Jessica Dean, anchor for CBS3, watched Mary Tyler Moore reruns on Nick at Nite during the summer growing up in Little Rock, Ark.
Fox 29 anchor Lucy Noland sat in front of her black-and-white tube TV in Eugene, Ore., devouring the same episodes.
Liz Matt, better known to some Philadelphians as Lizabeth Starr, the host of Channel 6's AM Philadelphia and later as the host of Good Day Philadelphia on Fox 29, was in college watching the show as it aired.
They all saw Mary Richards — played by Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday at the age of 80 — as a young, confident woman in a newsroom, and thought, "I could be her."
"I'm a big believer that if you can't see something, you can't be something. If she could do it, I could do it," said Dean about Moore's indelible character. "She gave me this idea that you can be a smart, capable woman and also care about fashion and girlfriends. When I was at that age, I was thinking about what it means to be a young woman in our world."
"The force of her on that TV show was something I could get into," Noland said. "When you're little, you're not thinking about it, but it got subconsciously into my head. It seems so silly now. I even thought it would be fun to work in Minneapolis. I know people are going to say it was just a silly sitcom, but it featured a never-married, working woman as its central character. That was groundbreaking for a little girl who wanted to do big things."
But it wasn't just Mary Richards whom these women appreciated seeing, it was Moore herself, who created her own production company, MTM, and changed the 1970s television landscape. "You look at her as a person and as a fictional character," Noland said. "It wasn't a mirror image, but there was a reflection."
Both Dean and Matt referred to the famous line in the show's pilot where Richards' boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), says, "You've got spunk," to an excited Mary. "I hate spunk!" he almost spits.
"I was that person in television," Matt said. "I was the person who was really upbeat, not at all ready for the harshness that the industry could deliver to you every single day."
Matt had a closer brush with Moore than the other women. While in high school, Matt saw Moore in Holly Golightly, a musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, costarring Richard Chamberlain, that had a preview run in Philadelphia. It was savaged by critics. "There was Laura Petrie [Moore's Dick Van Dyke Show character] onstage in front of me," Matt said. "All these adults thought it was so horrible, but I was young and starstruck and sitting in the cheap seats. I went to one of the very few performances of one of her legendary failures."
Moore's message of femininity and capability resonated with Dean, who experienced the Mary Tyler Moore years later.
"You can be feminine and still have authority. That's the epitome of a modern woman, someone who is confident enough to be smart and be at the top of their game, but also to say, 'I got this new dress, and I really love it,' " Dean said about Mary Richards' legacy. "When you're just trying to figure out how society responds to women, that's a powerful message as a young girl, and as an adult, too."
"As a little girl," Noland said, "watching this woman with a big huge smile — who turned the world on with her smile — this wonderful woman with a wonderful attitude: She changed the real world for girls growing up in that era."