Phyllis (TV series)


Phyllis with mother-in-law Audrey Dexter, 1975.
Genre Sitcom
Created by Stan Daniels
Ed. Weinberger
Based on Phyllis Lindstrom created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns
Written by Glen Charles
Les Charles
Stan Daniels
Bob Ellison
David Lloyd
Laurence Marks
Earl Pomerantz
Tom Tenowich
Directed by James Burrows
Joan Darling
Asaad Kelada
Harry Mastrogeorge
Noam Pitlik
Doug Rogers
Jay Sandrich
Starring Cloris Leachman
Henry Jones
Judith Lowry
Jane Rose
Theme music composer Stan Daniels
Composer(s) Dick DeBenedictis
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 48 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Stan Daniels
Michael J. Leeson
Ed. Weinberger
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24 min
Production company(s) MTM Enterprises
Distributor 20th Television
Original network CBS
Audio format Monaural
Original release September 8, 1975 (1975-09-08) – March 13, 1977 (1977-03-13)
Preceded by The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Related shows Rhoda
Lou Grant

Phyllis is an American sitcom that aired on CBS from September 8, 1975, to March 13, 1977. Created by Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels, it was the second spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the first being Rhoda). The show starred Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, who was previously Mary Richards' landlady on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In the new series, Phyllis and her daughter Bess Lindstrom moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco, after the death of her husband, Dr. Lars Lindstrom. It was revealed that San Francisco was Phyllis and Lars' original hometown, prior to their moving to Minneapolis, and that his mother and stepfather still resided there.

Synopsis and production

Being left penniless after the death of her husband Lars, Phyllis and her daughter Bess (Lisa Gerritsen) move in with Lars' mother, the scatterbrained Audrey Dexter (Jane Rose), and stepfather, Judge Jonathan Dexter (Henry Jones). Phyllis takes a job as an assistant in a photographic studio. The owner, Julie Erskine, was played by the actress Barbara Colby, who was murdered (in real life) after three episodes of Phyllis had been filmed, and the part was then assumed by Liz Torres. Much of the first season's humor stemmed from Phyllis' attempts to fit into the job market, after having lived for many years as the spoiled wife of a rich dermatologist. Actor Richard Schaal (who was married to actress Valerie Harper, the star of Rhoda at the time) was cast as Leo Heatherton, a well-meaning but bumbling photographer who worked with Phyllis and Julie at the studio. Elderly actress Judith Lowry guest starred in an early episode ("Leaving Home") as Jonathan's mother, Sally Dexter. Her appearance was so well received by viewers that by the end of the first year, Lowry became a regular on the show and her character of Mother Dexter also joined the household.

When Phyllis' musical efforts hit a sour note, Leo and Julie comfort her.

Aired between two popular shows, Rhoda and All In The Family, on Monday nights, Phyllis instantly became a top ten hit. Cloris Leachman won a Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The sitcom was the sixth highest-rated television series for the 197576 television season (at the time ranking higher than both Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

The series premise was reworked somewhat for season 2. Erskine Photography and the characters Julie Erskine (Liz Torres) and Leo Heatherton (Richard Schaal) were dropped from the show, with the explanation that Julie had married suddenly, sold the photography studio, and moved away, putting Phyllis out of a job. Leachman, Gerritsen, Jones, Rose, and Lowry remained with the show.

In the second-season premiere Phyllis was immediately hired as an assistant to a San Francisco City Supervisor. Carmine Carridi played Phyllis' boss, and John Lawlor was Leonard Marsh, an inept politician who worked in the same office. Garn Stephens was Harriet Hastings, Leonard's secretary and Phyllis' rival (she and Phyllis would become friends toward the end of the season). Ratings began to drop. Rhoda was also going through a format change at the time, which may have also affected Phyllis’ ratings. During this time, both shows' chief competition, NBC's Little House on the Prairie, flourished.

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis

In a late 1976 episode, Jonathan's cranky and outspoken Mother Dexter (Judith Lowry), Phyllis' main nemesis, married Arthur Lanson (Burt Mustin); both Lowry and Mustin died within a month of the episode's airing. CBS moved both Rhoda and Phyllis to Sunday nights at 8:00 P.M. and 8:30 P.M., respectively. During this time, actress Jane Rose (who played Audrey Dexter) took ill. These events put Phyllis' home life in flux, which necessitated more new story lines. Daughter Bess's role became more prominent and she found romance with Mark Valenti (played by Craig Wasson), the nephew of Phyllis' boss, and they later married.

By the end of the 197677 season, the ratings for Rhoda had improved but Phyllis was still faltering. As a result, Rhoda was renewed for an additional season (it would ultimately be canceled in December, 1978), but Phyllis was dropped by CBS in the spring of 1977, finishing in 40th place that season. The show actually had higher overall ratings than Rhoda that season, as well as equal ratings with its parent show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The stigma of the deaths of several cast members during the show's run, as well as the ill health of actress Jane Rose are also said to have been factors in the show's cancellation. The final episode ("And Baby Makes Six") had Bess announcing that she and Mark were expecting their first child. This installment aired Sunday, March 13, 1977. The same week, on Saturday, March 19, Cloris Leachman made her last appearance as Phyllis Lindstrom on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.



Season Rank Rating
19751976 #6 24.5
19761977 #40 N/A

Opening credits and theme song

The opening credits to Phyllis parody other TV series opening credits of the period, specifically The Mary Tyler Moore Show, by depicting the character in a variety of local settings while the theme song plays. In addition to scenes shot on location in San Francisco, various scenes from her appearances in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (all of them showing her with a sour disposition) are shown. The theme song parodies spectacular Broadway musical numbers, such as Jerry Herman's title songs to "Hello Dolly" and "Mame," and in the first seconds of the opening sequence, the performers are briefly seen in blackface. In keeping with the sour disposition of the character, the song resolves with a deprecating line on a minor seventh chord, as Phyllis—who has been smiling broadly at the foregoing flattering hyperbole—makes an ugly face at the camera:

Who makes the fog surrounding the Golden Gate simply disappear?
Phyllis... Phyllis...
Who makes the warning bells on the cable cars play "The Gang's All Here"?
Phyllis... Phyllis...
Who charms the crabs on Fisherman's Warf right out of their shells?
Who lights the lamps of Chinatown just by walking in view? Who?
Phyllis! Phyllis! Phyllis... sure isn't you.

Mary Tyler Moore Show tie-ins


Also in the early 1990s the show was aired on C-TV: The Comedy Channel before it merged with HA! and became Comedy Central

VHS release

In July 1992, a VHS containing the first two episodes of Phyllis was released by MTM Home Video; the cassette has long been out of print and Phyllis has not yet been released on DVD.

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