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Ted Baxter

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Ted Baxter

The original talking head--just not a thinking one.

Ted Baxter is the secondary antagonist of the classic 1970's sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the co-primary antagonists being Mary's love life and the travails of running a TV station's local news; Ted often places himself in the midst of those as well. While not often traversing into true villainy, he is a constant source of unneeded drama and stress for Mary Richards, Lou Grant and the staff at WJM-TV News in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While often simply pathetic and at times a character to be sympathized with, he does share many classic villain traits, including one of characterization and placement he shares with two other prominent 1970's TV antagonists.


Ted is the chief news anchor at WJM-TV news, already in place when Mary Richards arrives in the first episode. For much of the first season, he is shown to be superficial but having some depth and the ability to pick up on his own flaws. In one early episode with his brother, the two described their shallow rivalry stemming from a competition their parents forced on them. Ted's childhood seemed to be retconned later on and just being him and his over-bearing mother who once gave him the not-at-all sage advice : "Women, son--I'm the only good one!". Also in the first season, Mary was slightly attracted to Ted, but quickly came to agree with the assessment of her friend Rhoda Morgenstern that Ted was, in essence, a living 8 by 10 Glossy.

As with Frank Burns and Harriet Oleson, this early self-awareness vanished almost entirely, and veteran actor Ted Knight (later of Too Close For Comfort) was permitted to shine, creating a vainglorious man-child with delusions of being someone much bigger and more respected than he could ever hope to be. His occasional flub of his news lines became frequent, epically disastrous and primally embarrassing for Mary, short-tempered Producer Lou Grant (Actor Ed Asner, later noted for a variety of voice roles, including Hoggish Greedly) and their staff news writer, Murray Slaughter (played by Gavin Macleod, later the Captain on The Love Boat). Murray became Ted's direct nemesis, with the sharp Murray always able to puncture the bombastic Ted's every balloon. Ted's antics on occasion reached beyond just embarrassment, jumping into job-threatening and even legal consequences. No amount of coaching or even physical threats from the burly Grant could seem to get Ted to even think about changing his ways. The unstated implication of his continued employment was that WJM did not wish to spend the money it would take to get a stable, professional news anchor, the news division being a low priority for them.

Ted's intelligence took a Homer Simpson/Peter Griffin-like dive as the show continued, his flubs becoming willfully ignorant and his vanity in essence becoming his whole being. While not truly bigoted, he was often enough a blatant sexist and coward. After meeting Rhoda's friend Georgette, he began to date her and seemed deeply in love, till Mary realized he was running around with several other women. When Mary told Georgette the truth, Ted (looking every inch like a film noir detective about to point out the killer) made Mary look like the villain for interfering in the two's relationship, something the other men in the office largely agreed with. Ted took this a step further in a later episode, claiming to have slept with Mary, with her denials only serving to make this lie seem truth, even to her friends and to Georgette. At the end of this episode, Mary, no longer able to stand the joking and glances, forced Ted under threat to call every last person he had told this (Implied to be a massive amount of people) to that he lied.

Ted liked to seem like a man in control, bold and assertive, when he obviously wasn't, so he learned little tricks to aggrandize himself. One of his least enduring was to challenge another man to step outside, only to have the other man go out first, locking the door behind him. Ted was invariably in his friends' corner in a pinch, but as one might imagine, it wasn't always a place you would want him to be. During a legal proceeding caused by Mary refusing to name a source in a story, Ted, after boasting that he would never be broken on the stand, was not only instantly broken but likely helped Mary being sent to jail for that episode. During a guest spot by Lou Grant's old friend Walter Cronkite, Ted afterwords called meeting the news legend the greatest thrill of Cronkite's life.

Ted eventually married Georgette, albeit with her wearing a rented tuxedo, rather than (his reasoning) a dress she would only wear once. Their seeming inability to have children led them to try and adopt a young boy, with his friends supportive but reluctant to come out and say that the childish Ted (and the more mature but still questionable Georgette) would be good parents. In one humorously ominous if unintended foreshadowing of the show's ending, the boy was played by Robbie Rist, an actor often associated (tongue-in-cheek) with the downfall of a series, much like Ted McGinley. In another, Ted's fortunes took a dramatic upturn when he and Georgette learned she was pregnant. Like with all things with her friends and with Ted in particular, the birth of their daughter causes problems for Mary, ruining yet another one of her always-disastrous dinner parties but gaining her a god-daughter named Mary Lou (Because, according to Ted, Lou Mary sounded dumb).

In one of the final episodes, all three male leads took turns imagining life being married to Mary, with Ted's fantasy ended abruptly by the Mary of his dreams refusing to sleep with him, even in his imagination.

While never causing a death or truly causing anyone's ruination, Ted Baxter in the end beats out many villains more ruthless and cunning than he, for the simplest of reasons. In the show's final episode, a new owner decides that the problem with WJM News is its support staff, and promptly fires everyone except Ted. For good measure, the fearful Ted brought in his family to show off the consequences of firing him. Despite the fact that he was the vast majority of the reason for the News Show's failing ratings, Ted alone was still employed when things ended, making him decades later still one of live-action TV's greatest Karma Houdinis.


  • Ted shared another few elements with Frank Burns. Both were played by actors well-regarded by their cast-mates and often typecast by their iconic roles. Both also played a part in two separate yet identical episodes. Like Frank's transfer from the 4077th, Ted's efforts to become a game-show host are torpedoed by the reluctance of his co-workers to let him go. Arguably, this scenario makes even less sense than it did on M*A*S*H, since wartime need for a surgeon drove at least part of that plot. Ted's new job was better, better-paying and better-suited to his personality. Almost any new anchor would have been better than Ted. Both episodes are cited among being their series' weakest entries.
  • By the time a reunion movie featuring Mary, Rhoda and their daughters was made, Ted Knight had died. Ted Baxter remains a legend in his own mind, and in the minds of everyone who must suffer a likeable fool who very often pushes the likeable part to the breaking point.
  • Ted Knight may not have played a deep-down villain in Ted Baxter, but he did voice some indisputable villains in the late 1960's Filmation cartoon series, The Adventures Of Batman. Knight was in fact the very first voice actor for such notables as Penguin, and Mr. Freeze. Perhaps needing balance, Knight also voiced Commissioner Gordon. Knight was also the voice of the narrator, a position he again took during the 'Superboy' segments and the first season of Superfriends.

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