Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which CBS-TV premiered on October 03, 1961. Regular readers of this blog know what a fan I am of this seminal sitcom — the most character-driven of the ’60s.
In fact, here’s what I wrote about Carl Reiner’s autobiographical classic earlier this year: “[Dick Van Dyke was] committed to a greater degree of realism compared to the era’s baseline, with a strict threshold for truth that was exhibited not only in less extreme characterizations, but also in stories that had to be plausible (‘would my wife do this?’) and were typically well-connected to the regulars’ actions, behaviors, and choices — for the most part, they caused, or at least shaped, the weekly dramas. That is, creator Carl Reiner’s show was an early advocate for a more textually low-concept style, where the leads didn’t have any premise-making goals or obvious flaws, thereby rendering their conflicts accordingly small and garden variety, but with dramatic support from the emotional stakes of palpably human leads in relatable relationships and down-to-earth situations that they motivated, and with which we could identify, like the Danny Thomas-esque work vs. home tension (established in the pilot and reiterated often thereafter). So, Rob Petrie’s character may not have had the major imperfection of, say, Gracie Allen’s unintelligence, and he was never paired with a defining objective like, say, Lucy Ricardo’s desire to break out of the home, but Reiner proved it didn’t matter: smaller wants and less exaggerated shortcomings could also drive weekly plots and bring laughs when backed in a sustaining, believable framework by the continuity of sincere and reliable personalities. This didn’t make for a lack of definition, but something more nuanced, based on congruous and compounding details that created more realistic leads and allowed Reiner to channel the relatability of his sketch comedy origins — where humor was the engine of Reiner’s entire being, ingrained in him since his Sid Caesar days (think: ‘The Commuters’) — through more multi-dimensional regulars who were capable of encouraging actual story, thus progressing the character-driven school of sitcommery out of the character-immersed, but less totally honest, I Love Lucy. And from this, we can see how Reiner’s Dick Van Dyke represents an evolution in the sitcom genre that would continue in the ‘70s and beyond, mostly because of the efforts produced by the even more truthful MTM.”
In honor of this gem, I’m sharing — with subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest — access to a first draft script of the beloved “My Blonde-Haired Brunette,” which was produced as the series’ ninth episode but broadcast as the series’ second on October 10, 1961, due in large part to its great work by leading lady Mary Tyler Moore, who first indicated an ability to handle big comedy. This is a fascinating read for fans, because you’ll notice some changes that were made between its initial May drafting and August production — specifically, the addition of a whole comic exchange for Sally in the aired office scene, and a notable swap: the character eventually named Millie Helper (played by Ann Morgan Guilbert) is still called Dottie here, or Dot (the neighbor from the opener, produced that January). So, this is a chance to see and celebrate Reiner’s work as it was forming — an excerpt of which is below. Enjoy!
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Laverne & Shirley!