Mary Richards, born in Roseburg, Minnesota in April 1939, is the only child of Walter and Dottie Richards. Prior to relocating to Minneapolis, she was engaged to a medical student named Bill whom she left after realizing that he would probably never want to get married.
After arriving in Minneapolis, Mary leases an apartment in a house from her friend, Phyllis Lindstrom. Also leasing an attic loft from Phyllis is Rhoda Morgenstern, with whom Mary becomes fast friends. Mary also bonds with Phyllis's precocious daughter, Bess.
Mary applies for a secretarial job at television station WJM-TV, the area's lowest rated station. After meeting with news producer Lou Grant, she is informed that the position has been filled but she is hired as an Associate Producer. Later, Mary is promoted to News Producer when Lou becomes the station's news director. While at WJM, she quickly becomes friends with news writer Murray Slaughter and the vain (and incompetent) news anchor, Ted Baxter. Within the office, Mary is often the voice of reason. Lou, who is always referred to by Mary as "Mr. Grant", later develops an adoration and almost-fatherly relationship with Mary.
In the final episode of the series, the entire newsroom staff lose their jobs in an effort to boost sagging ratings. Ted, ironically, keeps his job, despite being the primary cause for the low ratings.
Mary Richards makes several guest appearances on the spinoffs Rhoda and Phyllis via visits to New York or San Francisco, respectively, or in scenes via telephone. During one of her visits to San Francisco, she becomes friends with Phyllis's main nemesis, "Mother Dexter". In the opening scene to the pilot of Rhoda, Mary Richards accompanies Rhoda to the Minneapolis airport to see her off, but this scene was not shown in U.S. syndication, nor in the DVD release of Rhoda.
Mary and Rhoda
As revealed in the 2000 made-for-television movie Mary and Rhoda, following her departure from WJM-TV in Minneapolis as a news producer, Mary earned a master's degree in journalism and worked as a studio producer for ABC News in New York. She also married a congressman named Steven Cronin, with whom she had a daughter, Rose, circa 1980. She worked until her daughter, Rose, was 12 and she decided to quit her job to spend more time at home.
After her husband's death in a rock climbing accident in 1999, Mary discovered that her husband squandered their money in his reelection campaigns. By this time, Mary's daughter Rose was an English major at NYU. After spending time in Europe, Mary returned home to New York City in 2000 and reconnected with her best friend Rhoda, who was also returning to New York City after having lived for a time in Paris. Looking for a job again for the first time in years, Mary was hired as a segment producer for WNYT in New York. There she worked under the station founder, Jonah Seimeier, who was little more than half Mary's age.
Mary Richards was initially intended to be a divorcée. However, divorce was still controversial at the time, and because CBS was afraid viewers might think that Mary had divorced Rob Petrie, Mary's fictional husband on The Dick Van Dyke Show (which also aired on CBS), the premise was changed to that of a single woman with a recently broken engagement. According to MTM Show co-creator Allan Burns, Minnesota was selected to be Mary's home after "one of the writers began talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the Vikings." A television newsroom was chosen for Mary's workplace because of the supporting characters often found there, stated co-creator James Brooks.
Moore earned three Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Mary. Time magazine, in naming The Mary Tyler Moore Show as one of seventeen shows that changed television, wrote that "Moore made Mary into a fully realized person, iconic but fallible, competent but flappable... Mary was human and strong enough to be laughed with and laughed at". In 1992, Entertainment Weekly called her "the first great grown-up single working woman on TV", and in 1999, Entertainment Weekly ranked her hat toss in the opening credits as television's second greatest moment. On Bravo's 100 Greatest TV Characters, she was ranked eighth, the highest position of the four Mary Tyler Moore Show characters on this list.
In 1999, TV Guide ranked her number 21 on its '50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time' list.
In 2002, TV Land honored Mary Richards with a statue on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. The statue portrays Mary throwing her tam into the air, in the same pose as seen in the freeze frame at the end of the opening credits.