For the Favourite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts I chose “It’s Whether You Win or Lose,” an episode that originally aired on October 14, 1972, the third season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
The premise couldn’t be simpler. Producer and all around head honcho of the WJM newsroom, Lou Grant (Ed Asner) has his heart set on going to Las Vegas for a weekend of partying with his buddies. Unfortunately a snow storm causes his flight to be cancelled, which prompts Associate Producer Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) to organize a poker game at the office. If you know anything about “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the character of Mary Richards it’s that she’ll do anything for anyone if it means keeping the peace. So as Mary recruits players, which include weatherman Gordy Howard (John Amos) WJM writer and Mary’s best friend in the office, Murray (Gavin MacLeod) declines the invitation. Unbeknownst to Mary Murray is a compulsive gambler. But Murray’s reluctance to join the game lasts only a few minutes. Or until he overhears the following exchange …
Ted Baxter: Does three of a kind beat a flush?
Gordy Howard: No, Ted.
Ted Baxter: But it does beat two of a kind.
Gordy Howard: Yes.
Ted Baxter: What’s a “kind”?
None of us can blame Murray for stepping into the murky waters of gambling given his addition because who wouldn’t think nit-wit Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) is a sitting duck? But things don’t go as expected. It doesn’t take long for Murray’s addiction to get the better of him, which ends in his losing a bundle to Ted who – as the exchange above illustrates – knows absolutely nothing about poker. So, it’s whether you win or lose, not how you play the game as the popular saying goes.
The next day…BEWARE SPOILERS COMING…we find out, along with Mary that Murray lost almost $400 at the poker game. Panicked that his wife will find out Murray sees an opening for financial retribution when Ted is going over the copy for the evening’s news. Now, if you happen to be one of the few who is not familiar with Ted Baxter it’s important that you know a few things about him before I continue…
Ted Baxter’s career as news caster began in a 5,000 Watt radio station in Fresno, California. Suffice it to say that it’s a miracle he made it to WJM, which is not one of the big boys of news stations, but it has the potential to reach a fairly large audience in the Twin cities. The potential. The ratings for WJM are rarely good thanks in part to the inept, conceited Ted who has a proclivity toward mispronouncing common words or breaking stride by losing his place and saying so on the air. One time one of the crew holds up a sign while Ted’s on air and thinking it’s a breaking story he reads it aloud, “you have something on your front tooth.” You get the picture – now back to “It’s Whether You Win or Lose.”
Ted stands there reading the evening’s copy by Murray’s desk when he gets to the part that reads, “the Japanese Prime Minister of Finance, Hideko Kawasaki” and suddenly Murray gets an idea of how he can square what he owes with Ted. The chances that Ted can pronounce “Hideko Kawasaki” correctly once he’s on the air are slim to none so the bet is on.
Ted: Now wait a minute. That’s a direct challenge to my ability to read a simple sentence.
I must admit I’ve recounted the plot of “It’s Whether You Win or Lose” more times than I can remember and always unsuccessfully. Nobody ever laughs. You have to watch the episode to see how funny it is. Ted spends the rest of the afternoon and evening leading up to the news broadcast repeating “Hideko Kawasaki” correctly. He even sings it like a conga to prove how easy it is for him. But then it’s news time and by the time the Japanese news story nears Ted has mispronounced a bunch of things including, “we’ll be right back after this commersial sessage.” Murray’s panicked because now the chances are slimmer that the news anchor will continue his carnage of words. But it happens. What comes out of Ted’s mouth is “Hideko Sawakaki” sending Mary, Murray and Gordy into a celebratory dance.
I can’t tell you how much that scene makes me laugh and I’ve watched it countless times. The laughter continues because Ted follows his screwup with “Damn” on live Television. When next we see him there are tears streaming down his face. Ted also happens to be extremely cheap. It’s hilarious.
“It’s Whether You Win or Lose” is not the only example of Ted Baxter sending me into fits of laughter. Those moments in the show’s seven-year run are legion. In fact I may well be back with a short series of “favorite Ted Baxter moments,” because recalling this episode just whets my appetite for more. I happen to think Ted is the funniest TV character of all time. Kudos to Ted Knight who was nominated six times with two EMMY wins for his portrayal of this exasperatingly funny character.
What “It’s Whether You Win or Lose” is a great example of is the extraordinary writing in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which spotlighted one of the greatest ensemble casts ever. This particular episode is not about Ted Baxter, yet as is the case with all of the fully realized characters on the show he is allowed his moments to add hearty laughs at his own expense – as we’d expect and why I never tire of watching it. This is as reliable a quality show as one can get.