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David Davis, the Emmy-winning writer and producer whose heyday in the 1970s included invaluable work on the enduring network sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Taxi, has died. He was 86.
Davis died Friday in Los Angeles, his daughter Samantha Davis-Friedman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Survivors include his wife, actress Julie Kavner, best known as the voice of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons. Davis recommended her for the part of Brenda Morgenstern, Valerie Harper‘s insecure sister on Rhoda — it was her first paying job as an actress — and they were 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 a 2009 interview.
Davis penned episodes with his frequent writing partner, Lorenzo Music, and also was a line producer for the sitcom’s first two seasons before the pair were offered a chance to write a pilot for a show starring Bob Newhart.
“I was in heavy duty therapy at the time, and we thought, ‘Let’s make him a psychologist,'” Davis recalled in a 2005 American Masters interview. “Bob listens funny. And he’s a reactive. He’s a terrific reactive comedian.
“But the key to the show, believe it or not, was that we wanted to give him a life at home. We wanted to do a show like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where he lives and where he works. … We did not want to do a show with kids. We did not want to do a show with dogs and pets like the old situation comedies of all.
“And we thought, you know, Bob is at that time, he’s like in his 40s. Why don’t we have him married? But it’s a young marriage, it’s a new marriage, it’s a first marriage for both. And so you could do a show about marriage using young married problems, but with mature people. And that, I think, is the key to the success of this show.”
Also starring Suzanne Pleshette as the wife of Newhart’s Chicago 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, All 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 Rhoda, the spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That series, created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, was an instant hit upon its arrival on CBS in 1974 and went on for five seasons.
Davis then created Taxi with former MTM mates Brooks, Stan Daniels and Ed. Weinberger. Set inside a New York cab company and starring Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito, it bowed on ABC in 1978 and lasted five seasons.
Davis received his Emmy in 1979 for outstanding comedy series for producing Taxi, sharing the honor with Brooks, Daniels, Weinberger and brothers Glen and Les Charles. It was the last of his seven career Emmy noms.
Born in Brooklyn on Aug. 5, 1936, Davis worked on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as a dialogue supervisor for the CBS show’s third and fourth seasons in 1962-63 and as a script supervisor on the 1963 pilot for CBS’ Gilligan’s Island. He then served as an associate producer on ABC’s O.K. Crackerby!, NBC’s My Mother the Car — co-created by 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 shot the title sequences for The Bob Newhart Show and Taxi and did Rhoda’s pivotal New York sequence for the October 1974 episode “Rhoda’s Wedding,” in which Harper raced through Manhattan in her wedding gown.
After he retired in 1979, Davis served as a special adviser on the Brooks written and directed films Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987).
In addition to Kavner and Davis-Friedman, survivors include another daughter, Abigail, and grandsons Joshua, Jacob, Aden, Asher and Elijah.
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