A comedy special made CBS offer Mary Tyler Moore a thirteen-episode deal for the Mary Tyler Moore Show

By the time Mary Tyler Moore finished her run on The Dick Van Dyke Show, it wasn’t immediately clear when or if we’d ever see her on our television screens again. However, it was actually the love and appreciation that she got from her fans that led her into the next venture that was sure to change her life: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

According to Sally Bedell Smith’s book, Up The Tube: Prime-Time TV and the Silverman Years, The Dick Van Dyke Show ended by Van Dyke’s choice, as he had decided to move on from the show in 1966. After this, Moore departed from television to go to Broadway before starring in a few different films. However, in 1969, Van Dyke was starring in a comedy special on CBS and invited Moore to co-star with him.

Apparently, the reunion was wildly popular, and Moore’s stage presence was just as powerful as ever. More importantly, the reunion gave CBS executives an idea. Smith wrote, “When the show earned both big ratings and rave reviews, CBS offered Moore a tantalizing commitment deal. If she would do a series, they would guarantee to buy thirteen episodes for the 1970 season.”

You might notice that there’s one thing missing from this series proposition: A plot. CBS was so confident in Moore’s success and promise as an actress that they were willing to sign on for thirteen episodes with nothing assured but Moore’s presence in the series. At that point, Moore’s husband Grant Tinker, former programming chief of NBC, teamed up with Moore’s manager, Arthur Price to hire James Brooks and Allan Burns, two writers tasked with creating a series for Moore to star in. There, Brooks and Burns slowly conceived the bones of what would become The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

This doesn’t mean that the show went off without a hitch from conception to production. Brooks and Burns originally planned for Mary Richards to be a divorcee, which CBS executives balked at. After a meeting with executives had gone awry, Brooks and Burns told CBS programmer Alan Wagner that they wanted to quit.

Still, Wagner and Tinker worked together to reach a compromise. It was decided that Mary Richards would come to Minneapolis after a broken engagement, not a marriage. Executives also tried to push back at other aspects of the show, like the Minneapolis setting, but Tinker persevered and eventually won the battle to keep many elements of the show true to the vision of Brooks and Burns.