What to Know About ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,’ the Norman Lear Series Reboot
When news recently broke that Schitt’s Creek alum Emily Hampshire would star in a reboot of the 1970s Norman Lear series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, some nostalgists rejoiced…while other folks scratched their heads and wondered, “What’s that?”
For those new to the show, or for those who, understandably, can’t remember much about it, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about a show that, like so many Lear productions, confronted the social issues of the day head-on.
The satirical primetime soap series starred Louise Lasser (who earned an Emmy nomination for her performance as the title character) as an ordinary Ohio housewife subjected to so many extraordinary traumas that she always seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And yes, sometimes she even went over the edge.
The Crazy Plots
The show took some macabre turns, even for a soap opera: Mary’s daughter, Heather (Claudia Lamb), was abducted and held hostage; her neighbors were killed in a massacre; her best friend’s husband, Charlie Haggers (Graham Jarvis), was shot in the groin and received a testicle transplant. And in other plot twists, her friend’s abusive husband Garth Gimble (Martin Mull) was fatally impaled by a Christmas tree, and child evangelist Jimmy Joe Jeeter (Sparky Marcus) was electrocuted when his television fell into his bath.
In one memorable episode, Mary appeared on a talk show, under the impression that she would be chatting about her favorite household products. But under a hail of rapid-fire questions about her sex life, an overwhelmed Mary inadvertently revealed to a national audience that her husband is impotent.
With so much darkness, it’s no surprise that all the broadcast networks passed on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman — believing it to be too controversial — even though Lear had a proven track record of hits, including All in the Family, Good Times, and The Jeffersons. So Lear sold the show in syndication, and even then, many affiliates aired it in late-night slots after the local news.
The Brief Run
The exhausting production schedule of a daily soap took a toll on Lasser, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ended after two seasons with her departure in 1977. (Still, the series aired an impressive 325 episodes from 1976 through 1977.) Lasser’s costars stayed on television, with a spin-off called Forever Fernwood, which aired another 130 episodes between 1977 and 1978.
After leaving Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Lasser continued acting, appearing in episodes of the TV shows Taxi and St. Elsewhere and —much more recently — in a Season 3 arc on HBO’s Girls. She now runs the Louise Lasser Acting Studio in New York City.
Unfortunately, Lasser’s most famous role is hard to revisit: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman isn’t available to stream or rent, but the complete series can be purchased on DVD. Here’s hoping the original show gets a streaming platform if and when the reboot—currently in development at Sony Pictures Television—finds a streaming or network home, too.