Valerie Harper’s death has television fans remembering her most famous roles. The four-time Emmy Award winner died at age 80 after a long battle with cancer.
Harper was best known as Rhoda Morgenstern, the best friend character she played on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The character was so popular that she scored her own self-titled spinoff in 1974, as previously shared by The Inquisitr.
The 1970’s series had Rhoda relocating to New York City and it boasted some big TV moments, most notably Rhoda’s wedding to construction executive Joe Gerard (David Groh). Rhoda, fresh from Minneapolis and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, married her short-time beau in an hour-long special episode on October 28, 1974, which was heavily advertised by CBS. The episode was must-see TV before must-see TV was even a thing.
According to Parade, a whopping 52 million viewers tuned in to watch Rhoda marry Joe on the spinoff series’ eighth episode. At the time, the hour-long television episode became one of the highest-rated TV episodes in history, bested only by Little Ricky’s birth on I Love Lucy in 1953.
Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, who hosted Monday Night Football on ABC that night, even referenced the rival network’s TV wedding during his broadcast as he joked that he wasn’t invited to Rhoda and Joe’s nuptials.
Nearly 45 years later after the historic TV event, fans recalled the famous “Rhoda’s Wedding” episode as they mourned the death of Harper.
Valerie Harper's spinoff "Rhoda" created a cultural phenomenon within weeks of launching. What that show pulled off, with Harper's tenacity up front, in the "Rhoda's Wedding" storyarc is still phenomenal today. https://t.co/wD78LCMlYM— Brett White (@brettwhite) August 30, 2019
The GAME OF THRONES finale was watched by a record 19.3 million people across HBO's platforms: linear TV, HBO Go, and HBO Now.— Anthony Sacramone (@amsacramone) August 30, 2019
Rhoda's wedding was watched by 52 million.
She made us laugh and was an inspiration for all. Rhoda's Wedding is the funniest hour on television.— jonjohnoc (@jonjohnoc) August 31, 2019
The reach of the show: College girls dorm w every sitting space taken in the Day Rooms & every open dorm room watching the same show creating an echo chamber of Rhoda's wedding. Lots of rotf laughing especially the subway scene! #ValerieHarper's Rhoda was every girl striving #RIP— anodyne (@DiChristine) August 31, 2019
That show broke viewership records. I remember reading that there was less crime on the streets that night because everyone was home watching Joe & Rhoda’s wedding. It was huge.— Totalblamblam???? (@Totalblamblamm) August 31, 2019
Classic TV fans will recall the “Rhoda’s Wedding” episode, which featured Harper’s Rhoda running through New York city in her wedding gown and veil as she hopped a subway to get to her wedding venue. The episode scored Harper her fourth Emmy Award.
The one-hour episode also featured a major TV crossover. On the October 26 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the characters talked about Mary’s best friend Rhoda’s pending nuptials in the Big Apple. In the end, Rhoda’s Minneapolis pals, Mary, Lou Grant (Edward Asner), Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Georgette Franklin (Georgia Engel) all made cameos on Rhoda as they attended the NYC wedding.
By the show’s fourth season, however, there was trouble in paradise. Rhoda and Joe were divorced, a story arc that was negatively received by viewers. At the time, producer Charlotte Brown told TV Guide that while the audience wasn’t bored—yet—the show needed a new direction because Rhoda was too settled as a married woman.
“Everything was so nice for our Rhoda in her happily married life,” Brown said, per The Hollywood Reporter. “She had no vulnerability; she wasn’t the underdog anymore.”
Rhoda and Joe separated and then divorced in Season 4—a bold move by 1970s sitcom standards. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t embrace the single Rhoda, and the once-beloved show was canceled early in its fifth season, just four episodes in, in December 1978.
Harper later expressed regret that Rhoda never had a proper sendoff. Sadly, even in today’s reboot-obsessed era, she never had the chance.