Dick Van Dyke didn't mesh with Carl Reiner's dialogue during the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show

The show just didn't work at first.

It's common for a show to not hit its stride until the second (or third) season. Series very rarely arrive fully-formed, for many reasons. Maybe contracts are drawn up for the first few episodes, and the wrong actors have been cast. There are plenty of examples of cast shakeups between the first and second seasons. Sometimes, there's an issue with the format. The show isn't shot or presented in a way the audience can connect with. More often than not, though, there's an issue with the writing.

Luckily for producers everywhere, audiences tend to be very vocal about what they do and don't like. Critics are actually useful in this situation. It's up to the series creators to respond to the feedback or not.

For The Dick Van Dyke Show, a lot of the problems were clear from the beginning. First, there was the fact that the network only ever reluctantly supported the show. According to producer Sheldon Leonard's 1995 memoir And the Show Goes On: Broadway and Hollywood Adventures, it was CBS' decision to place The Dick Van Dyke Show in the unenviable 8 PM EST timeslot, meaning the show would air at 7:00 in the midwest. According to Leonard, it was "a lousy time spot for an adult comedy."

"We went on the air in October of 1961," wrote Leonard. "We didn't do too well. Something was wrong with the show. More specifically, something was wrong with Van Dyke. He didn't seem at ease with the dialogue. It took us a good part of the first season to identify the problem; then it took more time to correct it. Dick's substandard performance, combined with the poor time slot, made it not surprising that we had disappointing ratings."

The problem was a matter of regionalism. Carl Reiner, who wrote the show, is famously funny, but in a very specific way. The comedy legend was a Bronx native and wrote dialogue consistent with his upbringing. However, Dick Van Dyke wasn't from New York, he was from Indiana. He sounded incredibly unnatural trying to deliver lines as if he were a Jewish comedian from the Bronx. 

"It sounded all wrong coming out of the mouth of an Indiana Baptist," said Leonard. "We fixed it."

The rest, of course, is show biz history, as The Dick Van Dyke Show would find acclaim in its second season, propelling it into the pop culture mainstream, and creating a legacy we still celebrate today.

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15 Comments

ChrisTV 18 days ago
DVD was born in Missouri and grew up in Illinois.
daDoctah 24 days ago
That early mismatch is also why I have trouble accepting Dick as Albert Peterson in "Bye, Bye, Birdie". The character is written, if you pay any attention to the script, as a put-upon Jewish mama's boy which utterly clashes with his actual presentation. When it was remade as a TV movie, Jason Alexander is much closer to the right image (and of course he's a skilled song-and-dance man, so he's well equipped to handle the role).
cperrynaples daDoctah 24 days ago
Yes, and thankfully they toned down the Ann-Margaret character! Also, in the play Van Dyke romanced Chita Revera, but studio bigwigs chose Janet Leigh! Did they forget audiences had no problems with Lucy & Desi?
daDoctah cperrynaples 24 days ago
For the first "Birdie" movie version, they at least managed to get the real Ed Sullivan to play Ed Sullivan. Apart from that, all the meddling really ruined the story: they had to drop the "Spanish Rose" number because nobody would buy Janet Leigh as a Puerto Rican seductres. What's more was the scene where Albert and Rosie give Birdie's back-story to the reporters at the train station, and sing two completely different origins in simultaneous counterpoint; the movie version lost that number entirely.

About the only detail that *wasn't* a fiasco was hanging on to Paul Lynde from the stage version. The remake gave that role to George Wendt, who did an admirable job, but nobody could truly replace Paul.
cperrynaples daDoctah 24 days ago
Spanish Rose was done by Vanessa Williams in the remake! Yes she wasn't Latina but she could pass! In the original movie, they should have considered Rita Moreno, whose skin tone could pass for multiple ethnic types! Paul Lynde was funny, but knowing what we know now, could he be accepted as a family man...LOL!
JHP 24 days ago
great show hands down and the eps are frozen on my DVR (not DVD:)
Runeshaper 24 days ago
I’m glad they found the issue and corrected it! Such a GREAT show!
cperrynaples 24 days ago
Technically, TDVDS NEVER aired at 5 PM! The networks always knew about the time difference and adjusted for it! In the '50's when most shows were live, they were kinoscoped for later West Coast broadcast! By the time DVD started,most shows were filmed and networks had 2 feeds: One for Eastern & Central and one for Pacific! Therefore, the show ran at 8 PM Eastern and Pacific/ 7 PM Central!
PS As stated in a previous post, DVD was going to be canceled until Proctor & Gamble stepped in! They said if DVD was canceled they would take their daytime soaps to NBC! At the time, CBS had 4 P&G soaps: Search For Tomorrow, The Guiding Light, As The World Turns, & The Edge Of Night! CBS couldn't afford to lose one, much less all 4! Therefore, DVD was switched to Wednesday! The rest is history!
PSS Clearly they misquoted Sheldon Leonard! What he proably said was, "We were ON the air in October 1961!"
No, the show was briefly canceled in '61, the quote is correct.
Well, the month is off! Checking my references, DVDS premiered in October 1961, suspended 2 months later, then switched to Wednesday in January 1962! The Beverly Hillbillies saved it by being their lead in! The problems on Tuesday were [1] Laramie on NBC! and [2] Gunsmoke reruns as lead in!
LoveMETV22 24 days ago
Thank You MeTV for your daily Stories/Quizzes.Truly appreciated!
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