With the sad news that actress Valerie Harper has passed away at the age of 80 following her long battle with cancer, also comes the need to celebrate the life and career that she led, and all that she achieved. For instance, in the history of Classic TV, she holds the distinction of doing the seemingly impossible: taking a so-called second banana on a television series and turning that character into a leading role in its own right.
Certainly not an easy thing to do. Think about it: would you really want to see Ed Norton without Ralph Kramden or Mr. Spock without Captain Kirk? But somehow Valerie was able to take her The Mary Tyler Moore Show character of Rhoda Morgenstern and turn her into the leading lady of a spinoff series, snagging a five-season run.
TV historian and author Ed Robertson, host of the TV Confidential podcast, muses, “We have a lot of examples of popular secondary characters who are given their own shows, because the networks think it’s a good idea to spin them off on their own. But for every Frasier, there are so many that simply don’t work. If Happy Days ever decided to spin off Fonzie and make The Fonzie Show, it would not have worked. Fonzie was the star of Happy Days, but Fonzie needed the Cunningham family; he needed Richie and Potsie to play off of in order to be The Fonz. Were you to put him in a new situation, it’s not quite the same.
“As talented as Harvey Korman was supporting Danny Kaye and Carol Burnett and Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks,” he adds, “when Harvey had opportunities to headline his own show, he proved he was a good No. 2, but he did not succeed as No. 1. Valerie, on the other hand, showed that she was a good supporting player and a strong lead.”
For much more of our Valerie Harper celebration, please scroll down.
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