One of my favorite finds during my research for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted is Joe Rainone, a Rhode Island accountant who spent his early 20s sending exhaustive five-page critiques to the Mary Tyler Moore producers every week. Mind you, this was the early ’70s, so that meant trudging up to his parents’ office every Saturday night to clack out his double-spaced analyses on a manual typewriter. This also meant watching the show live, with the rest of the nation — no VCRs, no DVRs. He was perhaps TV’s first recapper. Now we’re used to producers getting instant feedback from fans on every moment of every episode, for better or worse. But at the time this turned out to be so intriguing that the producers started counting on his weekly feedback, sometimes even wondering, as they conceived a plotline, “What will Joe Rainone think of this?”
They enjoyed his critiques enough that they eventually invited him out to Los Angeles to see a taping and hang out on the set. They were impossibly nice to him and his brother, Eddy — taking them out to lunch, setting them up to also see at taping of All in the Family. That’s how the nearly saintly Mary Tyler Moore crew rolled. They could have seen him, he fully admits, as a stalker; but instead they befriended this kid and gave him one of the defining moments of his life. He’s a wonderful resource who still knows not only the series in all of its minutiae (he knows the episode titles better than the people who wrote them) but remembers every detail of his time on the set.
He’s also an astute critic who developed an elaborate “rating” system for each episode. I won’t spoil the whole formula here, but suffice to say it works. If you watch the season 4 episode “Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite,” you’ll likely agree it’s one of the funniest; the season 6 episode “Once I Had a Secret Love” (in which Lou sleeps with Sue Ann) is among the best; and season 1’s “The 45-Year-Old Old Man” is probably the worst.
You’ll read more about Joe and his adventures in my book.