Allan Burns

Writer/ Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his five-hour Archive interview, Allan Burns describes his early years as a page and later a story analyst at NBC in Los Angeles. He outlines his move into the animation field, working for the legendary Jay Ward on The Bullwinkle Show and Fractured Flickers, and recounts the unusual publicity campaigns that accompanied the animated shows. He speaks of his work for Ward on the advertising campaign for "Cap'n Crunch"— a character that Burns himself invented. Burns talks about working with writing partner Chris Hayward on the series My Mother the Car, He & She, and Get Smart, and discusses his work as a writer, then as producer on the first season of the groundbreaking series Room 222 -- his first association with producer-director Gene Reynolds and writer-producer James L. Brooks. Burns then details his co-creation (with Brooks) of the classic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He chronicles the creation of the concept for the series, the casting process, and memorable episodes. He recalls later series he wrote and produced at MTM Productions (a tenure that lasted over twenty years) including Rhoda, Lou Grant, The Duck Factory (starring Jim Carrey), and FM. B-roll consists of publicity pieces from Jay Ward Productions and photographs from several MTM series. Dan Pasternack conducted the interview on February 18, 2004 in Brentwood, CA.

"Stick to your guns, because each time we did, we succeeded. And each time you gave up, if you gave a little, the networks sort of would view it as weakness and jump into that area, and make you do work that was less good. You shouldn't compromise." 

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on placing the main setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a newsroom and "Mary Richards" not being a married woman
Allan Burns on interviewing to work for Jay Ward on Rocky and His Friends
Allan Burns on creating "Cap'n Crunch"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on attending military school; on moving to Hawaii
On how living in Hawaii developed his creativity; on studying architecture at the University of Oregon, leaving school, and moving to Los Angeles

Chapter 2

On becoming an NBC page; on being an usher for The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, The George Gobel Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, and Playwright '56
On graduating from the page program; on being a page on Queen for a Day and having to kick someone off the show
On becoming a reader for Pat Weaver's new NBC comedy shows; on his first writing job on Truth or Consequences

Chapter 3

On writing for Truth or Consequences for a month; on getting drafted, but a back injury preventing him from serving
On writing and drawing greeting cards; on interviewing at animation companies and doing some work for Format
On seeing Rocky and His Friends and wanting to work on it; on working on The Bullwinkle Show and promotions for the show and other Jay Ward Productions

Chapter 4

On editing and writing for Fractured Flickers and working for Jay Ward; on creating cereal ad icon "Cap'n Crunch"
On co-creating The Munsters with Chris Hayward and not getting credit for it
On writing for the sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show and having their work severely edited

Chapter 5

On getting hired to write for Four Star Playhouse; on co-creating My Mother The Car
On wanting to write for The Dick Van Dyke Show and receiving an inspirational letter from Sheldon Leonard; on working with Leonard Stern on He & She
On writing for Get Smart; on meeting director Jay Sandrich

Chapter 6

On joining the writing staff of Get Smart; on leaving to write a feature and parting ways with writing partner Chris Hayward; on meeting James L. Brooks
On getting involved with Room 222 with producer Gene Reynolds and writer James L. Brooks; on producing several episodes of Room 222
On meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)

Chapter 7

On changing the concept of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on the initial pilot script and format of the show
On assembling the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Chapter 8

On casting "Rhoda" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on the disastrous first rehearsal and shooting the pilot; on The Mary Tyler Moore Show benefiting from change-ups at CBS
On the theme song and opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on the show's success on Saturday nights
On the show's writers and specific episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Chapter 9

On notable episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show ("The Good-Time News", "Chuckles Bites the Dust") and the finale; on the legacy of the show
On the creation of Rhoda and Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers
On the creation of Lou Grant and making the show a drama rather than a comedy; on Ed Asner's political activism and how it affected Lou Grant

Chapter 10

On MTM and some of the company's star players; on the creation of MTM's The Duck Factory and Eisenhower & Lutz; on the end of MTM's heyday
On the creation of Cutters; on the highlight of his career; on advice to aspiring writer/producers
B-roll of greeting cards he created, promotions for The Bullwinkle Show; on his drawing for "Cap'n Crunch", on photos from shows on which he worked
Shows

Bullwinkle Show, The

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Allan Burns on seeing Jay Ward's Rocky and His Friends and wanting to work on it
Allan Burns on Jay Ward's Rocky and His Friends becoming The Bullwinkle Show
Allan Burns on publicity and writing for Jay Ward's The Bullwinkle Show
Allan Burns on promotions for Jay Ward productions
Allan Burns on promotions for The Bullwinkle Show

Colgate Comedy Hour, The

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Allan Burns on being an usher for The Colgate Comedy Hour

Crusader Rabbit

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Allan Burns on Jay Ward creating Crusader Rabbit

Cutters

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Allan Burns on the creation of Cutters

Dick Van Dyke Show, The

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Allan Burns on wanting to write for The Dick Van Dyke Show and receiving an inspirational letter from Sheldon Leonard

Duck Factory, The

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's The Duck Factory

Eisenhower & Lutz

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's Eisenhower & Lutz and wanting Scott Bakula for the lead

Four Star Playhouse

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Allan Burns on getting hired to write for Four Star Playhouse

Fractured Flickers

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Allan Burns on promotions for Jay Ward productions
Allan Burns on the hardest work he's ever done - on Jay Ward's Fractured Flickers

George Gobel Show, The

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Allan Burns on being an usher for The George Gobel Show

Get Smart

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Allan Burns on writing for Get Smart
Allan Burns on joining the writing staff of Get Smart and the marriage of Agents 86 and 99

He & She

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Allan Burns on working with Leonard Stern on He & She

It Could be You

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Allan Burns on a questionable writer on the Ralph Edwards show It Could be You

Lou Grant

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Allan Burns on the creation of Lou Grant and making the show a drama rather than a comedy
Allan Burns on Ed Asner's political activism and how it affected Lou Grant

M*A*S*H

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Allan Burns on Gene Reynolds' style on M*A*S*H

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The

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Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on creating "Rhoda Morgenstern's" character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on changing the concept of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the initial pilot script and format of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on assembling the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the disastrous first rehearsal and shooting the pilot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show benefiting from change-ups at CBS
Allan Burns on the theme song and opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's success on Saturday nights
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers
Allan Burns on how he and James L. Brooks worked together on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Support Your Local Mother"
Show co-creator Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore's expertise as an actress that allowed her to play the first part 'serious' of famed The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," even when she had trouble keeping a straight face during dress rehearsal
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "The Good-Time News"
Allan Burns on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the legacy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on dividing his time between Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and other MTM productions
Allan Burns on a still photo from The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on a photo from the 100th episode party for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the final script of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"

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Show co-creator Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore's expertise as an actress that allowed her to play the first part 'serious' of famed The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," even when she had trouble keeping a straight face during dress rehearsal

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Support Your Local Mother"

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Support Your Local Mother"

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "The Last Show"

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Allan Burns on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Munsters, The

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Allan Burns on co-creating The Munsters with Chris Hayward and having their idea stolen

My Mother the Car

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Allan Burns on co-creating My Mother The Car

Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers

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Allan Burns on the creation of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers  

Playwrights '56

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Allan Burns on being a page on Fred Coe's Playwrights '56

Queen for a Day

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Allan Burns on being a page on Queen for a Day and having to kick someone off the show

Rhoda

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Allan Burns on the creation of Rhoda and the title character getting married

Room 222

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Allan Burns on getting involved with Room 222 with producer Gene Reynolds and writer James L. Brooks
Allan Burns on writing for Room 222, working with James L. Brooks, and producing several episodes of the show

Smothers Brothers Show, The

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Allan Burns on writing for the sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show and having their work severely edited

Taxi

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Allan Burns on how great Taxi was

Tonight

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Allan Burns on being an usher for The Tonight Show with Steve Allen

Truth or Consequences

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Allan Burns on his first writing job on Truth or Consequences
Allan Burns on writing for Truth or Consequences for a month
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on placing the main setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a newsroom and "Mary Richards" not being a married woman

Characters & Catchphrases

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Allan Burns on creating "Cap'n Crunch"

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Allan Burns on how living in Hawaii developed his creativity

Diversity in Television

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Allan Burns on placing the main setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a newsroom and "Mary Richards" not being a married woman
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the feminist movement
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Good Time News"

Emmy Awards

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Allan Burns on winning an Emmy for He & She 
Allan Burns on a memorable moment from the night he and Chris Hayward won an Emmy for He & She
Allan Burns on a photo of an Emmy win for The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Allan Burns on being a page on "The Battler" starring Paul Newman and James Dean - an episode of Playwrights '56
Show co-creator Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore's expertise as an actress that allowed her to play the first part 'serious' of famed The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," even when she had trouble keeping a straight face during dress rehearsal

Pop Culture

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Allan Burns on creating "Cap'n Crunch"
Allan Burns on the theme song and opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

TV Theme Songs

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Allan Burns on the theme song and opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Television Industry

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on placing the main setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a newsroom and "Mary Richards" not being a married woman

Vietnam War

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Allan Burns on getting drafted in the Vietnam War, but a back injury preventing him from serving

War

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Allan Burns on getting drafted in the Vietnam War, but a back injury preventing him from serving

We Laughed

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Show co-creator Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore's expertise as an actress that allowed her to play the first part 'serious' of famed The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," even when she had trouble keeping a straight face during dress rehearsal

Women

View Topic
Allan Burns on placing the main setting of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a newsroom and "Mary Richards" not being a married woman
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the feminist movement
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Good Time News"
Professions

Producers

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Allan Burns on producing several episodes of Room 222
Allan Burns on advice to aspiring writer/producers

Show Creators

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Allan Burns on co-creating My Mother The Car

Writers

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Allan Burns on deciding he wanted to be a television writer
Allan Burns on working on He & She and how it helped his writing
Allan Burns on advice to aspiring writer/producers
Genres

Animation

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Allan Burns on interviewing at animation companies
Allan Burns on working on The Bullwinkle Show and promotions for the show and other Jay Ward Productions

Classic Anthology Series

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Allan Burns on being a page on Fred Coe's Playwrights '56

Comedy Series

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Allan Burns on writing for the sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show and having their work severely edited
Allan Burns on co-creating The Munsters with Chris Hayward and having their idea stolen
Allan Burns on working with Leonard Stern on He & She
Allan Burns on co-creating My Mother The Car
Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker, the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and selling the initial concept to CBS executives
Allan Burns on writing for Room 222, working with James L. Brooks, and producing several episodes of the show
Allan Burns on the pilot script and assembling the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the early days, staff, and memorable episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on notable episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show ("The Good-Time News", "Chuckles Bites the Dust") and the finale; on the legacy of the show

Commercials

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Allan Burns on creating "Cap'n Crunch"

Drama Series

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Allan Burns on the creation of Lou Grant and making the show a drama rather than a comedy

Game Shows

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Allan Burns on being a page on Queen for a Day and having to kick someone off the show
People

Don Adams

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Allan Burns on a memorable moment from the night he and Chris Hayward won an Emmy for He & She

Edward Asner

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Allan Burns on casting "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the creation of Lou Grant and making the show a drama rather than a comedy
Allan Burns on Ed Asner's political activism and how it affected Lou Grant

Reza Badiyi

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Allan Burns on the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Scott Bakula

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's Eisenhower & Lutz and wanting Scott Bakula for the lead

Richard Benjamin

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Allan Burns on working with Richard Benjamin on He & She

Charles Boyer

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Allan Burns on getting hired to write for Four Star Playhouse

James L. Brooks

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Allan Burns on meeting James L. Brooks
Allan Burns on getting involved with Room 222 with producer Gene Reynolds and writer James L. Brooks
Allan Burns on working with James L. Brooks on Room 222
Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on changing the concept of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on how he and James L. Brooks worked together on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Jim Carrey

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Allan Burns on discovering Jim Carrey for MTM's The Duck Factory
Allan Burns on a photo of Jim Carrey in MTM's The Duck Factory

Jack Cassidy

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Allan Burns on working with Jack Cassidy on He & She

Fred Coe

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Allan Burns on being a page on Fred Coe's Playwrights '56

Dabney Coleman

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's Eisenhower & Lutz

Stan Daniels

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

Michael Dann

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on CBS executives not loving The Mary Tyler Moore Show and disagreements within the network

Dave Davis

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Allan Burns on producer Dave Davis helping to cast "Ted Baxter" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

James Dean

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Allan Burns on being a page on "The Battler" starring Paul Newman and James Dean - an episode of Playwrights '56

Jerry Van Dyke

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Allan Burns on the cast of My Mother The Car

Ralph Edwards

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Allan Burns on Truth or Consequences host Ralph Edwards

Valerie Harper

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Allan Burns on casting "Rhoda" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the creation of Rhoda

Chris Hayward

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Allan Burns on co-creating The Munsters with Chris Hayward and having their idea stolen
Allan Burns on writing for the sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show and having their work severely edited
Allan Burns on getting hired to write for Four Star Playhouse
Allan Burns on working on He & She
Allan Burns on parting ways with writing partner Chris Hayward

Jack Klugman

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Allan Burns on casting "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Ted Knight

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Allan Burns on casting "Ted Baxter" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Perry Lafferty

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)

Cloris Leachman

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Allan Burns on casting "Phyllis" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Sheldon Leonard

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Allan Burns on receiving an inspirational letter from Sheldon Leonard

David Lloyd

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

Gavin MacLeod

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Allan Burns on casting "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and choosing Gavin MacLeod to play "Murray" instead of "Lou"

Mary Tyler Moore

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Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on presenting the central concept of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Mary Tyler Moore
Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore reading with Ed Asner as "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Show co-creator Allan Burns on Mary Tyler Moore's expertise as an actress that allowed her to play the first part 'serious' of famed The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," even when she had trouble keeping a straight face during dress rehearsal

Lorenzo Music

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

Paul Newman

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Allan Burns on being a page on "The Battler" starring Paul Newman and James Dean - an episode of Playwrights '56

David Niven

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Allan Burns on getting hired to write for Four Star Playhouse

Arthur Price

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on changing the concept of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Marian Rees

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Allan Burns on being a page on Fred Coe's Playwrights '56

Gene Reynolds

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Allan Burns on getting involved with Room 222 with producer Gene Reynolds and writer James L. Brooks
Allan Burns on Gene Reynolds' style on M*A*S*H
Allan Burns on the creation of Lou Grant and making the show a drama rather than a comedy

Paul Sand

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Allan Burns on the creation of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers  

Jay Sandrich

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Allan Burns on working with director Jay Sandrich on He & She
Allan Burns on Jay Sandrich directing the pilot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Fred Silverman

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Allan Burns on Fred Silverman's ideas to make CBS young and urban and loving The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Treva Silverman

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

Aaron Spelling

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Allan Burns on writing for the sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show, thought up by Aaron Spelling

Leonard Stern

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Allan Burns on working with Leonard Stern on He & She

Arne Sultan

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Allan Burns on working on He & She and how it helped his writing

Jay Tarses

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's Eisenhower & Lutz

Brandon Tartikoff

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Allan Burns on the creation of MTM's Eisenhower & Lutz and wanting Scott Bakula for the lead

Grant Tinker

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Allan Burns on meeting Grant Tinker and the seed idea for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on Grant Tinker helping to cast Ed Asner as "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on Grant Tinker's support of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on defending Lou Grant to CBS, with Grant Tinker
Allan Burns on the talent Grant Tinker helped foster at MTM

Jay Ward

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Allan Burns on Jay Ward's Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show
Allan Burns on promotions for Jay Ward productions
Allan Burns on working for Jay Ward
Allan Burns on promotions for The Bullwinkle Show

Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver

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Allan Burns on becoming a reader for Pat Weaver's new NBC comedy shows and getting his first job as a writer

Ed. Weinberger

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Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's writers

Ethel Winant

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Allan Burns on Ethel Winant helping assemble the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Allan Burns on casting "Lou Grant" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Robert D. Wood

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Allan Burns on running the story idea of "Mary Richards" being divorced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show by CBS (response - American audiences won't tolerate 4 things on TV: people from New York, divorce, Jews, and mustaches)
Allan Burns on CBS executives not loving The Mary Tyler Moore Show and disagreements within the network

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