Rhoda is an American television sitcom, starring Valerie Harper, which ran for five seasons, from 1974 to 1978 airing in 109 episodes. The show was a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Harper between the years 1970 and 1974 had played the role of Rhoda Morgenstern, a spunky, weight-conscious, flamboyantly fashioned Jewish neighbor and native New Yorker in the role of Mary Richards' best friend. After four seasons, Rhoda left Minneapolis and returned to her original hometown of New York City. The series was a huge ratings success (even beating its parent show) and was the winner of two Golden Globes and two Emmy Awards.
Rhoda was filmed Friday evenings in front of a live studio audience at CBS Studio Center, Stage 14 in Studio City, Los Angeles, California.
The series opens with the pilot episode featuring Rhoda Morgenstern traveling from her home in Minneapolis to New York, where she was born and raised, for a two-week vacation, staying with her younger sister, Brenda (Julie Kavner). While there, she meets Joe Gerard (David Groh), a handsome divorcé who owns a wrecking company and has a ten-year-old son, Donny, whom Brenda babysits. Following Brenda's prompting, Rhoda and Joe meet and develop an instant attraction to each other which leads to their dating nightly for the duration of her vacation. After an argument about their feelings for each other, Joe asks Rhoda to stay in New York City, which she does, initially moving in with Brenda at 332 E. 64th Street (actual exterior shots are of 332 East 84th Street, between 1st and 2nd avenues on the southeast end of the block.) Brenda, a bank teller, is an insecure person that contributes to her having difficulty in dating. Rhoda herself had experienced difficulty in dating in Minneapolis at the outset of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that had less to do with self-esteem issues and more to her not finding the right guys.
The pilot episode, entitled "Joe", aired on Monday, September 9, 1974 and immediately set a record by being the first and only television series ever to achieve a number-one Nielsen rating for its premiere episode, defeating the ABC ratings juggernaut, Monday Night Football.
Rhoda and Brenda soon realize that the small studio apartment can't hold them both, so Rhoda moves in with their parents Ida (Nancy Walker) and Martin (Harold Gould) at their apartment in the Bronx. Ida and Martin are the stereotypical Jewish parents. Ida is overbearing, overprotective, benevolently manipulative, and desperate to ensure her daughters find a good husband. Martin is her dutiful, mild-mannered dad. Ida initially goes to great lengths to baby her daughter. When it becomes apparent Rhoda is sliding into a rut by occupying her childhood bedroom, Ida forces her to move out for her own good.
As the weeks go by, the relationship between Joe and Rhoda quickly blossoms. By the sixth episode, "Pop Goes the Question", an insecure Rhoda asks Joe where their relationship is heading. His response is to invite Rhoda to move in with him. After some careful thought and consultation with her sister and father, Rhoda accepts Joe's invitation, but within minutes of moving in decides that rather than living together out of wedlock she wants to be married. Rhoda attempts to convince Joe that they are very compatible and would be a happily married couple. After some hesitation, Joe agrees and a wedding is planned.
Eight weeks into the series on Monday, October 28, 1974, Rhoda and Joe were married in a special hour-long episode which broke several television records. Heavily publicized, it became the highest-rated television episode of the 1970s, a record it held until the miniseries Roots claimed that title in 1977. Additionally, on the night of its airing it had the distinction of being the second most-watched television episode of all time, surpassed by the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy in 1953. It was watched by more than 52 million Americans, over half of the US viewing audience. At the conclusion of the episode, Monday Night Football host Howard Cosell joked on the air that he had not been invited to the wedding, and welcomed viewers back to the game. Hundreds of "wedding parties" were held by fans across the United States on the night of the episode to celebrate the television wedding, and within days the CBS-TV studios were inundated with wedding gifts sent in by fans for the fictional Joe and Rhoda Gerard. The episode was overwhelmingly praised by critics, widely touted as a "television phenomenon", "unlike anything that had happened on television for nearly twenty years", and garnered Harper her fourth Emmy award in 1975. Vogue magazine reported that people across the country pulled off the road into motels, and friends canceled out on dinner invitations (feigning illness), just to watch Rhoda's wedding.
The wedding episode featured guest appearances by many of the main characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, including Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), Lou Grant (Edward Asner), Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), Georgette Franklin (Georgia Engel), and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). The only major characters who didn't attend were Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) and Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White).
In The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "The New Sue Ann," airing Saturday, October 26, 1974, two days before Rhoda's Wedding, the characters frequently discuss the upcoming event and buy wedding gifts. At the end of the episode Murray and Lou leave the TV station to drive Mary to the airport. During Rhoda's Wedding it is revealed that on a lark they had all decided to fly to New York to surprise Rhoda, including her frequent nemesis, Phyllis who had intentionally not been invited. During the episode, Phyllis asks for the opportunity to participate in the wedding and is appointed the responsibility to pick up Rhoda at Brenda's Manhattan apartment and drive her to her parents' apartment in the Bronx where the ceremony is being held. The self-absorbed and forgetful Phyllis neglects to keep her promise. This forces Rhoda to take the subway, running through the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx fully regaled in her wedding dress and veil and dashing into her parents' apartment building in one of the most memorable moments in the history of series television. Ida, in a state of shock, refuses Phyllis's profuse apologies saying "I'll kill you". Phyllis begs everyone in the room to forgive her, but the only one who does is Georgette, who then suggests to Phyllis that she leave before Rhoda arrives. The episode also features special closing credits, showing additional footage of Rhoda (Harper) running down a Manhattan street in her wedding dress and veil accompanied by an alternative version of the theme song played to the tune of Mendelssohn's Wedding March.
For the remainder of the first and second seasons, the show focuses around Rhoda and Joe's new married life. The two move into a penthouse suite in the same building as Brenda. Rhoda advances in her career as a window dresser by opening up a small window dressing business called "Windows by Rhoda" with her old high school friend Myrna Morgenstein (Barbara Sharma). Rhoda uses her maiden surname "Morgenstern" in her professional dealings as a window dresser and her married surname "Gerard" in her personal life.
During this period, the show was a massive ratings hit on Monday nights, staying near the top of the ratings in both seasons, even faring better than its parent, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In early seasons, the closing credits of the series featured Rhoda on a New York street trying to imitate Mary Tyler Moore's trademark hat toss, but the cap slips from Rhoda's hand before she can throw it.
Upon moving from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to her own eponymous series, the mention of Rhoda Morgenstern’s Jewish religious and ethnic background faded. While on the parent sitcom, the character of Rhoda Morgenstern was explicitly Jewish. Throughout the tenure of Rhoda Morgenstern's character being featured on the The Mary Tyler Moore Show, her “Jewish-ness” was discussed on several episodes. Such episodes included: "Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda" from which the subject of anti-Semitism was covered; and “Enter Rhoda’s Parents” from which Rhoda’s parents renewed their wedding vows by a rabbi. This candid expression of “Jewish-ness” changed however when Rhoda was spun off in 1974. During the first season of Rhoda, the representation of Rhoda Morgenstern altered from her parent show to fit a more mainstream audience: she was trimmer, more confident, and less “Jewish”. Throughout the first season, there were scant references about Rhoda’s “Jewish-ness”. Moreover, there was even a Christmas episode with no mention of the character’s Jewish background entitled, "Guess What I Got You for the Holidays". Thus, the creation of Rhoda’s own series stifled the representation of “Jewish-ness” – as Charlotte Brown, the executive producer of Rhoda, conveyed in an interview the display of “Jewish-ness”, “was just ‘set dressing’ – Ida’s brisket, her plastic on the furniture”.
In the first episode of the third season during a particularly dramatic scene Joe leaves Rhoda and the two remain separated for the entire season, with Groh appearing in only nine of the season's episodes. A few weeks later they mutually agree to see a marriage counselor where Joe reveals to a stunned Rhoda that he had never wanted to be married, and that he married her only because she had pressured him into it after he had invited her to live with him. Audiences were equally stunned and deserted the program in droves. Although the producers believed the plot development was essential, the fan response to Rhoda and Joe's separation was overwhelmingly negative and hostile. CBS was inundated with thousands of angry letters protesting the plot development, "Rhoda" and "Joe" received sympathy cards and letters of condolence, with Groh later reporting that he had received hate mail for as much as a year after the season had ended. This sentiment would translate into a steep ratings decline during the course of the season and the show ranked #32 for the 1976-77 season (falling from #7 the year before). Though Ida appears in the opening episode ("The Separation"), both she and Martin are absent for the remainder of the season, explained as traveling across the country in an RV. (At this time, Nancy Walker departed the program to headline two short-lived ABC series: The Nancy Walker Show, and Blansky's Beauties; and Harold Gould left to star in his own show, The Feather And Father Gang on ABC.) To help fill in the void left by Walker and Gould, the producers hired comedienne Anne Meara as Rhoda's new friend, Sally Gallagher, a middle-aged divorcee who makes her living as an airline stewardess. Meara did not catch on with viewers and her character lasted only one season.
With Rhoda and Joe now separated, they soon move out of their apartment. Joe moves to another building while Rhoda trades apartments with downstairs neighbor Gary Levy (Ron Silver), a jean-store owner who soon strikes up a platonic friendship with Rhoda. Stories initially center on Rhoda and Joe's attempts to work through their differences. As the season progresses, however, Joe is seen less frequently and Rhoda begins dating other people. Ultimately, they never reconcile and Joe is never seen again after this season. Johnny Venture (Michael DeLano), a lounge singer, becomes a frequent suitor that Rhoda only barely tolerates. Meanwhile, Brenda, no longer overweight but still with self-esteem problems, finally finds a boyfriend in professional roller-skater and toll-booth worker Benny Goodwin (Ray Buktenica), whose principal claim to fame is the similarity of his name to the famous musician Benny Goodman. She also occasionally dates neighbor Gary Levy as well as continuing her casual relationship with Nick Lobo.
For the fourth season, Rhoda's divorce is finalized and she resumes use of her maiden name "Morgenstern" full-time. The show then centers on her role as a thirty-something divorcée, dating from time to time. Ida and Martin come home after a year's absence from their lengthy cross-country trip (in reality, both Nancy Walker's and Harold Gould's attempts at a new series the previous year had failed).
Brenda continues to date Gary Levy and Benny Goodwin one more than the other. Meanwhile, Rhoda's career is undergoing a transition. Seeking a career change, she finds a job at the Doyle Costume Company. There she works for the gruff Jack Doyle (Kenneth McMillan), a man with similarities to Lou Grant. Season 4 ranked higher than season 3 in the ratings (finishing at #25 for the year), but Rhoda never regained the popularity it had achieved during its first two seasons on television. Rhoda and her sister still together and give advise through one another.
The show underwent additional changes in the fifth and final season. Ida and Martin go through a separation of their own; Martin then goes to Florida to find himself. He returns after several episodes but Ida wants to be wooed back, leading to dating and other romantic rituals between the two. Brenda and Benny get engaged to be married, with their wedding planned for later in the season. Gary Levy does not return for this season; it is mentioned near the season's start episode 3 that he has moved to Chicago. A new co-worker, Tina Molinari (Nancy Lane), joins Rhoda and Jack at the costume shop, having appeared in several season 4 episodes as an employee at Gary's jeans store. She has 'Valley Girl'-like speech patterns.
The show was moved to Saturday nights and ratings declined drastically (dropping to #43 for the 1978–79 season) and Rhoda was canceled by CBS in December 1978—midway through its fifth season—with four episodes remaining unaired, though these episodes later aired in syndication.
The following are well-known actors who feature in guest-starring roles on Rhoda: Henry Winkler, Vivian Vance, Eileen Heckart, John Ritter, Norman Fell, Doris Roberts, Joan Van Ark, Tim Matheson, Linda Lavin, Judd Hirsch, Ruth Gordon, Howard Hessman, Anne Jackson, Robert Alda, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Stiller, Jack Gilford, Rene Auberjonois.
Golden Globe Awards:
Collectively, Rhoda garnered a total of 17 Emmy nominations and 7 Golden Globe nominations.
Although they have never reunited in-character on a TV special or movie, some of the cast members of Rhoda have gotten together over the years on the following daytime talk-shows:
On April 21, 2009, Shout! Factory released the first season of Rhoda on DVD in Region 1, which was the year of the show's 35th anniversary.
The release also includes a "Remembering Rhoda" featurette, as well as the original one-hour version of "Rhoda's Wedding", as opposed to the two-part edited version that aired in syndication. Unfortunately, 15 of the season's 24 episodes are the edited-for-syndication versions taken from poor quality masters, while the other 9 episodes (including the Wedding episode) are the unedited network versions. A review on DVDTalk also states some of the edited episodes being time compressed.
Because the pilot episode in the DVD set is the syndicated version, Mary Tyler Moore's appearance at the beginning of the episode is cut. However, the full version of the pilot, in much better quality (complete with Mary's scene) can be viewed at The Paley Center for Media in New York and Los Angeles. Footage from the missing scene is even included in the end credits to the pilot. Season 2 and Season 3 episodes were released unedited.
Season four was released on September 21, 2010, as a Shout! Factory select title, available exclusively through their online store.
♦—Shout! Factory select title, sold exclusively through Shout's online store
A 2-VHS set, Rhoda: Volumes 1 & 2 containing two episodes on each cassette, was released by MTM Home Video in July 1992.
The Very Best of Rhoda, a 4-VHS boxed-set containing the best episodes from each season, was released by MTM Home Video on March 24, 1998.
Season 1 of the show is currently available for free online viewing on Hulu.com. All episodes from that season are there, except for "The Honeymoon", due to legal issues. While the versions of the episodes are, for the most part, the same as the versions on the DVD, there are a few minor differences:
In Canada, Rhoda started airing on Comedy Gold on February 28, 2011.
On July 8, 2013 Rhoda began airing on Me-TV at 9:30PM Eastern Time.
Julius C. Burnett wrote Rhoda Revisited, which summariesed the series (with a foreword by Valerie Harper) was released by Ju-Ju & Co. Entertainment LLC on December 21, 2010.