15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’

It could have starred Johnny Carson instead of Van Dyke
15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’

From 1961 to 1966, one of the most pivotal, pioneering sitcoms in television history aired on CBS. The Dick Van Dyke Show was created by the great Carl Reiner and starred the equally great Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. The series focused on Van Dyke’s character Rob Petrie, a comedy writer on the fictional Alan Brady Show (Reiner played Brady), giving viewers a then-rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of a television series.

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A winner of 15 Emmys over its run, it helped to solidify the sitcom genre, and thanks to its depiction of a writers’ room, influenced numerous eventual entertainment icons to get into comedy writing themselves. 

TV simply wouldn’t be the same without The Dick Van Dyke Show, so here are some tidbits to teach you a little about it. Just beware of any errant ottomans as you’re reading this from your phone...

It Originally Starred Carl Reiner

The Dick Van Dyke show was based upon Reiner’s experience writing on Your Show of Shows starring Sid Caesar, and being that he was also an on-camera performer, Reiner originally planned to star in the show too. He wrote and starred in the pilot “Head of the Family.” However, when the series wasn’t picked up, he reworked it to star someone else.

It Could Have Starred Johnny Carson

The two finalists for the role of Rob Petrie were Van Dyke and Johnny Carson. Van Dyke won the role, as he was coming off a successful run of Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway.

There Were Two Versions of the Famous Opening Credits Sequence

For its first season, The Dick Van Dyke Show featured still photographs under the opening theme, but the sponsors pressured Reiner to find something more exciting. From there, Reiner developed the now-iconic sequence where Rob comes home and trips over an ottoman. However, there was also a second version of the opening theme where Rob quickly sidesteps the ottoman. According to Reiner, “One week he trips, and one week he doesn’t. Then the people at home were supposed to say, ‘I wonder if he trips this week?’ It was silly. I don’t think it ever worked. But that was the idea.”

Mary Tyler Moore’s Pants Were a Problem

While Tyler Moore was playing a homemaker as Laura Petrie, the character did challenge some TV and societal norms in the early 1960s. One of them was that her character wore capri pants instead of the dresses every other TV wife and mother wore at the time. CBS executives complained about this, but Tyler Moore refused to cave, and her capri pants remained.

It Depicted a Female Comedy Writer

In addition to challenging norms for how a wife should be depicted on TV, The Dick Van Dyke Show also made some progressive headway with its depiction of a woman in the workplace. Actress Rose Marie played comedy writer Sally Rogers, based on real-life Sid Caesar writers Selma Diamond and Lucille Kallen. 

Tyler Moore and Rose Marie Didn’t Get Along

When the show began, it was intended to focus more heavily on the comedy-writing part of Rob’s life. As such, Rose Marie, who had extensive show-business experience, was cast believing she was the female lead. However, the writers quickly fell in love with writing for Tyler Moore and gradually gave her more and more comedy to perform. Unfortunately, this created a distance between the two actresses.

Procter & Gamble Saved the Show

The first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show had lackluster ratings, with CBS nearly canceling it. Fortunately, the people at Procter & Gamble loved the show, and they threatened to pull all of its advertising from the network if it was canceled. CBS decided to renew the series and give it a better timeslot, where it would become a hit.

Reiner, Van Dyke and Tyler Moore Wanted to End the Show After Season Five

By the conclusion of the fifth and final season, they were all ready to move on. The latter two wanted to pursue film work, and Reiner cited the arduous production schedule as his reason since each season was over 30 episodes back then. Reiner also didn’t want the show to get tiresome in its storytelling.

Van Dyke Battled Alcoholism Throughout the Show

Van Dyke revealed decades after the show’s run that he was struggling with alcoholism during his time on The Dick Van Dyke Show and that he didn’t seek help until 1972.

The Series Finale Brought Things Full Circle

The final episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show centered around Rob’s book, which is a memoir about his life as a comedy writer that he’s trying to get published. While he fails to get a publishing deal, Reiner’s character decides to make the book into a TV show starring himself as Rob Petrie.

It Set an Emmy-Winning Record

Over the course of its five-year run, The Dick Van Dyke Show won 15 Emmys, more than any other show up until that time. 

And the Accolades Don’t Stop There

In 2002, TV Guide included The Dick Van Dyke Show on its “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” list, placing it at number 13. When TV Guide updated the list in 2013 to include  a total of 60 shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show was slotted at number 20. Two episodes were also included in the magazine’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time,” while the Writers Guild of America placed it at number 14 on its list of the 101 Best Written TV Shows.

It Takes Place in the Same Universe as ‘Seinfeld’

After the series ended, Reiner’s Alan Brady character showed up on an episode of Mad About You, which means the two exist in the same reality. Additionally, Mad About You had a crossover episode featuring Michael Richards as Kramer from Seinfeld.

The Show Had Reunions in 2003 and 2004

In 2003, TV Land produced an animated special called The Alan Brady Show — with Reiner, Van Dyke and Rose Marie all doing vocal performances — to show what an episode of The Alan Brady Show looked like. The following year, CBS produced the special The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited with the surviving members of the cast. The premise of the Ray Romano hosted special saw Alan Brady calling upon Rob and Sally Rogers to write his eulogy before he died. 

The Opening Theme Actually Had Lyrics

The opening theme to The Dick Van Dyke Show was a catchy instrumental played over Rob getting home from work (and again, usually tripping over an ottoman). It never aired with lyrics, yet Van Dyke has revealed on several occasions that his co-star Morey Amsterdam — who played fellow Alan Brady Show writer Buddy Sorrell — once wrote lyrics to the theme:

So you think that you’ve got trouble?
Well, trouble’s a bubble
So tell old Mr. Trouble to get lost!
Why not hold your head up high and
Stop cryin’, start tryin’
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed.
When you find the joy of livin’
Is lovin’ and givin’
You’ll be there when the winning dice are tossed.
A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside-down
So smile, and that frown will defrost.
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed.

Honestly, it’s probably a good thing they never used these. The Dick Van Dyke Show might not have had the impact it did if viewers couldn’t make it through the opening theme.

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