Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (syndicated, 1976 – 77) rightly remains a touchstone for television scholars whose work emphasizes genre, gender, and sexuality, and its creator, Norman Lear, is a critical figure to discussions of the television industry in the 1970s. I argue that the popularity of Mary Hartman reveals viewers' frustrations with television in the 1970s and, furthermore, that the show was uniquely able to integrate a nationwide audience, even as executives envisioned it as a series of discrete markets divided by gender and class. The show, which at times verged on the avant-garde, appeared to fly in the face of the alleged dumbing down of television that critics identified in the period. I explain its popularity through its investigation of television itself as both a medium and an industry on several levels: through its branding as an artistic auteur product in an era of executive auteurs, its unique development and distribution, its use of familiar genres, its formal innovations, its complications of gendered viewing patterns and assumptions, and its risqué content paired with humane, even feminist sensitivity. Sandwiched between the socially relevant programming of the early 1970s and the flashy “jiggle television” of the last years of the decade, Mary Hartman was able to bring subtlety and compassion to television content, but it also told viewers that they had a voice in industry conversations about the meaning and potential of television; it did so by seeming to revise the very relationship between those viewers and the medium itself.
Research Article|September 01 2013
Erin Lee Mock; “The Soap Opera Is a Hell of an Exciting Form”: Norman Lear's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and the 1970s Viewer. Camera Obscura 1 September 2013; 28 (2 (83)): 109–149. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2209934
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