It took a while to find an audience, but when it did, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) jumped into the Nielsen top ten and stayed there for most of the time it remained on the air.
When the comedian (who was also starring in popular motion pictures) quit the highly acclaimed series in 1966, he left at the top of his game - Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, the writers, and the show itself all won Emmy Awards that last season.
In 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS to huge ratings and critical gushers. This signaled a major shift in America's viewing habits - away from the zany sitcoms (like 'Gilligan's Island' & 'Bewitched') that ruled the late Sixties, and back to the more sophisticated comedy that 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' was noted for.
With the success of the MTM show, CBS naturally approached Van Dyke about doing a new series for the network.
Van Dyke was interested, but he was living in the Arizona desert, starring in occasional dramatic TV movies and a number of highly successful Kodak commercials. He had no desire to commute to Los Angeles to film a TV show.
CBS agreed to produce the show in Phoenix and had facilities built especially to accommodate Van Dyke's desire to work near home. The network figured a Mary Tyler Moore/Dick Van Dyke hour of programming would be an unbeatable combo and well worth the investment.
The new show would have a familiar feel about it, Carl Reiner was signed to be the producer and he would be responsible for many of the scripts (including the pilot), just as he had been on the original series.
"We want to avoid caricature and sustain character." Reiner told Life magazine in 1971, "You can always make an audience laugh with a bucket of water over someone's head, but that's not what we're doing here." With the former producer and star of the long-running 'Dick Van Dyke Show' both coming back, and Hope Lange ('The Ghost and Mrs. Muir') sensibly cast as Dick's wife Jenny, the Tiffany network felt confident it had a sure winner.
On the new show Dick Van Dyke portrayed Dick Preston, a local Phoenix talk show host. Also in the cast: Angela Powell as their daughter Annie, Marty Brill as Dick's manager, Fannie Flagg as Dick's sister Mike, as well as David Doyle, Michael Shea and Nancy Dussault.
Indeed, this series proved to be a satisfying updating of the original program without being too heavy-handed about it. The setting was still the television industry, but now they could poke fun at local TV, fertile ground for comedy.
The New Dick Van Dyke Show took it's place on CBS's powerhouse 1971 Saturday Night line-up - 'All in the Family' and 'Funny Face' (starring Sandy Duncan) were the lead-ins with 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' following.
While three of those Saturday night shows were solidly entrenched in the top ten, ratings dipped two full points when the Van Dyke show aired. CBS wanted to cancel, but the network had signed a pay or play three-year contract with the star - unheard of at the time; but CBS had been so anxious to get Dick Van Dyke back on the air and was so confident in their decision, they happily agreed to it.
In the fall of 1972, now relegated to Sunday nights following the disastrous 'Sandy Duncan Show' (that's a story for another day), 'The New Dick Van Dyke Show' floundered in the ratings while still delivering consistently entertaining episodes every week. Fanny Flagg was especially funny, a great underutilized character actress that popped up all too rarely in the seventies. (I once heard someone say, "Fanny Flagg and 'Gone with the Wind' mean more to me than Jesus Christ and the Bible" - for whatever that's worth!)
During the second season, Hope Lange voiced unhappiness with her role on the series because most of the show's action took place in the workplace. The actress complained that she had nothing to do but ask Dick, "How was your day?" every week at the end of the show. The network was unhappy as well - with the ratings - and they considered canceling the show and buying out Dick Van Dyke's contract.
The (original) Dick Van Dyke Show stats:
- Ran from 1961 - 1966
- Dick Van Dyke was almost unknown in 1961
- The show won 4 Emmys in 1966
MORE ABOUT THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW HERE
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