Chemistry was key to The Dick Van Dyke Show's success

Producer Sheldon Leonard on the show's key ingredients

Genesis International

An ensemble can elevate written material in surprising ways. Just like each ingredient in a sandwich is made better for its co-conspirators, sometimes actors on a show bring out the best in their co-stars. What would ham be without cheese? What would Archie be without Edith? Actors depend on the reactions of their fellow castmates. Good actors look great onscreen, but fantastic actors make their co-stars look great onscreen.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The program was perfectly crafted from its inception— save for one crucial detail. While the scripting was immaculate from the start, the creators made a fatal error in an initial round of casting. While Carl Reiner was undoubtedly the man for the screenwriting job, he fumbled in casting himself as the new show's main character.

Initially titled Head of the Family, the show that would become The Dick Van Dyke Show didn't work with Reiner as its writer and star. While Carl Reiner was absolutely a gifted actor, he was not the person who could believably anchor a domestic work/life program like the one he'd written. It took a shuffling of the deck for the show to shine its brightest.

In his 1995 memoir, And the Show Goes On, producer Sheldon Leonard discussed the process of courting young Broadway talent Dick Van Dyke. Van Dyke was the lynchpin around which the rest of the cast was set. With him at the center, the cast was fleshed out to feature Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, and Richard Deacon as its principals. 

With such talent on the set, Leonard had very little issue shaping great, memorable episodes from the fantastic scripts penned by Carl Reiner.

"From the beginning, it was apparent that we had a remarkable chemistry working for us. Dick, Mary, Morey, Rose Marie, and Richard Deacon blended together miraculously, so that there was little need for guidance.

"To this day, Dick likes to tell how masterfully I molded his performance by calling him aside after a rehearsal. He waited patiently for directorial instruction. I hemmed for a moment and then said, 'Dick, make your voice go up and down more.' Period. Actually, I always directed all their performances with a light hand. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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TheKodakKid 1 month ago
In my mind, I’m hearing this in Sheldon Leonard’s unmistakable voice.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
100% agree that the show had GREAT chemistry!
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I love that show.
KJExpress MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Same here! 👍👍
MrsPhilHarris KJExpress 1 month ago
Love the emoji!
KJExpress MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Thanks! We're having a heat wave so I took a dip in the pool. 😉
MrsPhilHarris KJExpress 1 month ago
We aren’t hot, hot. Only about 23 today. 28 tomorrow but it’s not expected to cook yet. We usually get a week or so of hot weather every summer.
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