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The two actresses seated, having tea
Mother-in-law Audrey Dexter (Jane Rose) with Phyllis (1975)
Created byJames L. Brooks[1]
Stan Daniels
Ed. Weinberger
Based onPhyllis Lindstrom
by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns
StarringCloris Leachman
Henry Jones
Jane Rose
Judith Lowry
Lisa Gerritsen
Barbara Colby
Liz Torres
Richard Schaal
Carmine Caridi
Garn Stephens
John Lawlor
Theme music composerStan Daniels
ComposerDick DeBenedictis
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes48 (list of episodes)
ProducersStan Daniels
Michael J. Leeson
Ed. Weinberger
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time24 minutes
Production companyMTM Enterprises
Original release
ReleaseSeptember 8, 1975 (1975-09-08) –
March 13, 1977 (1977-03-13)

Phyllis is an American sitcom television series that aired on CBS from September 8, 1975, to March 13, 1977. Created mainly by Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels, it was the second spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the first being Rhoda). Mary Tyler Moore Show producer James L. Brooks was also involved with the show as a creative consultant.[1] The show starred Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, who was previously Mary Richards' friend, neighbor, and landlady on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In the new series, Phyllis and her daughter Bess Lindstrom moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco, after the death of her husband, Dr. Lars Lindstrom. It was revealed that San Francisco was Phyllis and Lars' original home town, prior to their moving to Minneapolis, and that his mother and stepfather still resided there.

Synopsis and production

See also: List of Phyllis episodes

When Phyllis' musical efforts hit a sour note, Leo (Richard Schaal) and Julie (Liz Torres) comfort her.

Left penniless after the death of her husband Lars, Phyllis and her daughter Bess (Lisa Gerritsen) move in with Lars's mother, the scatterbrained Audrey Dexter (Jane Rose) and stepfather Judge Jonathan Dexter (Henry Jones). Phyllis takes a job as an assistant in a photographic studio. The owner, Julie Erskine, was played by Barbara Colby. In the 1974-1975 season, Colby was featured on The Mary Tyler Moore Show playing Sherry Ferris, a prostitute who Mary Richards (Moore) befriends. Her appearances on that show were so popular with viewers that when Phyllis was being cast, the producers enthusiastically signed her as a regular cast member. However, after three episodes of Phyllis had been filmed, Colby was murdered and the part was assumed by Liz Torres. Leo Heatherton (Richard Schaal, who was married to Valerie Harper, who played the title character in Rhoda) was a well-meaning but bumbling photographer at the studio.

Much of the first season's humor stemmed from Phyllis' attempts to fit into the job market, having lived for many years as the spoiled wife of a rich dermatologist. Judith Lowry guest starred in an early episode ("Leaving Home") as Jonathan's mother, Sally Dexter. She was so well received by viewers that by the end of the first year Lowry became a regular when Mother Dexter joined the household.

Aired on Monday nights between two popular shows – Rhoda and All in the FamilyPhyllis instantly became a top ten hit. Cloris Leachman won a Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The sitcom was the sixth highest-rated television series for the 1975–76 television season (at the time ranking higher than both Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

Season two

Toward the end of the first season, the ratings were beginning to slip. As a result, the series premise was reworked for the second season. Erskine Photography and the characters Julie Erskine (Liz Torres) and Leo Heatherton (Richard Schaal) were dropped with the explanation that Julie had married suddenly, sold the photography studio, and moved away, putting Phyllis out of a job. Leachman, Gerritsen, Jones, Rose and Lowry remained with Phyllis.

In the second-season premiere Phyllis was hired as an assistant to a San Francisco City Supervisor.

New characters were Phyllis's boss Dan Valenti (Carmine Caridi), Leonard Marsh (John Lawlor), an inept politician in the office, and Leonard's secretary Harriet Hastings (Garn Stephens). Harriet was initially Phyllis's rival, but they later became friends. Both Caridi and Lawlor had appeared in two separate episodes of Phyllis the previous season - Caridi as a junk dealer in the episode "Phyllis's Garage Sale" and Lawlor as a policeman in the episode "Crazy Mama".

The ratings continued to drop. Rhoda was also going through a format change at the time, which may have also affected Phyllis’ ratings. During this time both series' chief competition, NBC's Little House on the Prairie, flourished.

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis
Judith Lowry as Mother Dexter (1976)

In a December 1976 episode, Jonathan's cranky and outspoken Mother Dexter (Lowry), Phyllis' main nemesis, married Arthur Lanson (Burt Mustin); both Lowry, 86, and Mustin, 92, died within a month of the episode's airing. (Episodes featuring Lowry continued to air through early February 1977; Mustin's character was mentioned but not seen after the wedding episode.).

CBS moved both Rhoda and Phyllis to Sunday nights at 8:00 P.M. and 8:30 P.M., respectively. Actress Jane Rose (who played Audrey Dexter) took ill. These cast changes necessitated new story lines. Bess's role became more prominent. She found romance with Mark Valenti (Craig Wasson), the nephew of Phyllis' boss, and they later married.

By the middle of the 1976–77 season, the ratings for Rhoda had improved but Phyllis was still faltering. Rhoda was renewed for an additional season (it would ultimately be canceled in December 1978), but Phyllis was dropped by CBS in the spring of 1977, finishing in 40th place that season. The complications resulting from the deaths of several cast members during the show's run, as well as the ill health of actress Jane Rose, are said to have been factors in the series' cancellation.

The final episode ("And Baby Makes Six") had Bess announcing that she and Mark were expecting their first child. This installment aired Sunday, March 13, 1977. The same week, on Saturday, March 19, Leachman made her last appearance as Phyllis Lindstrom on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.



Home media

In July 1992, a VHS titled Phyllis—Volume 1 containing the first two episodes was released by MTM Home Video; however, a second volume was never released.

VHS Name Ep# Release Date Titles
Phyllis—Volume 1 2 July 1992
  • Pilot
  • Bess, Is You a Woman Now?


  1. ^ a b "James L. Brooks". 22 October 2017.