Under the Influence

This TV episode is considered the greatest of all time

One episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was considered to be so morbid that a brand new director had to be brought in to handle it tastefully. And boy did it pay off.
The famous Chuckles The Clown funeral scene. (YouTube)
Listen to the full episode27:34

One episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was considered to be so morbid that a brand new director had to be brought in to handle it tastefully. And boy did it pay off.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show won 29 Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row. So many great episodes, but people often cite one specific episode as their favourite of all time.

It was titled Chuckles Bites The Dust.

That episode was about the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, a recurring character on the show who hosted a children's program on the fictional WJM TV station.

In the script, Chuckles's death is caused by an overzealous parade elephant that mistook the clown, who was dressed as a peanut, for a real snack.

The subject matter worried CBS. The network feared it was too morbid for a sitcom.

Almost all of the show's episodes had been directed by Jay Sandrich — but he declined to direct the Chuckles script.

It became difficult to find someone to take the reins on the episode. That's when the job was given to a female director named Joan Darling.

She was thrilled to get the job — not just because she needed the paycheck, but because she was happy for every chance she got to prove women could direct.

The episode script was highly unusual.

During rehearsals, the crew members didn't laugh at all. The reaction of the crew was usually a reliable indicator of how a show would play. That made everyone nervous.

But when it came time to tape the show before a live audience, the crowd laughed hysterically. As a matter of fact, the audience laughed so much the laugh time added 10 minutes to the show's length.

And most of that laughter came during the funeral scene.

In that scene, Lou and Murray start to make jokes about how Chuckles died. Mary is appalled and gives them stern looks.

But then during the minister's eulogy, Mary starts to giggle uncontrollably over and over again.

Then when the minister tells Mary it's okay to laugh, because Chuckles loved to make people laugh, Mary starts to sob uncontrollably.

TV critics raved about the show. The episode gave director Joan Darling her first Emmy nomination. Her reputation as a director got such a boost she started receiving film scripts from major studios.

The Chuckles episode would show up on virtually every future list of "greatest episodes of all time" — usually at the top.

It goes to show that nine times out of 10, if you put risky material in the right hands, odds are it's going to turn out alright.

If the material is in experienced hands, if you impress the best against an idea with potential — chances are it's going to be really, really memorable.

Maybe even brilliant.

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Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)