Television’s newest superstar, Valerie Harper, used to say, “people identify with Rhoda because she’s a loser.” Now Valerie has had to change her line. After playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for four seasons and winning three back-to-back Emmys, Valerie was rewarded with her own series this fall at $25,000 per episode (plus a percentage flyer). So far Rhoda is the top-ranked new show of the year, and when the heroine got married, in the eighth episode, it pulled 50 million viewers—outrating any other series this season, not to mention the World Series and, for that matter, the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings.
At a time when TV has evolved from the sophistication level of a “G”-rated movie to what the trade calls a soft-core “R” in some instances, Rhoda has managed to bust three of TV’s oldest taboos: she is Jewish, they live in New York and her husband was divorced. Valerie, 33, who is not Jewish but a lapsed Catholic, has herself flown in the face of all expectations: she has pulled none of the prima-donna tactics of other overnight rating stars. Observers are wondering if motherhood will be next for Rhoda. “I’ve never wanted a baby and I’ve felt great guilt,” confides Valerie. “But thank God in the 20th century a woman can make a choice. With Rhoda, Dick [Schaal, her husband of 10 years] and I wouldn’t have to work it in between the TV seasons, we could just work it into the script.”