THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: THE COMPLETE SERIES - Blu-ray review

Fans are definitely going to want to upgrade their DVD collections. This release makes it a no-brainer. It takes up a fraction of the space, the episodes look terrific in high def, and there are additional bonus features not included on the DVDs.

James Plath's picture
James
Plath

Did you hear the one about the comedy writer for a top variety show who made a sitcom pilot about his life that was rejected by the network, only to have a producer recast the show so it worked so spectacularly it won 15 Primetime Emmys over five seasons and earned 13th place on TV Guide’s Top 50 TV Shows of All Time? 

The joke was almost on Carl Reiner, who decided to draw on his experience writing jokes and skits for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and put all of his best material into a pilot that he starred in—only to be rejected, and dejected. Even after Sheldon Leonard told him the problem was casting, not the writing, and even after Leonard got Broadway star Dick Van Dyke to play TV writer Rob Petrie, dancer Mary Tyler Moore to play Rob’s wife, and seasoned entertainers Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie signed on as Rob’s TV co-writers, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” still attracted such a disappointing number of viewers that CBS decided to cancel the show. It was only given a second season after sponsor Procter & Gamble threatened to pull its advertising from CBS daytime programming if the series wasn’t reinstated. So CBS moved “The Dick Van Dyke Show” from its early Tuesday night slot to a Wednesday mid-evening slot immediately following a new novelty sitcom:  “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

The shift worked and the punch line is that Reiner not only got long-term satisfaction from the series—in which he ultimately played the acerbic variety-show host Alan Brady that Rob, Buddy and Sally wrote for—but he also got fairly instant gratification when his first season’s scripts earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy.

Fans of the show had to be salivating when they read that Image Entertainment was going to release “The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series” on Blu-ray, because Image had done such a superb job on the transfers and packaging for the single season DVD sets, and also successfully made the leap to HD by releasing quality Blu-rays of the black-and-white fantasy anthology “The Twilight Zone.”

Well, I can tell you right now that Image did a bang-up job with this Blu-ray collection. It’s a must-own for fans of the show, and a must-upgrade for those who already own the whole series on DVD.

But boy, what a show.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy all but its first season, dominating the Sixties as “I Love Lucy” did TV sitcoms in the Fifties.

There were workplace comedies and family comedies, but most sitcoms focused on one aspect or the other. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” spent equal time on both facets of Rob Petrie’s life. It was also one of the few shows about show business, parting the curtain so that viewers could glimpse a bit of the process. Mostly, though, it was a star vehicle that felt like an ensemble comedy because Leonard cast such strong co-stars and Reiner wasn’t afraid to give them as many funny lines as Van Dyke.

It’s striking what a difference a cast makes. No offense to the actors from Carl Reiner’s pilot, “Head of the Family,” which is included among the bonus features, but there’s instant life and believability when Leonard’s cast takes over. Van Dyke projects a warmth and likeability that Reiner wasn’t able to manage, while still getting in his licks and adding physical comedy as well. He was a triple threat. Moore, meanwhile, simmered with sex appeal while also retaining that all-American girl-next-door look, with her Capri pants starting a Sixties’ fashion fad. And with former radio star and TV variety host Buddy Sorrell playing one of Rob’s writers, suddenly there was a second banana that could cause the star to slip. It made for some fun exchanges. Same with Rose Marie, who was a child sensation as Baby Rose Marie with a Vaudeville career behind her before she tackled radio. So this show about show business didn’t just cast actors—it thrust show people into the roles, and they nailed it.

Watch the pilot too and you’ll see that the overhaul extended to the neighbors, with the same philosophy of warmth and quirkiness the guiding principle. There was Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris), a dentist who secretly wanted Rob’s job and tossed off jokes of his own, many of which were sexist. His wife, Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert) would respond with a perfectly timed “Jerry, you’re so awful,” (then turning to Rob or Laura), “Isn’t he awful?” (back to Jerry) “You’re so awful.” Millie came from the Ethel Mertz mode, egging on her neighbor to do things that often got Laura in over her head—as on the show’s best episode, “Coast to Coast Bigmouth.” In that episode, Millie and Laura go on a quiz show where the host is famous for getting people to say embarrassing things and reveal secrets—this one, about Rob’s boss, the vain and temperamental Alan Brady.

Some episodes stand out as classics, like the one where Rob tells his son (Jerry Mathews) about when he was convinced the hospital switched babies on them, with the reveal at the end getting one of the biggest laughs in the history of sitcoms. Others, like the episode where Rob works late alone at the office and does his Boris Karloff imitation (“Kind of like being the last living cell in a dead body”) or the one where he and his staff are pranked at a haunted house lend themselves to more traditional comedy of character. But that’s the key to this show’s success: character. From producer Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon) as the straight man and butt of Buddy Sorrell’s running gags about his baldness and ineptitude to Buddy’s largely off-camera wife, Pickles, the characters are richly drawn and full of comic potential that the show realized over its five-year run.

Included in this set are all 30 Season 1 episodes, all 33 Season 2 episodes, all 32 Season 3 episodes, all 32 Season 4 episodes, and all 31 Season 5 episodes for a total run-time of approximately 66 hours. It’s easy to watch episode after episode when a) the show is so good, and b) the show LOOKS so good.

Video:
The AVC/MPEG-4 transfers are amazing. Black-and-white is a forgiving medium, but it’s easy to lose detail if the black levels are too strong. That’s not the case here. The contrast seems perfect, and in the two-shots especially you can see every hair and pore, plus a few skin imperfections on Van Dyke that you never really notice in standard def. There’s no noise to speak of and no evidence of crush or banding. Paul Brownstein Productions and Image Entertainment really did a great job. The episodes look stunning in 1080p!

The episodes are presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which means that as you watch in HD on your widescreen TV there will be dark bands to either side of the image.

Audio:
The original audio was a mono, but Brownstein ramped the original mono up to a DTS-HD MA, which adds a fullness of tone and a clarity that we didn’t get on the DVD collection. In other words, the sound is also an appreciable upgrade, though it might not be as apparent as the visual makeover.

Extras:
All of the bonus features from the five DVD season sets seem to have been ported over, and in addition there are a number of new features “exclusive” to Blu-ray—which, be aware, doesn’t mean HD. They’re just additional vintage or relatively recent features in standard def that Paul Brownstein Productions dug up to make the Blu-ray set more attractive—not that having the 158 episodes in HD isn’t enough incentive for fans.

The new features and old are spread over the five seasons, with Blu-ray exclusives having an asterisk (*):

Season 1
*TV Academy Tribute to Carl Reiner featuring Paul Reiser
* 50th Anniversary Q&A with Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, and moderator Garry Marshall
Audio commentaries with Reiner and Van Dyke
“Head of the Family” original series pilot episode
Interviews with cast and producers
Emmy Award telecast clips honoring the show
Original commercials with the cast
Original network promo spots
Photo galleries

Season 2
*Kick the Habit radio spot featuring Van Dyke
*”It May Look Like a Walnut!” color test
* Safety Council Reel
* Dick Van Dyke appearance on “The Danny Kaye Show”
Audio commentaries with Reiner, Van Dyke, Rose Marie, Larry Mathews, and Ann Morgan Guilbert
The Making of “It May Look Like a Walnut!”
Interviews with cast and producers
Emmy Award telecast clips honoring the show
Original commercials with the cast
Original network promo spots

Season 3
TV Academy Tribute to Carl Reiner featuring George Clooney
*Mary Tyler Moore appearance on “The Danny Kaye Show”
Audio commentaries with Reiner and Van Dyke
A full length “Danny Thomas Show” episode with Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell
Interviews with cast and producers
Emmy Award telecast clips featuring the cast
Mary Tyler Moore appearance on Dick Van Dyke’s 1975 variety show, “Van Dyke & Company”
Rare rehearsal footage
Network promo spots
Photo galleries

Season 4
*TV Academy Tribute to Carl Reiner featuring Van Dyke, Ray Romano and Brad Garrett, Rose Marie, Larry Mathews, and others
*Mary Tyler Moore appearance on “The Danny Thomas Show”
Audio commentaries with Reiner, Van Dyke, and Marshall
Clip from the animated program “The Alan Brady Show”
“The Dick Van Dyke Show Remembered”
“Diagnosis Murder: Dr. Mark Sloan Meets Rob Petrie”
Dick Van Dyke Sings the Show’s Theme Song at the Hollywood Bowl
DVD exclusive Awards telecast clip
Interviews with cast and producers
Emmy Award telecast clip featuring the cast
Original network promo spots

Season 5
*TV Academy Tribute to Carl Reiner featuring Garry Shandling
*Network promo spots
Audio commentaries with Reiner and Van Dyke
Audio commentary with Rose Marie, Larry Mathews, and Bill Idelson
Don Rickles Remembers His Two-Part Episode
Clip from TV Land Awards featuring the cast
Emmy Award telecast clips featuring the cast
Cast reunion from 1992’s “Comic Relief”
A scene from CBS Special “Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman”
Theatrical trailer: “The Art of Love”
Interviews with cast and producers
Promo spot for “The New Dick Van Dyke Show”

The most substantial new bonus feature is a long Q&A with Reiner and Van Dyke, with Marshall asking the questions and also tossing in his own reminiscences. Except for Marshall, who frequently pops up from his bar stool to gesture and pace, it’s a sedate affair with everyone sitting onstage and reminiscing. At one point Van Dyke is joined by an a cappella quartet who sings doo-wop back-up while Van Dyke sings the words to the show’s theme song (written by the late Morey Amsterdam). It’s low key, but a nice new addition to existing bonus features.

Let me say a word, too, about the packaging. Image Entertainment continues to put out sets that keep in mind they're dealing with collectors, who have all of their Blu-rays alphabetized or categorized on shelves. With so many studios producing bulky box sets, it's a pleasure that each season comes on three single-sided discs housed on plastic pages inside a slightly oversized Blu-ray case, and those five cases with their 15 discs fit inside a cardboard slipcase. 

Bottom line:
This Blu-ray collection makes it easy to rediscover all the great acting and comic timing in one of television’s classic sitcoms. Fans are definitely going to want to upgrade their DVD collections. This release makes it a no-brainer. It takes up a fraction of the space, the episodes look terrific in high def, and there are additional bonus features not included on the DVDs. 

Ratings

Video
10
Audio
9
Extras
8
Film Value
9