David Davis, the Emmy-winning writer and producer whose 1970s heyday was invaluable to the network’s enduring sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Cab, has passed away. He was 86.
Davis died Friday in Los Angeles, his daughter Samantha Davis-Friedman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the survivors are his wife, actress Julie Kavner, best known as the voice of Marge Simpson The Simpsons. Davis recommended her for the role of Brenda Morgenstern, Valerie Harper’s insecure sister on Rhoda — it was her first paid job as an actress — and they’d been together since 1976.
Rhoda “gave me my life, it gave me my career, it gave me the love of my life, David Davis,” Kavner said in an interview from 2009.
A member of the MTM Enterprises production company founded by Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore, Davis began work on MTM’s inaugural series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show1970.
Davis wrote episodes with his frequent writing partner, Lorenzo Music, and was also a line producer for the sitcom’s first two seasons before the pair got the chance to write a pilot for a show starring Bob Newhart.
“I was in heavy therapy at the time and we thought, ‘Let’s make him a psychologist,'” recalls Davis in a 2005 American masters interview. “Bob listens funny. And he is a reactive. He is a great reactive comedian.
“But the key to the show, believe it or not, was that we wanted to give it a home life. We wanted to do a show like The Mary Tyler Moore Showwhere he lives and where he works. … We didn’t want to do a show with kids. We didn’t want to do a show with dogs and pets like the comedies of old.
“And we thought, you know, Bob is at the time, he’s just in his forties. Why don’t we let him get married? But it is a young marriage, it is a new marriage, it is a first marriage for both. And so you could do a show about marriage using young married problems, but with grown people. And that, I think, is the key to the success of this show.”
Starring Suzanne Pleshette as the wife of Newhart’s psychologist Bob Hartley, plus Bill Daily, Peter Bonerz and Marcia Wallace, the series debuted in 1972 on CBS’ legendary Saturday night lineup — also featuring The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Everything in the family and The Carol Burnett Show – and ran for six seasons.
While working on the Newhart comedy, Davis and Music were tasked with developing Rhodathe spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, that series was an instant hit upon its arrival on CBS in 1974 and ran for five seasons.
Davis then created Cab with former MTM friends Brooks, Stan Daniels and Ed. Weinberger. It is set in a New York taxi company and starring Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito. It bowed to ABC in 1978 and lasted for five seasons.
Davis received his 1979 Emmy for Outstanding Production Comedy Series Cab, who shares the honor with Brooks, Daniels, Weinberger, and brothers Glen and Les Charles. It was the last of his seven Emmy nominations in his career.
Born in Brooklyn on August 5, 1936, Davis worked on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as dialogue supervisor for the CBS show’s third and fourth seasons in 1962-63, then as an associate producer at ABC’s Okay Crackerby!NBCs My mother the car – co-created with Burns and written by Brooks – CBS’ He she and NBC-CBS’ get smart.
In 1969, he and Music wrote for CBS variety shows hosted by Leslie Uggams and Glen Campbell and for the ABC anthology series Love, American style before they landed on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Davis also led the title series The Bob Newhart Show and Cabtogether with Rhoda’s pivotal New York series for the 1974 episode ‘Rhoda’s Wedding’, in which Harper races through the city in her wedding dress.
After retiring in 1979, Davis served as a special advisor on the Brooks-written and directed films Terms of Affection (1983) and Broadcasting news (1987).
He is survived by Kavner, daughters Samantha Davis-Friedman and Abigail Davis Smith, and five grandsons.