Phyllis (TV series)

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Cloris Leachman Jane Rose Phyllis 1975.JPG
Mother-in-law Audrey Dexter (Jane Rose)
with Phyllis (1975)
Created byStan Daniels
Ed. Weinberger
Based onPhyllis Lindstrom
by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns
Written byGlen Charles
Les Charles
Stan Daniels
Bob Ellison
David Lloyd
Laurence Marks
Earl Pomerantz
Tom Tenowich
Directed byJames Burrows
Joan Darling
Asaad Kelada
Harry Mastrogeorge
Noam Pitlik
Doug Rogers
Jay Sandrich
StarringCloris Leachman
Henry Jones
Jane Rose
Judith Lowry
Lisa Gerritsen
Theme music composerStan Daniels
Composer(s)Dick DeBenedictis
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes48 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)Stan Daniels
Michael J. Leeson
Ed. Weinberger
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time24 minutes
Production company(s)MTM Enterprises
Original networkCBS
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseSeptember 8, 1975 (1975-09-08) –
March 13, 1977 (1977-03-13)
Preceded byThe Mary Tyler Moore Show
Related showsRhoda
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' neighbor and college friend 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[edit]

When Phyllis' musical efforts hit a sour note, Leo (Richard Schaal) and Julie (Liz Torres) comfort her.

Left penniless after the death of her husband Lars, Phyllis and her daughter Bess (Lisa Gerritsen) move in with Lars's 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 Barbara Colby. In the 1974-1975 season, Colby was featured on The Mary Tyler Moore Show playing Sherry Ferris, a prostitute who Mary Richards (Moore) befriends. Her appearances on that show were so popular with viewers that when Phyllis was being cast, the producers enthusiastically signed her as a regular cast member. However, after three episodes of Phyllis had been filmed, Colby was murdered and the part was assumed by Liz Torres. Leo Heatherton (Richard Schaal, who was married to Valerie Harper who played the title character in Rhoda) was a well-meaning but bumbling photographer at the studio.

Much of the first season's humor stemmed from Phyllis' attempts to fit into the job market having lived for many years as the spoiled wife of a rich dermatologist. Judith Lowry guest starred in an early episode ("Leaving Home") as Jonathan's mother, Sally Dexter. She was so well received by viewers that by the end of the first year Lowry became a regular when Mother Dexter joined the household.

Aired on Monday nights between two popular shows – Rhoda and All in the FamilyPhyllis 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 1975–76 television season (at the time ranking higher than both Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

Season two[edit]

Towards the end of the first season, the ratings were beginning to slip. As a result, the series premise was reworked for the second season. Erskine Photography and the characters Julie Erskine (Liz Torres) and Leo Heatherton (Richard Schaal) were dropped with the explanation that Julie had married suddenly, sold the photography studio, and moved away, putting Phyllis out of a job. (Torres was immediately hired by Norman Lear to play a new character on his CBS hit series All in the Family in the fall of 1976. She played Teresa Betancourt, a young Puerto Rican woman who rented Mike and Gloria's room at Archie and Edith Bunker's home. However, Torres's character did not catch on with viewers and by the end of December, 1976, her part was dropped from the show.) Leachman, Gerritsen, Jones, Rose and Lowry remained with Phyllis.

In the second-season premiere Phyllis was hired as an assistant to a San Francisco City Supervisor.

New characters were Phyllis's boss Dan Valenti (Carmine Caridi) ( a sort of Lou Grant type), Leonard Marsh (John Lawlor), an inept politician in the office (a part similar to either Ted Knight's Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Bill Daily's Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show), and Leonard's secretary Harriet Hastings (Garn Stephens). Harriet was initially Phyllis's rival, but they later became friends. Both Caridi and Lawlor had appeared in two separate episodes of Phyllis the previous season - Caridi as a junk dealer in the episode "Phyllis's Garage Sale" and Lawlor as a policeman in the episode "Crazy Mama".

The ratings continued to drop. Rhoda was also going through a format change at the time, which may have also affected Phyllis’ ratings. During this time both series' chief competition, NBC's Little House on the Prairie, flourished.

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis
Judith Lowry as Mother Dexter (1976)

In a December 1976 episode, Jonathan's cranky and outspoken Mother Dexter (Lowry), Phyllis' main nemesis, married Arthur Lanson (Burt Mustin); both Lowry, 86, and Mustin, 92, 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. Actress Jane Rose (who played Audrey Dexter) took ill. These cast changes necessitated new storylines. Bess's role became more prominent. She found romance with Mark Valenti (Craig Wasson), the nephew of Phyllis' boss, and they later married.

By the middle of the 1976–77 season, the ratings for Rhoda had improved but Phyllis was still faltering. 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 said to have been factors in the series' 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, Leachman made her last appearance as Phyllis Lindstrom on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.



Season Rank Rating
1975–1976 #6 24.5
1976–1977 #40 N/A

Opening credits and theme song[edit]

The opening credits to Phyllis parody other television 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 a sour face at the camera.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show tie-ins[edit]

  • Mary Tyler Moore guest starred as Mary Richards on two episodes of Phyllis: "The First Day" (October 6, 1975) in which Phyllis writes a letter to Mary about her new life as a working woman and "You're Not Getting Any Better, Just Older" (September 27, 1976) when Mary visits Phyllis in San Francisco for her birthday.
  • Rhoda Morgenstern is mentioned in the episode "Mother Dexter's Wedding" (December 6, 1976) when Phyllis forgets to pick up Mother Dexter for her own wedding and explains to Jonathan how she made the same mistake at Rhoda's wedding.
  • Cloris Leachman appeared as Phyllis on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "The Last Show" (March 19, 1977), the same week that the final episode of Phyllis aired.


  • During the 1990s, Phyllis was aired on Nick at Nite alongside Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Eventually, all three shows were moved to sister-network TV Land for a short while before simply disappearing altogether. Also in the early 1990s, the series was aired on The Comedy Channel before it merged with HA! and became Comedy Central.
  • In January 2010, AmericanLife Network (ALN) began airing the series and is again shown alongside Rhoda in syndication. However, this time, the network stopped showing The Mary Tyler Moore Show when it added Rhoda and Phyllis to its lineup. The series was removed from the lineup in September 2010.

Home media[edit]

In July 1992, a VHS titled Phyllis—Volume 1 containing the first two episodes of Phyllis was released by MTM Home Video; however, a second volume was never released.

VHS Name Ep# Release Date Titles
Phyllis—Volume 1 2 July 1992
  • Pilot
  • Bess, Is You a Woman Now?

External links[edit]