THEY NEVER WERE much as a news team - Mary and Lou and Ted and Murray and the assorted hangers-on at WJM-TV. But, come to think of, there never was much news in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" version of Minneapolis. What mattered were not large, dramatic public events, but small personal crises and confusions, and the cameraderie of co-workers who happened to be good friends.
It was an unpromising concept for a situation comedy. The situations were so everyday, the comedy so hild. The characters were not hard-driving, stylish or hide. The tone stayed mostly in the temperate zone between gentle satire and general hilarity. The show celebrated quite ordinary things like middle age, the Middle West, modest ambitions and even staying home on Saturday night. All in all, its formula was about as unfamorous - and sometimes as stunning - as a bacon-let-ice-and-tomato sandwich on white toast.
That's why "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" collected such a loyal following, including people who make a point of "not watching television very much." It was extraordinary television, on the whole. Through superb writing and a splendid cast, the show often achieved connections that few programs make. Everybody has seen a Ted Baxter. Everybody knows, or would like to know, someone like Mary Richards - incorrigibly optimistic, earnestly independent, solicitous about her friends, frequently less bewildered than bemused. Everybody knows about coping, but few people manage it so cheerfully.
We'll leave to others any portentous comments about the show's significance as a reflection of Our Times. We just want to salute it as first-class entertainment, all the more remarkable because it was sustained for seven seasons and 168 shows. Leo Durocher was wrong: Nice guys don't always finish last.