Inside Valerie Harper’s Monday Appointment with ‘The Doctors’

by | March 10, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, TV News

Valerie Harper with Dr. Travis Stork on Monday's edition of "The Doctors" (Photo: CBS Television Distribution/Stage 29 Productions LLC)

In a trend that has been evolving slowly but steadily, another prominent newsmaker has chosen to do her first interview on a syndicated daytime talk show, rather than choose a more customary destination such as “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America.”

This time it’s Valerie Harper, 73, the beloved star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Rhoda” in the ’70s, who revealed last week that she has terminal cancer.

She broke the story in People magazine, disclosing that her doctors have given her 3-6 months to live before she’ll succumb to leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a form of brain cancer.

Instead of turning up on “Today” or “GMA” — or even in a prime-time setting with the likes of Barbara Walters, Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer — Harper will do her first TV interview, since revealing the sad news, on the CBS syndicated show “The Doctors” on Monday (check local listings for the airtime near you).

On the show, co-host/physician Dr. Travis Stork will take “viewers through an in-depth look at the probable course of this disease and explain why it is difficult to treat,” CBS said.

Watch how “The Today Show” reported the sad Harper cancer story last week:

Stork will interview Harper, of course, along with her husband, Tony Cacciotti, plus her team of doctors from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I have to tell you I am blown away by her resilience and her resolve in the face of such a dire, dire diagnosis,” Stork said in a prepared statement.

“It’s good to be here – and I mean that in a big way!” joked Harper when she first came on stage for the show’s taping last week — an illustration of her “resilience” in the face of death.

The CBS announcement about the big “get” gave no indication about how Harper, who could have been interviewed on any number of higher-rated and higher-profile shows, came to choose “The Doctors” for her first TV interview. The booking reminded us of several recent interview “gets” scored by another CBS daytime show, “Dr. Phil,” which in recent weeks had the first TV interviews with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the admitted perpetrator of the Manti Te’o “fake girlfriend” hoax, and the 6 year-old boy who was held hostage by a crazed gunman for nearly a week in Alabama.

Our take: It’s possible that Harper chose “The Doctors” because she may have felt it’s the best setting in which to discuss her illness. On the other hand, the interviewers on the network morning shows would have handled the interview with much the same level of sensitivity, so it’s anybody’s guess about how “The Doctors” won this one. (Yes, it has been speculated, but never confirmed, that these syndicated daytime shows have no problem offering payments to their interview subjects, while the network morning shows don’t do that. Did that happen here? Who knows.)

In the wake of her sad news, Valerie Harper has been on the receiving end of a huge outpouring of support and emotion. Why? Because in the era in which she was a TV star, typical TV shows had audiences two or three times larger than most shows have today (due mainly to the fact that there were only three major networks at the time).

“Mary Tyler Moore,” of course, is one of the most revered TV shows in the history of TV. And while “Rhoda” was never quite in the same category, it still would draw about a quarter of all viewers watching TV when it was on — an audience somewhere in the 20 millions.

“Rhoda” aired from 1974 to 1978. The character of Rhoda Morgenstern was Mary Richards’ best friend on “Mary Tyler Moore.” Rhoda moved away from the Minneapolis setting of “Mary Tyler Moore” — to New York — in an episode that aired on Dec. 16, 1972. Her spinoff, “Rhoda,” didn’t premiere until Sept. 9, 1974.

Here’s the episode of “Mary Tyler Moore” in which Mary said good-bye to Rhoda:
And here’s the premiere episode of “Rhoda” from September 1974: