Phyllis (TV Series 1975–1977) Poster


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A Spin-off With A Touch of Tragedy
theowinthrop24 January 2005
Of all the characters on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW the least likable was possibly Phyllis Lindstrom. Played by Cloris Leachman (brilliantly) she was a pretentious know-it-all, who patronized Mary Richards (Ms Moore), acted like Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) was a weird social misfit, and managed to annoy or confuse the other regular in the cast. Only once, when she learned that her unseen husband Lars had an affair (or sorts) with Sue Anne Nivens (Betty White) did Phyllis become sympathetic. Suddenly we felt she was human after all. But the character constantly ended with mud in her face in most of her appearances, and so she was a welcome member of the cast.

After RHODA spun off THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW it was thought that shows about the other characters might work. Actually the hour series LOU GRANT turned out to be successful too. But PHYLLIS was a harder nut to sell to the public. Rhoda Morgenstern was sympathetic because she was trying to find a husband and trying to survive her mother (Nancy Walker). Lou Grant (Edward Asner) was an experienced newspaperman, whose marriage had fallen apart. But PHYLLIS had no likable characteristic. This, of course, made a spin-off with her as the central character seem a hard sell.

The plot took Phyllis to California. Lars has died, so Phyllis takes her daughter Beth (Lisa Gerritson) with her and settle with Lars mother (Jane Rose) and her second husband, a Judge (Henry Jones). Also in the household is the Judge's mother (Judith Lowry). The first episodes were about her setting up her new home and her new job. But the job was with a woman named Julie Erskine, played by Barbara Colby. Unfortunately the talented, subtle, likable Ms Colby was killed with a boyfriend in an unsolved murder just a week or so after Phyllis began. The role was re-casted by Liz Torres.

Colby's murder would have been a serious problem for any show to get out of. That the producers and writers tried to continue the role show a willingness to wait and see if the public would accept the change. Fortunately the show managed to pull in a regular audience each week, partly because of the character played by Judith Lowry. The 80+ actress played a caustic tongued lady who did for Phyllis in this show what Rhoda had done in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. The part was a bit role, but like Henry Winkler's Fonzie on HAPPY DAYS it gradually expanded. Even when Phyllis went out of her way to be nice to her, Ms Lowry cut her down to size. She even filled out background about her youth. In one episode she shocks Henry Jones by openly suggesting that the great romance of her early days was with President Warren Harding!

As a result the show went through it's first season, and seemed to be headed to success. However it decided to change the location of Phyllis's job, changing from the business that was run by Torres (formerly by Colby) to being an assistant to a city councilman. The episode where Phyllis landed this job was quite humorous in another way: the councilman whom Phyllis initially goes to see about the job is John Ritter, who is in the midst of a news conference denying allegations of improprieties. She tries to start her duties, only to find Ritter asking her to help shred some files. As he tries to do this the police arrive to drag him off. Fortunately another councilman turns up who needs an assistant.

The second season seemed destined for success, and the beginning of a long run. In December 1976 Lowry's character married her current boy-friend (not a relative of Harding, by the way), in an full episode. Within two months Lowry died (so did Burt Mustlin, the elderly actor who played her bridegroom). Unlike Colby's character, which had not fully developed when she died, Lowry's had been developed. There was a taped introduction to an episode by Leachman, in honor to Lowry. It was moving. Unfortunately there was little time to figure out how to fill Lowry's big shoes (or remove the growing taint of a "Phyllis" curse). The show was not renewed for another season. Well, two seasons for a weakened spin off is not bad...and it was a better show than AFTER M.A.S.H. was.
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Such a waste of a great character
1523115 July 2004
The character of Phyllis was not originally designed to be a leading role; rather she was a self-centered, opinionated, overbearing cameo character of sorts to add a zany counter to the tranquil Mary Richards. She was silly, but not really likable. Once the character had to stand on her own, she had to be toned down and made more appealing, thus losing the truly funny quality she added to the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

With the exception of Mother Dexter, her supporting characters did not do the necessary job of balancing the character of Phyllis, and the show often looked strained and weak. The show seemed to mirror the character of Phyllis in that it did not seem to know where it was going or what to do with itself after the pilot episode. The 'wacky' photography studio was dropped for the dull politician's office thereby dooming the show to current political topics and satire - but without the proper characters to pull it off. Nothing felt right and the second season was worse than the first.

I so wish Phyllis had stayed in Minneapolis!
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gregoryshnly1 August 2006
I always loved Chloris Leachman's portrayal of the overbearing know all Phyllis Linstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show",who loved throwing up to Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern,that she was married and they were single,although she always took such an interest in their lives,she clearly didn't have the great marriage she made out she had. After five seasons on TMTMS,Phyllis was spun off to her own show "Phyllis" with daughter,Bess,moving to San Francisco,to stay with her in-laws,the very funny and scatty Jonathan and Audrey(Henry Jones and Jane Rose) when the always unseen Lars(Phyllis' husband) dies and leaves Phyllis penniless. After a cracking pilot,where Phyllis mets Julie(Barbara Colby),owner of a photo studio(and ex girlfriend of Lars)and Leo,Julie's photographer(Richard Schaal)Phyllis starts working there as a general helper. Tragedy struck in real life,when after three episodes Miss Colby was shot dead and the part of Julie was given to Lis Torres,who made the part work under a very tragic recasting. Phyllis did seem to change in her own show,she became much more glamorous and lost her wiglet and the character seemed to be a lot less intelligent and less outrageous than on MTMS. Miss Leachman herself is a comedy genius and was giving 100 percent value in comedy and the casting of the elderly Judith Lowry as Mother Dexter,mother of Jonathan-outspoken and very much like the character of Sophia in "The Golden Girls" would later be,except Miss Lowry was really as elderly as she was meant to be-was a great idea. The wedding of Mother Dexter in the 2nd season was one of the highlights of the show but sadly Miss Lowry died a few months after filming it. In the 2nd season though Phyllis was put into an office,which seemed a bad idea,there was an overdose of characters and although the character of Phyllis seemed more like her old MTMS character in the 2nd season,the ratings went down and the last episode,ended with Bess pregnant and Phyllis getting her back with her new husband Mark. Very funny,I really do hope this show comes out on DVD at some point.
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Slightly away from MTM, but a good watch
zbornak21 July 2000
The "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff, "Phyllis", is often hounded as a failure where spin-offs are concerned. Actually, it is a very funny show and, if it hadn't followed up such an astounding breakthrough show as its predecessor, it would have been quite successful. Though the character of Phyllis, by far the most interesting character on MTM, was changed somewhat in her switch to her own show, it was only to make her character more likable, which worked most of the time and was a very pleasant experience to finally see the softer side of that downstairs bubblehead. The ensemble cast of the first season was wonderful (and would have been even more so if Barbara Colby hadn't have been murdered after the third episode. She was terrific as Phyllis's boss Julie Erskine.) Henry Jones is especially good, as are Jane Ross and Richard Schaal. And, of course, Cloris Leachman is a treasure. The real problem was in the show's second season, when Phyllis changed workplaces to the downtown city building, where the characters were far less interesting and oft times depressing. The ratings show it, too, because in its first season, "Phyllis" was in the Top Ten, higher than "Rhoda" or "MTM". But in its move to the second season, it did very poorly, hence its cancellation. It's a show that tried hard, so give it a chance. You won't be too disappointed!
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Some classic comedy scenes/moments
wildman0228-129 September 2007
I was 20 when Phyllis was filmed - and had the absolute pleasure of attending every single episode filmed, as part of the live audience for the two season run. What a thrill. I was (still am) an avid Cloris Leachman fan and following Phyllis from MTM was so exciting. It had a great start - and I especially loved Barbara Colby. So sad for the world that she did not get the chance to fulfill her talent longer due to the untimely death. Looking back though, I must say that the highlight of the whole Phyllis experience was the Mother Dexter character. She just stole EVERY scene (the way Phyllis used to on the MTM show). If I want to smile - all I have to do is think about Judith Lowry (Mother Dexter) chasing Billy Barty (guest starring as Bess' potential new in-law) around the living room saying..."you're so cute" - as if he was a baby. As much as I love Cloris (always will) - Judith was the highlight. The second season absolutely declined, but still contained many classic Judith Lowry & Cloris moments. Mother Dexter's Wedding stands out. So funny & moving at the same time to see these two old people (Judith & Burt Mustin) getting married. Burt was also perfectly cast. And fate would have it...Judith died a week before the airing of the show and Burt died about six weeks later. This was the last piece of work they would do. (What a way for an actor to go!). HOPE THE WHOLE SHOW GOES TO DVD SOON! While I do have an unedited version of the "wedding" - the rest of what I have is so heavily edited. IF anyone from MTM reads this...THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!!
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Not quite Phyllis killer-diller
Lejink6 April 2015
I'm very much working from memory but there was a time back in the70's when I was as happy viewing this MTM comedy as its more celebrated originator and first spin-off series, "The Mary Tyler-Moore Show" and my personal favourite "Rhoda". The few times I remember in "TMTMS", she was almost the anti-heroine, the snobbish, bitchy next door neighbour whom you wondered how even St Mary could befriend. Only occasionally did she show her human side which probably made it difficult for the show's writers to centre her as a watchable character in her Jen show.

For what it's worth, I certainly remember enjoying the show on the sporadic occasions it turned up on British television in the mid-70's. Clovis Leachman was great in the title part, her face capable of going from happy to sarcastic in the one line. I was never comfortable when her daughter got air-time with her own brand of spoilt second-hand sardonic-ism but her genial but occasionally caustic middle-aged parents and her acid-tongued grandmother Dexter made good foils for her, the latter perhaps prefiguring the similar character who stole the show years later in "The Golden Girls". It perhaps said something about the star- power of the show that the episode I remember best is the one where Tyler-Moore guest- starred, perhaps to try and boost the ratings.

Perhaps I'm remembering thus show as better than it was but I'd sure like the opportunity to see it again although its short-lived TV shelf-life makes that only a remote possibility. One thing it did have was a great bitter-sweet theme tune which arguably captured the title character's personality in one pay-off finishing line better than two full series of half- hour shows!
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It sure isn't who? You're looking at me?
mark.waltz19 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
That look that Cloris Leachman gives in the opening credits of "Phyllis" is classic Frau Brucher/Nurse Diesel, and is the perfect image for what the Oscar Winning actress does best-character parts with an edge, a sting, a sneer. Recurring on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", Leachman's Phyllis Lindstrom was on less and less as her movie career took over. Not only did Cloris Leachman appear in 1 or 2 movies a year on the big screen, she also appeared in several T.V. movies as well, so she wasn't as available in her later seasons as she had been in seasons 1 and 2 of "MTM". What is also clear is that Phyllis is best as a supporting character, not that being supporting is a bad thing. In fact, sometimes, it is the supporting characters you remember over the leads.

To describe Phyllis, she is one of those sunshine soaked critters with a crack behind each kind smile, yet even she didn't get the fact that she was being ridiculed even more than she was ridiculing. The Sue Anne/Phyllis rivalry dealt with in one season was hysterical because the two women were almost identical, and since the writers knew they were losing Leachman's regular presence, they most likely figured, what the hay? Let's re-write her as a new character, one who will help send Phyllis off with a bang. Two years went by before Phyllis left cold Minneapolis to move to San Francisco where she charmed the crabs from Fisherman's Wharf right out of their shell. She also made a quick stop-over in New York City, preventing old enemy Rhoda from making it to her wedding, and here, she repeated the same mistake, yet with someone much older than Rhoda and even, believe it or not, twice as tough.

That tough old bride was Mother Dexter (the wonderful Judith Lowry), the Sophia Petrillo of her day, the octogenarian who said what she felt, and in Sally's case, there was no stroke to justify her remarks. Phyllis was an instant target for Mother Dexter, and Leachman allowed this granny without the tweety bird to get a bulk of the good lines. That too could be said for her dimwitted former mother-in-law Audrey (Jane Rose), married to Judge Jonathan Dexter (Henry Jones), sort of a nitwit like "Golden Girls" Rose Nylon whose malapropisms created bounds of laughter. The distinctively voiced Jones' classy judge also got some great lines, and the way he delivered them still rings in my ear. Ironically, the grown-up Bess (Lisa Gerritsen) became the show's voice of wisdom as she was more of an adult emotionally than Phyllis ever was.

What "Phyllis" had in its family element lost credibility in her working environment. Her first season working at a photo studio was promising, but the death of the original boss and the sudden replacement (even though they looked very much alike) was truly jarring. The second season saw Phyllis working for one of the commissioners and had potential. Considering that this was San Francisco "Tales of the City" era could have made for some very interesting stories, but unfortunately, Phyllis wasn't Maude. There were story lines surrounding gay characters (with a great retort by Mother Dexter in regards to how she couldn't stand an old gay uncle) and changes in society, but "Phyllis" really took little effort to explore them.

Unfortunately, as entertaining as the show's two seasons are, they are not likely to get a DVD release. Like other shows which have been given only one season releases ("Maude" and "Murphy Brown" the two who need more seasons out), "Phyllis" doesn't have the confidence of distributors of old T.V. shows who think it would only sell a little. With the C.R.A.P. that is coming onto T.V. at a rip-roaring speed, "Phyllis" is better than shows which have last years. I hope to eventually be proved wrong and see this come out, but I ain't gonna hold my breath. Fortunately, "Maude" is on its way out in its entirety, so maybe where there's "Phyllis", there's "hope".
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A funny, memorable show with a great theme-song sequence.
rswanson-61 February 2006
This was a funny spin off, not the best ever, but certainly memorable, and enjoyable. (The theme-song sequence is one of the best in TV history.) The show allowed the wonderful Cloris Leachman to really flesh out the Phyllis Lindstrom character. Unfortunately, despite good ratings, the show was canceled just when it was blossoming.

Phylllis was the flip side of Mary Richards. She didn't so much embrace her liberation as slip on it like a banana peel. In many ways her character and this show were precursors of the dysfunctional survivor school of situation comedy. Marge Simpson, Peg Bundy, Malcolm's mom, Lois, and many others owe a little tip of the hat to Cloris Leachman's put-upon Phyllis.
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I think "Phyllis", at times, was extremely funny.
CSK-6311 August 2001
Though the show obviously needed help with more creative plots and had too many 70's sitcom rejects, it did have some funny moments, and with recasting, could have had a nice run. Barbara Colby as (Julie Erskine), and Liz Torres as (Julie Erskine)were not funny and their character was unneeded. Phyllis' "generation gap" conversations with her daughter Bess (Lisa Geristien)were predictable and dry. The main reason I think Lisa Geristien was still on the Phyllis show was for consistent transition form the Mary Tyler Moore show. Her character was pointless. The real entertainment came with the dialogue between Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) and "Mother" Dexter. The caustic wit of "Mother Dexter" as she poked fun of Phyllis' troubled life was hysterical. Further, the dialogue between Judge Dexter (Henry Jones) and Audry Dexter (Jane Rose) as they tried to understand the antics of their "well meaning" but confused daughter-in-law Phyllis, was also extremely funny. Judge Dexter's stuffy monotone, yet patient voice countered nicely against Phyllis'scatter brained personality, thus highlighting Phyllis' bizarre logic.

Overall, the show did have potential, if they had just thinned out the cast and had more creative plots. It was funny though.
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It wasn't THAAAT bad...
awyeahboy24 April 2000
Sure, this series didn't showcase Cloris Leachman's talents to any great extent. Sure, the comedy was more than often silly. Sure, the cast changes at the start of season 2 LOOKED like the desperate attempt that it really was to keep fresh story ideas alive. Sure, Jane Rose's performance was the equivalent of finger-nails on a chalk board. Sure, the character of Phyllis was extremely watered down after the pilot.

But for Mother Dexter alone, I'd have to disagree with the opinion that it's "unwatchable." ...And whatever happened to Lisa Gerritsen anyhow??
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Worst show ever spun from a good show
anthony-4827 November 1999
This show is bad. They shouldn't have even made it a spin off from Mary Tyler Moore, because the character of Phyllis is totally different here. I used to cringe when they used to air it on Nick At Nite. Don't even bother watching it, this spinoff personnifies the dreaded 4 un's: UNfamiliar, UNentertaining, UNfunny and UNwatchable.
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