The American sitcom “Rhoda” (1974-1978), a spin-off of the American television sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977), did something quite special in one episode that broke television records. Eight weeks into the series on Monday, October 28, 1974, lead characters Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard (Played by Valerie Harper) and Joe Gerard (Played by David Groh) were married in a special hour-long episode. Heavily publicized, it became the highest-rated television episode of the 1970’s, a record it held until the miniseries Roots (1977), based on author Alex Haley’s 1976 novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family”, claimed that title in 1977.
Additionally, on the night of its airing it had become the second most-watched television episode of all time, surpassed only by the birth of Little Ricky on the American television sitcom “I Love Lucy” (1951-1957) in 1953. However, this episode of “Rhoda” also was watched by more than 52 million Americans, over half of the US viewing audience. In was such a big deal even in real life.
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 real “wedding parties” were held by fans across the United States on the night of the episode to celebrate the television wedding. Within days the CBS-TV studios were inundated with wedding gifts sent in by fans for the fictional Joe and Rhoda Gerard. “Vogue” magazine reported that people across the country had pulled off the road checking into motels, and friends canceled out on dinner invitations (Some even claiming to be ill), just to watch Rhoda’s wedding. And the success of it and the praise for the episode was summed up in the reception from critics and award shows alike.
The episode was overwhelmingly praised by critics, widely touted as a “television phenomenon” and, as quoted, “unlike anything that had happened on television for nearly twenty years”. It eventually garnered lead actress Harper her fourth Emmy award in 1975.
It’s amazing how a single episode can impact a nation like that, showing television is more than just entertainment. Sometimes, it becomes part of life. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. But to deny the results either way would be quite a mistake.