Phyllis Lindstrom is the snobbish, acid-tongued wife of dermatologist Dr. Lars Lindstrom, who is often referenced but never seen by the audience. The Lindstroms owned and managed the apartment building in which Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern lived, but never let either know until the secret came out one day. Mary and Rhoda developed a close relationship with Phyllis' daughter, Bess.
In 1975, Leachman left the Mary Tyler Moore Show to star in its spin-off series, Phyllis. The series takes place in San Francisco, Phyllis's hometown, where Phyllis and Bess relocated after the death of Lars. Phyllis first worked at a photography studio then later as an administrative assistant for a City Supervisor. While there, she and Bess lived with Lars' mother, Audrey, and Audrey's new husband, Judge Jonathan Dexter. Phyllis's major nemesis by this time was Jonathan's mother, Sally, a sharp-tongued, irritable, impatient woman known to all as "Mother Dexter" (played by veteran actress Judith Lowry). Despite her animosity towards Phyllis and indifference to Audrey, Mother Dexter got along well with Bess and also with Mary Richards when Mary made a visit to San Francisco at Phyllis' behest when the latter was having a particularly difficult time.