Forty years ago, on Oct. 28, 1974, 52 million viewers tuned in to watch Rhoda Morgenstern marry Joe Gerard on the TV show Rhoda. Audiences knew and loved Rhoda as Mary Richards' self-deprecating upstairs single neighbor on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Before Rhoda and Joe were married, the Rhoda spinoff which starred Valerie Harper in the title role had only been on for seven episodes. And yet the hour-long television episode became one of the highest rated TV shows (that is until 1977 when the TV miniseries Roots came along). In fact, the wedding show was the second most watched episode in TV history. (The first being when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky in 1953.)
The episode which featured Rhoda in her wedding gown and veil traipsing around the streets of the Bronx and Manhattan, became a true phenomenon. An endless stream of wedding gifts from engraved plates to toasters (along with thousands of "Congratulations Rhoda and Joe" cards) poured into CBS studios. The series actually generated some serious buzz when shortly before that show aired, Harper and Mary Tyler Moore were on the cover of Time magazine. And even the night of the episode legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell who hosted Monday Night Football on rival ABC offered wedding commentary. "Let's go over to Rhoda's wedding quick. The chicken liver is getting rancid," he told his audience.
The episode which would earn Harper an Emmy award (her fourth for playing Rhoda) turned out to be game changer for the actress. "It was this hour long special that permanently united Valerie Harper and Rhoda Morgenstern for life," recalled Harper. "Before the wedding, I'd often been called Rhoda. But after the special aired, it took on a whole new dimension. The audience felt as if a family member were getting married."
To discover some surprising details about the episode, click on this story at Parade.