The laughs were no accident on ''The Dick Van Dyke Show''

The production used some innovative techniques to keep the show fresh.

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Dick Van Dyke is a master of physical humor
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By the time Dick Van Dyke had his own show, he was already a bona fide star in the entertainment industry. He was a multi-hyphenate talent known for his radio, stage and small-screen work. Van Dyke was first a successful radio DJ before moving into comedy performance. His nightclub routine led to a stint on Broadway, first in The Girls Against the Boys, then later, and more famously, as the lead in Bye Bye Birdie. By the time the latter netted the actor a Best Featured Actor Tony award, Dick Van Dyke was also a mainstay on TV, frequently appearing on talk shows and variety programs like The Phil Silvers Show and The Polly Bergen Show.

So, with American audiences primed for a sitcom starring a newly-minted Dick Van Dyke, the challenge was ensuring the program's material rose to the actor's level of stardom. Enter veteran comedy writer Carl Reiner, who based the show and its scenarios around the time he spent working on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. Reiner orchestrated a superstar team of writers. Rather than the show coasting on Dick Van Dyke's stardom, or relying on the celebrity value of guest stars, the emphasis was placed on quality writing, which wasn't exactly the norm at the time.

In addition to the ways the show broke the mold from a writing standpoint, The Dick Van Dyke Show utilized a series of innovations during production. Many other comedy shows at the time employed Charley Douglass, a sound engineer who invented and implemented a laugh track, or "canned laughter." This was not the case for Van Dyke, which instead did everything possible to earn the audience's real laughs. 

Among these techniques was a unique production schedule. According to a 1961 article in the Meriden, Connecticut Record-Journal, the show would have two complete run-throughs of each script on consecutive nights, with a full audience in attendance. The first evening would tell the writers where jokes hit and where they were left wanting. The following evening, with the scripts punched up, the show would be again performed for a crowd, this time with a three-camera setup recording the episode. While this style of "dress rehearsal" attended by an audience would later be used in shows like The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live, back in '61, The Dick Van Dyke Show was the first.

Though it may be no surprise, it was also no accident that The Dick Van Dyke Show became so successful, eventually winning 15 Emmy awards over its five-season run. The sitcom is frequently cited in lists of the greatest TV shows of all time and, recently, inspired an episode of Disney+'s WandaVision.

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25 Comments

MikefromJersey 6 months ago
Without looking it up, can any of you name the series that Buddy Sorrell also appeared on,
thus widening the TV Universe Rob and Laura live in?
Big3Fan 9 months ago
If Ritchie rubs his nose, down Rob goes.
MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
I say this all the time, but I wish MeTV ran TDVDS Monday to Friday at 7 pm.
Decades network runs TDVDS M-F at 9pm and 9:30pm (CT)!
Thanks but we don’t have Decades where I am. 🤨
Lantern MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
Decades recently changed its name to Catchy Comedy; perhaps you have that and don't realize it.
Mblack Lantern 9 months ago
I suspect some of these channels aren't in Canada. Plus, you needa local affiliate.
MrsPhilHarris Mblack 9 months ago
Exactly. I’m just glad I get MeTV from out of Seattle.
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MadMadMadWorld 9 months ago
If TDVDS had gone to a 6th season (1966-67), it undoubtedly would have gone to color. Alas, we only have 5 seasons (Oct. 1, 1961 - June 1, 1966) because Carl Reiner and others thought the series had exhausted its plot possibilities. The October 1, 1961 premiere was actually filmed the prior Friday, Jan. 20, the same day President Kennedy was inaugurated. The incredibly handsome, younger couple in the White House were mirrored by Dick and Mary on the series. Dick and Mary have not been topped for the best looking married couple in tv history; not to mention the strongest chemistry in a tv married couple since Lucy and Desi in May 1957, when I Love Lucy ended, 66 years ago! Many people saw either Dick or Mary separate without the other and asked, "Where is Mary/Dick" believing they were married in real life! That was how strongly they appeared as an on-screen married couple, although Dick was 35 and Mary only 24 when the filming started in Jan. 1961. My favorite tv series, by far, when first seeing them in the 1964-65 season, but saw the first three seasons later in their perpetual reruns. My 2nd favorite tv series in those years: Get Smart (1965-70). Seen on MeTV only on Sunday nights 10p, and 10:30p CT, but if you get Decades network, it shows on M-F 9p, 9:30pm CT.
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justjeff 9 months ago
Another innovation that Carl Reiner implemented after the first version(s) of the opening credits (with the publicity photos) was to film three distinct openings... Rob trips over the ottoman... Rob avoid the ottoman... Rob almost trips over a part of the carpet...

Reiner would rotate those openings week to week, so the viewers at home never knew exactly what would happen to Rob after he enters the living room...
Coldnorth justjeff 9 months ago
That group sure threw some parties at Rob andLauras house. Always with entertainment such as dancing. Poor Richie never had a good nights sleep with all that racket. In real life it would have meant a huge living room and a huge entertainment budget.
Wiseguy70005 justjeff 9 months ago
The third version was filmed later (they're wearing different clothes) and premiered a year later at the start of the third season.
justjeff Wiseguy70005 9 months ago
Thanks for pointing that out... Even a year later, it was still Carl Reiner's idea to "mix things up a bit" in the opening credits... and it worked!
JHP Coldnorth 8 months ago
well Ritchie did interrupt a poker game and wanted some water - I think the same ep:)
Coldnorth JHP 8 months ago
Why did Rob shake Ritchie’s hand instead of hugging him. Guess we will never know
Runeshaper 9 months ago
Van Dyke is a gem 💎 of a man 🙂
JHP Runeshaper 9 months ago
even though he played a skunk on Columbo:)
Pacificsun 9 months ago
The DVD Series combined interesting storylines with honest comedy. IMO never one at the expense of the other. Similar to TAGS by involving the viewer, putting them in on the laughs. The story definitely explains how timing is perfected, just right. But then you look at a filmed Series, like HH without any declared audience. And still, they got it right too. The DVD setups weren't particularly important though. Because of so much physical comedy being involved. While your eye is following visually, and could take all the attention. Your head (funny-bone) needs to be processing the jokes (as with a stand-up comedian. Wouldn't it be fascinating to read their notes running through the script as it played out.

Pretty sure in one of MeTV's stories, read where MTM really had to learn the timing, and DVD was a great teacher!
Coldnorth Pacificsun 9 months ago
There are three episodes in different seasons that are my absolute favorites. The walnut one with Danny Thomas, the Lodge one where the characters go missing one at a time and the final one is when she snoops in a package and A raft inflates and she can’t get it back in the package. I can’t decide the order I like them in but the episodes sure are funny.
RobertK Coldnorth 9 months ago
Oh yes, definitely, I agree that those are some of the best episodes. The only one I would add is "Uhny Uftz", where Rob sees a flying saucer in the window. I just light up when that episode is in the lineup! It's been my favorite since I was a kid!
Coldnorth RobertK 9 months ago
I forgot about that one. I agree, a very funny episode
daDoctah 9 months ago
There were some unscripted laughs, however. I remember one where Rob sat down to make an angry phone call, started dialing, paused to look up the number, and then said "yeah, that's right".
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ETristanBooth daDoctah 9 months ago
I’ve always loved that. I’ll bet it slips right by most people.
daDoctah ETristanBooth 9 months ago
Also keep a close eye on the episode where Rob's watch disappears after his birthday party. After the insurance guy (character actor Milton Frome) harasses all of Rob's friends, he tries to apologize to Buddy and Sally in the office, and at one point mistakenly calls Sally "Ro".
ETristanBooth daDoctah 9 months ago
I remember the “Ro” but I didn’t remember which episode.
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