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Essay
Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore
Carl Reiner
Garry Marshall
Carl Reiner

A New Kind of Comedy

The Sitcom Landscape Circa 1960 


Around the time I came up with The Dick Van Dyke Show, I was asked to do various situation comedies. This was after the death of variety shows such as Sid Caesar's Show Of Shows. Situation comedies were the new format, and I was being offered things that weren't terribly good or were copies of existing shows. My wife said, "Why don't you write one?" I said, "Well, I don't know how to do that."

But I went ahead and did what everybody who has been successful at creating sitcoms does. I wrote a show based on my own understanding of what and where I was, and who I was. The Dick Van Dyke Show was based on my experience of being a writer/actor, but mainly actor, on Show Of Shows, and about living in New Rochelle and having children. The action took place 60% at home and 40% at the office.
 

Interview with Carl Reiner
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Interview with Carl Reiner
 


A Real Marriage 


Other sitcoms revolved around the battle of the sexes, where the husband and wife constantly played against each other. The Dick Van Dyke Show -- inspired by how I felt about my work and my wife -- portrayed a husband and wife united against the world.

You knew there was a sexual connection between Rob and Laura. We allowed it to happen. We didn't have them go around saying, "I love you." They proved it by the way that they reacted to each other. But we were constrained to use twin beds rather than double beds.
 


 

A Modern Woman 


Laura was always considered an equal partner. The only difference was that Dick would be in scenes at home and working downtown, so Laura was a supporting actor in the sense that she'd have less screen time

The sponsor objected to the fact that the capri pants hugged Mary's tush. When Mary did wear a skirt, the ad exec said, "Yes, but it's under-cupping." In other words, the skirt was form-fitting, and you could still see that Mary had a behind that was worth looking at. But this was 1960, remember.
 

Alan pinching Laura's cheek

Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) pinches Laura's cheek.
 
Courtesy Calvada Productions and Clear Productions, Inc.
 


The Stars

Dick Van Dyke 


When I started writing the show, Rob Petrie was based on myself, a Bronx Jew. But once we cast the show, we had Dick Van Dyke, who was a Midwestern Gentile. I didn't have to change the Rob Petrie character because Dick processed Rob Petrie through his body and his work ethic and morality, which were similar to mine.

Dick loved doing pantomime, so in every fourth or fifth show, I made sure that there were pantomimic moments that he would enjoy. I remember one where we gave him a whole pantomime. Rob was up on a mountain alone in a cabin writing. Dick had to act like a guy who's lost his muse. Dick did 35 variations of wasting time. He's got a body that does things that most actors would love to do.
 


 


Mary Tyler Moore 


Mary told me later that she was feeling depressed about going on auditions and striking out, and she wasn't even going to go to this one. But she came in and read the first line on the page, a simple line like, "Hello darling," and I heard a ping in her voice. There was a brightness about her, and she was naturally beautiful.
 


 

Behind the Scenes

The Weekly Routine 


In rehearsals there would be natural improvisation, which always happens with good actors. If it worked, fine. If it didn't work, that's what the run-throughs were about. Then the producer and other people look at the run-through without cameras. And then we repair. We sit around after and say what worked and what didn't. We all have notes for rewrites, and I have Saturday and Sunday to do all the rewrites. Monday morning the cameras come in. We block the show for cameras all day Monday, and have a run-through on Monday night. Dress rehearsal is Monday night. We see the show, make little changes around the table after the show. On Tuesday you re-block the show again during the day, and then shoot it with an audience at 7:00.
 

Video clip from The Dick Van Dyke Show
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Carl Reiner as Alan Brady in the episode "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth"*
 


The Writers 


If the writers came up dry, I would ask, Anything happen in your family lately, to your wife, your kids, your partners, anything? Things that actually happened to people made the best shows.

Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall had wonderful, wild ideas, and we used them all, but we always had to temper their stuff to make them consistent with the original reality of the show. They came up with the one where there were connecting birthmarks on Dick's back that made a Liberty Bell design.
 

Video clip from The Dick Van Dyke Show
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Rob discovers freckles on his back look like the Liberty Bell. From the episode "Odd But True"*
 


Built To Last 


The show has lasting appeal because the actors are appealing. Every once in awhile I tune in and see two great actors with the grace of dancers. And what they're saying and doing makes sense. When the show was silly, it was funny-silly.

Looking at the show today, you see that some social mores have changed and others remain as constant as they were in Galileo's time. Most of the things work as far as the relationship between husband and wife is concerned. That hasn't changed much.

I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't done The Dick Van Dyke Show. I think that is the show that formed my career more than anything.
 


 

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*Video clip courtesy of The Dick Van Dyke Show DVD (www.dickvandyke.com), © Calvada Productions

 

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