either way, we delighted in taking a moment to appreciate how this particular programming manager put together his dream TV schedule.