Bea Arthur and the Show Maude Changed the Way We See Women on TV

In 1972, the sitcom Maude broke new ground in the world of television. Two episodes titled “Maude’s Dilemma” involved the character of Maude, played by Bea Arthur, discovering that she’s pregnant at the age of 47. She later decided to terminate the pregnancy – something television had yet to grapple with.

Bea Arthur & Bill Macy in Maude.
Bea Arthur & Bill Macy in Maude. Source: parade.com

These episodes, addressing the subject of abortion, actually boosted the show’s ratings. On the other hand, they resulted in backlash and protest. “We knew some people would be upset,” the show’s creator said in 1993, “but we had no idea of the conflagration that did follow.”

The Plot Was Created to Win a Contest

In 1972, a prize was proposed to TV comedies to address the topic of population control. At first, Maude writers considered writing about vasectomies. Then, the late-in-life pregnancy and abortion idea was proposed.

Bill Macy & Bea Arthur in Maude.
Bill Macy & Bea Arthur in Maude. Source: parade.com

Norman Lear, the show’s executive producer, and creator wanted Maude, the 47-year-old woman with an adult daughter and a grandson to be the one to get pregnant. Lear told The New York Times, “I realized the only way to engage the audience’s interest was to let Maude get pregnant.”

He Fought to Make the Episode

There had been episodes with fictional pregnancies terminated on daytime soap operas, but at that point, a primetime show never had a lead character consider and then choose an abortion.

Bea Arthur, Norman Lear
Bea Arthur, Norman Lear. Photo By Bei/Shutterstock

In New York, where the show was set, abortion had been legalized in 1970, but still, it wasn’t something that was being discussed on television. CBS, which aired Maude, was wary of the storyline but gave in to Lear’s convincing. CBS offered notes, like including a character who could present Maude with an opposing point of view. Lear agreed, and the rest is history.

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