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55 years ago today, That Girl premiered. It ran on ABC from September 8, 1966 to March 19, 1971, with a total of 136 half-hour episodes spanning over five seasons. It starred Marlo Thomas as the title character Ann Marie, an aspiring but only sporadically employed actress, who moves from her hometown of Brewster, New York to try to make it big in New York City. Ann has to take a number of offbeat "temp" jobs to support herself in between her various auditions and bit parts. Ted Bessell played her boyfriend Donald Hollinger, a writer for Newsview Magazine; Lew Parker and Rosemary DeCamp played Lew Marie and Helen Marie, her concerned parents. Bernie Kopell, Ruth Buzzi and Reva Rose played Ann and Donald's friends. That Girl was developed by writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, who had served as head writers on The Dick Van Dyke Show with which Thomas's late father, Danny Thomas, was closely associated earlier in the 1960s. Each episode starts with a cold open, in which an odd incident occurs or a discussion foreshadows the episode's story. The scene almost always ends with someone exclaiming "...that girl!", just as Ann wanders into the shot and the character notices her. The show's logo appears over a freeze-frame shot of Ann. The opening credits for Season 1 featured Thomas, in character, strolling the streets of New York. From Season 2 to the end of the show's run, the opening shot was the view from a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train crossing the New Jersey Meadowlands between Newark and Penn Station near Laurel Hill Park, then Thomas flying a kite in Central Park, and seeing and exchanging winks with her double in a store window. Lyrics were added to the theme for the final season, written by series co-creator Sam Denoff, sung by Ron Hicklin.
That Girl was one of the first sitcoms to focus on a single woman who was not a domestic or living with her parents. Some consider this show the forerunner of the highly successful Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, and Ally McBeal, and an early indication of the changing roles of American women in feminist-era America. Thomas' goofy charm, together with Bessell's dry wit, made That Girl a solid performer on the ABC Television Network, and while the series, in the overall ratings, never made the top thirty during its entire five-year run, the series did respectably well.
At the end of the 1969–1970 season, That Girl was still doing moderately well in the ratings; however, after four years, Thomas had grown tired of the series and wanted to move on. ABC convinced her to do one more year. In the beginning of the fifth season, Don and Ann became engaged, although they never actually married. The decision to leave the couple engaged at the end of the run was largely the idea of Thomas herself. She did not want to send a message to young women that marriage was the ultimate goal for them and she was worried that it would have defeated the somewhat feminist message of the show.