New Documentary Shows Footage From ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ That CBS Wouldn’t Air

American actress Mary Tyler Moore, as Mary Richards, poses for a publicity portrait for the CBS situation comedy 'Mary Tyler Moore,' Studio City, Los Angeles, California, 1976.
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The world almost never got to witness the true magic of Mary Tyler Moore. A new documentary called Being Mary Tyler Moore shares the harsh reality that the iconic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show was almost scrapped by CBS after a bad test pilot. Reportedly, the test pilot featured Moore and Ed Asner but speaking different dialogues and in very different locations. It didn’t test well and CBS told them they had to fix it or it would never air.

Moore’s widower and an executive producer of the new documentary, Dr. Robert Levine shared, “It did not test well, and the network executives came to them and said, ‘Fix it.’ That test pilot just didn’t work in the way that the show could. Obviously, once they got all the kinks out, it definitely worked. It’s quite an extraordinary story the way we tell it in the movie.” The documentary will show rare footage from the test pilot, showing Moore in Minneapolis, interviewing for a job at the local news station. It had a similar premise but it was basically a bad first draft.

MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Mary Tyler Moore, 1970-1977, typewriter

Everett Collection

Levine added, “They really didn’t do too much. As Jim says in the documentary, they shifted some lines around and cut it down, which is what it needed. They also had Phyllis’s daughter, Bess, express affection for Rhoda, which automatically made her character more likable.” They also got rid of Moore’s narration in the beginning and let the story lead the way. The unaired test pilot isn’t the only rare footage fans can see in the new documentary. As producers were going through footage for the film, they found things they weren’t aware even existed anymore.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Mary Tyler Moore, 1970-77

Everett Collection

Instead of the traditional documentary style of cutting back and forth between footage and interviews, the film always focuses on Moore. Celebrities including Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oprah Winfrey talk about Moore but are never seen. Instead, the film keeps the focus on photos, videos, and clips of Moore, including some footage that Levine found in the basement next to the furnace.

While Moore had a very successful career, including starring in films with the late Elvis Presley, she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1969 and eventually developed Diabetic Retinal Disease. Her husband fondly remembers, “But she fought through it. She took a number of tumbles, because she refused to be stopped. Ultimately she accepted help and pulled back, because she really had no choice. But it was very, very hard for her.” After her death in 2017, he established the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative, to help find a cure for the disease. Click here to donate to the cause or learn more about it.

Being Mary Tyler Moore premieres on Friday, May 26 on HBO and Max.

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