Johnny Carson nearly starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show

It probably wouldn't have been titled The Dick Van Dyke Show!

The Everett Collection

Heeeeeere's....  a glimpse at an alternate timeline wherein TV history could've been completely different!

Would a Rob Petrie with some other face be just as funny? Is there anyone in the world who could pratfall over an ottoman as masterfully as Dick Van Dyke?

For five seasons in the '60s, The Dick Van Dyke Show blazed a new trail through sitcom history. The show was groundbreaking for many reasons. Specifically, it was one of the first meta-textual TV shows; it was a television show about television production. Its main character, Rob Petrie, was a comedy writer, contributing to a variety show hosted by his boss, Alan Brady. Petrie was played by Dick van Dyke, who brought charm and physicality to the role that continues to delight audiences to this day. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show was also innovative in centering the workplace, as well as the at-home goings-on of middle-class American adults. Because it didn't focus on the Petries' son Ritchie, Dick Van Dyke presaged shows like Friends and Seinfeld. 

The story, however, could've been very different, as author Steven D. Stark explains in Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us Who We Are Today.

"For the lead, [executive producer Sheldon] Leonard was torn between Johnny Carson, a popular daytime game-show host, and Dick Van Dyke, Broadway star of Bye Bye Birdie and an actor with a reputation for visual comedy.

"Van Dyke— who had been under contract to CBS since 1955— got the role, largely because he was less well-known than Carson and therefore would be more believable in the title role."

This might be one of the only times in Hollywood history that being less famous was good! Fortunately, as viewers, we exist in the best of all possible timelines. Dick Van Dyke was the perfect Rob Petrie. Johnny Carson, of course, became the undisputed King of Late Night with his hosting gig on The Tonight Show.

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9 Comments

ElizabethBoop 7 days ago
Another comedian who was considered for the role was Paul Winchell. Differences from the Carson suggestion: Winchell had already had his own show prior to this, and he did make a guest appearance (with his snail puppet "Jellybean", while his earlier sitcom had not made much use of his ventriloquist skills).
BenSobeleone 9 days ago
Would Johnny have tripped over the ottoman?
McGillahooala 9 days ago
Because it didn't focus on the Petries' son Ritchie, Dick Van Dyke presaged shows like Friends and Seinfeld. What????
justjeff 10 days ago
"It probably wouldn't have been titled The Dick Van Dyke Show!".... Ya think????????😒
JHP 10 days ago
I would give my **** to watch JC again. But I know the eps are owned and can only be seen on DVD (Not Dock Van Dyke)
FloridaTopCat JHP 9 days ago
Carson's "Tonight Show" Runs nightly at 10PM (Eastern) on Antenna-TV
WordsmithWorks 10 days ago
I can see Carson in the role. However, the setting would have been better in a midwestern town, and another job for Rob Petrie. Of course it would have been a different show altogether. Still could have worked.
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