In honor of the amazing Dick Van Dyke, who was born on this day in 1925, here is the feature that I wrote for Forbes.com on his classic sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It was published on June 1, 2019 in memory of the comedy’s final episode on June 1, 1966.
“THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW”
Unlike the barrage of television series that don’t know when to call it quits (you know…those long in the tooth entries where an “adorable” little tyke shows up and wrecks the balance of the entire show), “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on CBS exited when it was still ahead. This time, however, it may have ended too soon.
On this day in 1966 was the final episode of the five season multi-Emmy Award winning series, which in an episode titled “The Final Chapter” featured Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) reminiscing about their lives.
At a time when the typical network TV sitcom in the 1960s eventually looked like “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters,” “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” “My Favorite Martian,” “My Mother the Car,” “Mister Ed” and anything with Lucille Ball, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” offered a early glimpse into the definition of a sophisticated comedy. There was nothing at the time on television like it.
Carl Reiner created a family sitcom effective on October 3, 1961 set in two prime locations: the Petrie home in middle class New Rochelle, New York; and in the writers’ room of a fictional TV variety series (loosely based on Reiner’s experiences on “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour,” both with Sid Caesar). Reiner initially gave himself the lead role in a failed pilot called “Head of the Family.” But sensing Broadway star Dick Van Dyke was a better fit, he paired him with Mary Tyler Moore (the two were often compared to John and Jackie Kennedy). Larry Matthews was their young son (happily minus the smart-alecky sitcom kid mentality). And Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were cast as his office co-workers (with Reiner in the ongoing role as the star of the fictional “Alan Brady Show”).
Like any new series that dared to be different (viewers at the time flocked to the TV sets for family sitcoms like “Hazel,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “My Three Sons”), the audience just did not take to a comedy that spoke to you with wit and intelligence. It even sparked some controversy when Mary Tyler Moore opted to wear Capri pants instead of the typical housewife garb on TV at the time.
CBS had intended to cancel the show after its first season, but Procter & Gamble threatened to pull its advertising from the network’s daytime line-up had the sitcom ended. And a time period move in season two out of new comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies” lifted “The Dick Van Dyke Show” into the top 10 of all shows in primetime.
Unlike today when a typical network series produces 22-episodes per year (and as little as 8 to 10 episodes on digital), the advantage of that time was a considerably heftier season episode order. So, we now have 158 glorious black and white episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to enjoy for an eternity. The series, in fact, was the last show to have its entire run filmed in black and white. Had their been a sixth season (which CBS desperately wanted), it would have switched to color.
The beloved comedy could have actually easily lasted more seasons, but the decision was made to end while they were still at the top of their game (a choice eventually made by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as well). And in addition to these countless repeats, CBS has wisely chosen to highlight “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in an annual two-episode colorized airing in December (often paired with the colorized version of “I Love Lucy”).
As the broadcast platforms at present struggle to find an audience in this era of “Peak TV,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” is the perfect example of why patience can be a virtue and why speaking to the audience (instead of at them with cornball jokes and juvenile humor) can have its benefits. Amazingly, it was 53 years ago to this day that it ended.