I wish I could have seen the debut.
I wish I could have seen Mary Richards walk into that fictional newsroom for the very first time, the way so many viewers did in 1970.
I wish I could have seen her turn out the lights in that newsroom in 1977.
She turned them off in March of 1977.
I was born in September of that very same year.
So why would a fictional character influence me as much as a real-life mentor would?
Because Mary Richards was writing the script for lots of working women — especially newswomen like me — to make it on our own.
Newsrooms of that era were classic boys’ clubs — filled with the symphony of typewriters and the stench of smoke. Ideas were born there but, sadly, gender norms thrived.
The same could be said for TV sitcoms.
Female characters kept the home clean, the children fed and the husband happy. They rarely dared to take a nothing day and suddenly make it all worthwhile.
But all of that began to change the day Mary walked into that newsroom. And America, over the course of the show’s seven-year run, came to agree: Yes. She. Can.
I began my news career a lot like Mary did.
Running from heartbreak, I was looking for a new start in 2003. And when I reached that northbound stretch on I-35W — you know the one in Burnsville, where you suddenly see the Minneapolis skyline for the first time?
As I saw the city on the horizon, I wished for a cap to toss in the air. Because this was her news town, and I knew it.
Talk about intimidating.
I was suddenly terrified of the thought of walking my green 26-year-old self into KARE 11 just a few hours later. With that skyline in view, I was hit with the magnitude of sharing the city with Mary, the matriarch of news ladies everywhere.
I was feeling the same fear that dogs so many women just as they chase their wildest dreams. But, once again, it was Mary’s example that lifted me. And I managed to suppress those ugly thoughts by cranking up the Joan Jett version of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” anthem in my head.
It was that moment of realizing that what we dream and what we’re taught aren’t yet in alignment.
It was also a moment of realizing that dreams, by their very nature, make us fight against everything we’re taught. A dream is the most daring thing we could ask for.
To be single and thriving professionally.
To be “alone” yet not alone by its simplest definition.
At the time, women were told they needed a man to care for them, and not to care for work in the slightest.
But the truth was, the women were quite well suited to care for themselves.
Mary embraced her passion for work with the same level of focus (or perhaps more) than any man.
She helped generations of women understand that work and friendships are not lesser than our relationships with men. They are equal to.
Before “Single Ladies” was an anthem, Mary and Rhoda were living the life in Kenwood (or fake Kenwood anyway).
Equal pay? She took a whack at that one.
Speak her mind? She made a mint of it.
Go to jail for refusing to reveal a source? She was way, way ahead of her time.
Truth be told, Mary didn’t turn the world on with her smile. At least not for me.
She woke up the world with her style — sure, with her fashions, but more important in her role as a pioneer.
Mary Richards left the newsroom 20 years before I ever walked into one. And she turned the lights out when she left.
But she left the lights on for lots of women.
And we humbly thank her, we ladies of the news.
Jana Shortal is co-host of “Breaking the News,” weekdays on KARE 11 at 6:30 p.m. Find the show on Twitter at #BTN11 or on their Facebook page.