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The two main settings show the work and home life of Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), the head writer of a comedy/variety show produced in Manhattan. Viewers are given an "inside look" at how a television show (the fictional The Alan Brady Show) was written and produced. Many scenes deal with Rob and his co-writers, Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), a balding straight man and recipient of numerous insulting one-liners from Buddy, was the show's producer and the brother-in-law of the show's star, Alan Brady (Carl Reiner). As Rob, Buddy, and Sally write for a comedy show, the premise provides a built-in forum for them to constantly make jokes. Other scenes focus on the home life of Rob, his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), and son Ritchie (Larry Mathews), who live in suburban New Rochelle, New York. Also often seen are their next-door neighbors and best friends, Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris), a dentist, and his wife Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert).
Many of the characters in The Dick Van Dyke Show were based on real people, as Carl Reiner created the show based on his time spent as head writer for the Sid Caesar vehicle Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner himself portrayed Alan Brady who is a combination of the abrasive Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason, according to Reiner, refuting rumors that Alan Brady was based on Caesar.. Van Dyke's character was based on Reiner himself.
Head of the Family pilot
The Dick Van Dyke Show was preceded by a 1960 pilot for a series to be called Head of the Family with a different cast, although the characters were essentially the same, except for the absence of Mel Cooley. In the pilot, Carl Reiner, who created the show based on his own experiences as a TV writer, played Robbie Petrie. Laura Petrie was played by Barbara Britton, Buddy Sorrell by Morty Gunty, Sally Rogers by Sylvia Miles, Ritchie by Gary Morgan, and Alan Sturdy, the Alan Brady character, was played by Jack Wakefield, although his face was never fully seen, which was also the case with Carl Reiner's Alan Brady for the first three seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
The pilot was unsuccessful, which led Reiner to rework the show with Dick Van Dyke playing the central character (who went by Rob, not "Robbie", and pronounced his last name PET-tree.)
The pilot was subsequently the basis of the series episode "Father of the Week".
At least four episodes were filmed without a live studio audience: "The Bad Old Days," which featured an extended flashback sequence that relied on optical effects that would have been impractical to shoot with a live audience in the studio; "The Alan Brady Show Presents," which required elaborate set and costume changes; "Happy Birthday and Too Many More," which was filmed on November 26, 1963, only four days after President Kennedy's assassination; and "The Gunslinger", which was filmed on location.
Reiner considered moving the production of the series to full color as early as season three, only to drop the idea when he was informed that it would add about $7,000 to the cost of each episode. On December 11, 2016, two episodes from the series were presented on CBS-TV colorized. Two more colorized episodes aired December 22, 2017, and an additional two colorized episodes aired on December 15, 2018.
On July 1, 2020, it was announced that two previously-aired colored episodes will air as part of The Dick Van Dyke Show - Now in Living Color! A Special Tribute to Carl Reiner on July 3, 2020.
"The Last Chapter" was the last episode that aired; "The Gunslinger" was the last episode filmed.
Robert Simpson "Rob" Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) -- Rob is the head writer of the comedy writing team for the fictional TV variety show, The Alan Brady Show, working with Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell. When not working, Rob enjoys life with his wife Laura Petrie, played by Mary Tyler Moore, and his son, Ritchie Petrie, portrayed by Larry Mathews. Rob, Laura, and Ritchie live in New Rochelle, New York. Their neighbors are longtime friends, Millie Helper and her dentist husband Jerry Helper. Rob is a big fan of old-time radio, cowboy movies, and Laurel and Hardy, as well as an excellent mime and fan of pantomime. He incorporates many favorite routines into his comedy writing. He has living parents, Sam and Clara Petrie. Rob was born in Danville, Illinois (Dick Van Dyke's boyhood home), along with younger brother Stacey Petrie, and served in the military at Camp Crowder, Missouri as a Special Services Sergeant. There he met his future wife, Laura Meehan, a USO dancer. After a number of jobs, he was hired by Alan Brady.
Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) - Laura (née Meeker/Meehan) is Rob's wife. As a 17-year-old dancer in the United Service Organizations, she met and married Rob. Then, she became a stay-at-home mom. In early Season One episodes, Rob calls her "Laurie" numerous times, as opposed to "Laura", which became his usual name for her. About 60 actresses auditioned for the part before Moore was signed. Moore later wrote that she almost skipped the audition.
Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) - Buddy is an energetic and at times sarcastic "human joke machine", and one of the comedy writers. Amsterdam was recommended for the role by Rose Marie as soon as she had signed on to the series. Buddy is constantly making fun of Mel Cooley, the show's producer, for being bald and dull. His character is loosely based on Mel Brooks who also wrote for Your Show of Shows. He makes frequent jokes about his marriage to his wife, former showgirl Fiona "Pickles" Conway Sorrell, who is a terrible cook. In several episodes, it is mentioned that Buddy is Jewish. He was identified by his birth name, Moishe Selig, when he had his belated bar mitzvah in "Buddy Sorrell - Man and Boy." Buddy plays the cello, which he sometimes incorporates into his comedy routines, and owns a large German Shepherd named Larry. Buddy made a guest appearance on the Danny Thomas Show episode, "The Woman Behind the Jokes" that aired October 21, 1963.
Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) - Sally is another of the comedy writers, and the designated typist, who is always on the lookout for a husband. The character was loosely based on Selma Diamond and Lucille Kallen, both writers for Your Show of Shows. She never drinks and quotes frequently from her "Aunt Agnes in Cleveland". She has an on-again/off-again relationship with her boyfriend Herman Glimscher, who seems to be too much of a mama's boy to get married. She frequently scares men off with her sense of humor and strong personality.
Richard Rosebud "Ritchie" Petrie (Larry Mathews) - Rob and Laura's son. His middle name is an acronym for "Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David," all the names suggested by members of Rob and Laura's families in the episode "What's in a Middle Name?".
Melvin "Mel" Cooley (Richard Deacon) - Mel is the balding producer of The Alan Brady Show and Alan Brady's brother-in-law. Though Mel can often be an obsequiously sycophantic yes-man to the demanding Brady, he is also shown to be a dedicated, competent producer who takes his responsibilities very seriously. Mel is constantly at odds with Buddy, who often makes insulting comments about Mel's baldness, to which Mel often responds with a simple "Yechh!"
Millie Helper (Ann Morgan Guilbert) - Millie is the Petries' neighbor and Laura's best friend from their days in the USO.
Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris) - Jerry is the Petries' neighbor, Millie's husband, Rob's best friend and dentist. He is an avid sailor, audiophile, and electronics and recording enthusiast.
Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) - Alan is the egocentric, demanding, high maintenance, toupee-wearing star of The Alan Brady Show. Originally an unseen character, then shown only with his back to the camera or only in voice, Brady began to make full-face appearances in season four.
Stacey Petrie (Jerry Van Dyke) - Rob's brother, played by Dick Van Dyke's real-life brother. Stacey - a quiet, shy, man - is prone to episodes of sleepwalking, during which he becomes, literally, the banjo-playing life of the party, and calls his brother Rob "Burford". He wrote love letters on behalf of his friend, a drummer named James Garner (not the famous actor) to a girl named Julie. Once Garner lost interest, Stacey continued to write to Julie as Garner because he had fallen in love with her. He confesses the truth, and eventually Julie becomes interested in getting to know him.
Fiona "Pickles" Conway Sorrell (Barbara Perry/Joan Shawlee) - Buddy's slightly nutty wife and former showgirl. Pickles's first marriage was to a convicted con man who threatens to tell Buddy she was married to a jailbird unless she bribes him regularly. She becomes an off-screen character after season two.
Herman Glimscher (Bill Idelson) - Sally's occasional and nerdy boyfriend. In the 2004 reunion special, Sally and Herman had been married for years (In an early episode, Sally mentioned having dated a Woodrow Glimscher, presumably a relative, until Woodrow's overbearing mother arranged for her to date Herman instead.)
Clara Petrie - (Carol Veazie/Isabel Randolph) - Rob's and Stacey's mother, Laura's mother-in-law, and Sam's wife. Clara doesn't like Laura, partly because Laura and Rob married quickly without either set of parents attending the wedding.
Delivery boy - originally a nameless character played by Jamie Farr in four season one episodes. Subsequently, he was given the name Willie, and Herbie Faye played the role (Faye also played other characters in later episodes).
CBS had intended to cancel the show after its first season, but Procter & Gamble threatened to pull its advertising from "the network's extremely lucrative daytime lineup" and the show was renewed, keeping its Wednesday night time slot. The show jumped into the top 10 by the third episode of its second season, helped by coming directly after The Beverly Hillbillies, the number one show at the time.
In a special that was first broadcast on April 13, 1969, Van Dyke and Moore reunited for a one-hour variety special called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. The program included a never-before-seen alternative take from one of the show's episodes in which Rob Petrie breaks down and cries after being dismissed from a film role.
A 1979 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Hour featured Van Dyke and Moore reprising their roles as the Petries in a short sketch presented as the brainstorming of Van Dyke (guest-starring as himself) and the writers of Mary McKinnon's (Moore) variety series, who noted McKinnon's resemblance to "the gal who played Laura Petrie".
In a 1995 episode of the sitcom Mad About You, Carl Reiner reprised the role of Alan Brady, appearing in a documentary by Paul Buchman (Paul Reiser) about the early days of television. The episode included several other references to The Dick Van Dyke Show, including the epilogue in which Reiner and Reiser discuss whether it would be funnier to trip over an ottoman or to step over it and sit at the last moment. Brady then notes that "sitting has never been funny".
In 2003 TV Land produced The Alan Brady Show, an animated special presented as an episode of Dick Van Dykes show-within-a-show. Reiner, Van Dyke, and Rose Marie contributed voice performances to the show.
A 2004 reunion special, The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, brought together the surviving members of the cast. In this continuation, hosted by Ray Romano, Rob and Laura have long since moved to Manhattan, where Laura runs a dance studio. (Ritchie has recently bought their old New Rochelle home.) Alan Brady re-enters their lives to ask Rob to write his eulogy, with the help of a happily-married Sally Rogers Glimscher.
Image Entertainment has released all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show on DVD in Region 1. Season sets were released between October 2003 - June 2004. Also, on May 24, 2005, Image Entertainment repackaged the discs from the individual season sets into a complete series box set. On Blu-ray, the complete series, remastered in high definition, was released on November 13, 2012.
May 24, 2005 (DVD) November 13, 2012 (Blu-ray) November 10, 2015 (remastered DVD)
Now in Living Color!
March 3, 2017 (DVD and Blu-ray)
Six episodes of the series are believed to have lapsed into the public domain and have been released by numerous discount distributors.
In popular culture
In 2003 TV Land produced a pilot for an animated TV series, The Alan Brady Show, based on the fictional show-within-a-show on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Written and executive-produced by Carl Reiner, it was scheduled to air on August 17, 2003, and featured the voices of Rose Marie as "The Secretary" and Dick Van Dyke as "Webb", with Reiner reprising his role as Alan Brady.
"Holy Crap", the second episode of the second season of the animated TV series Family Guy, first broadcast on September 30, 1999, features a parody of the opening of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) falls over an ottoman. In the parody, Petrie has a series of progressively more serious and dangerous accidents, until someone finally turns the TV off. In "PTV", the 14th episode of season four, first broadcast on November 6, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission censors the opening credits of The Dick Van Dyke Show, blacking out both "Dick" and "Dyke", because of their alternate meanings of "penis" and "lesbian".
Dick Van Dyke Show opener parody (animated): 1990 Tiny Tunes Adventures, Season 1, Episode 62 "Here's Hamton"
Carl Reiner appears as Alan Brady in the episode "The Alan Brady Show" of the sitcom Mad About You, in which Paul hopes to hire Alan Brady to narrate his documentary about the history of American television.