Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re honoring the recently departed television icon Carl Reiner (1922-2020), whose TV career started way back in 1950 with Sid Caesar on the legendary Your Show Of Shows and peaked when he created a series about his own life, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966, CBS), a watershed work in sitcommery that proved how reality (or some approximation of it) could be funny, especially if grounded by great characters. For this work alone, he is one of the chief architects of the American sitcom that we know today — one of its best and brightest. He’ll be missed, but never forgotten.
I haven’t got anything as wonderful as The Dick Van Dyke Show to share with you here — that’s already available, thank goodness! — but I do have something far rarer: an episode of Good Heavens (1976, ABC), a short-lived half-hour comedy created by Bernard Slade (Bewitched, The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family) that was intended to star José Ferrer as an angel who every week visits a different human and grants his/her wish for doing a simple good deed. By the time this anthology-like sitcom was greenlit for series, the role was recast with Reiner as the angel — the show’s sole regular, appearing only at the beginning and end of every story (and sometimes popping up once in the middle, too). It debuted as a midseason replacement in February 1976; 13 episodes were broadcast, with the last seven burned off over the summer.
It’s a cute show that doesn’t go for belly laughs — a single-camera comedy in an era where this was decidedly old-fashioned — and the lack of any regulars beyond Reiner means that every episode is beholden to the strength of both its guest stars and its individual premise. But there’s some creative storytelling here: a lot of the people to whom Mr. Angel grants wishes are not exactly model citizens (their “good deeds” are so trivial that it’s ironic), and over the course of their half hour, they become better humans as they realize what’s truly important. A great example of this is the series’ 12th telecast, “Coffee, Tea, or Gloria,” which was broadcast as the first of two final episodes on June 26, 1976, guest starring Dean Jones as a man who quarrels with his wife (Marcia Rodd) and wonders what life would be like if he had married his old sweetheart (Sue Ann Langdon). It was written by series producers Austin Kalish & Irma Kalish and directed by Mel Swope. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing Carl Reiner in his few scenes as a funnyman angel — a role that I’m sure he’s enjoying again right this very minute!
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Monday for a musical theatre rarity!