"The Dick Van Dyke Show" is TV royalty, coming in at Number 13 on TV Guide's List of Top 50 TV Shows of All Time. If you eliminate everything but the sitcoms on that list, it comes in at Number 8, behind "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Simpsons," "All in the Family," "The Honeymooners," "I Love Lucy," and "Seinfeld." Yet, despite winning 15 Emmys during the show's run (1961-66), "The Dick Van Dyke Show" didn't fare as well in the Nielsens. Viewers barely noticed it during the first (and arguably strongest) season, while Season Two finished in the Number 9 spot, the show peaked with Season 3 at Number 3, then slipped to Number 7 the fourth season and to Number 16 the fifth.
So how did it become the eighth best sitcom of all time? Reruns. Seeing the episodes over and over, audiences began to appreciate the clever writing, the honest portrayal of relationships, and the timeless humor of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which was created by Carl Reiner. It became an early prototype of what's now common: the dual-narrative sitcom in which some of the scenes are set at work and some at home. The show also made liberal use of the flashback device to tell fans more about the early lives of Rob (Van Dyke) and Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore).
The premise itself was simple: Rob was head writer for "The Alan Brady Show," a comedy-variety TV series starring an egotistical and intimidating Alan Brady (Reiner). Rob's writers were the wisecracking Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), and that framework provided plenty of room for vaudeville-style song-and-dance and gags flying here and there. The go-between messenger that was shot at both ends was balding producer Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), Brady's brother-in-law, who was insulted mercilessly by Brady and Buddy. Sally, meanwhile, was always on the prowl for a man, and as a series this show was not lacking for running gags based on characters' personalities. With Rob, it was pratfalls, physical comedy, drunk routines, and the like; with Laura it was the break-down talk-and-sob routines that would often end in "Oh Rob!" There were also plenty of cutesy scenes involving the Petrie's young son, Ritchie (Larry Matthews), and it seemed as if the next-door neighbors--dentist Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris) and his stay-at-home wife, Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert)--were always close at hand. In fact, there were plenty of times when Millie played Ethel to Laura's Lucy.
This 50th Anniversary collection is billed as "Fan Favorites – 20 All-Time Classic Episodes," but I'm not sure how the episodes were picked. The press release doesn't mention website feedback or a campaign to find out from Image Entertainment audiences which are their favorites, and the list doesn't match up well with the Top Episodes list from TV.com. Just four of the 20 episodes included here made it onto that fan list, though, admittedly, with under 50 people voting for each title it's about as definitive as a single person's opinion. And that's what I think we got here--the favorites of someone at Image Entertainment.
Whoever picked them did manage to hit some of the series highlights, like the all-time best, in my opinion: "Coast-to-Coast Bigmouth," in which Laura spills the beans about Alan Brady's toupees on national television." "One Angry Man" is here too, with Rob the lone juror hold-out in a case involving a beautiful defendant. The episode is also included that features Rob doing his "Kind of like being the last living cell in a dead body" Boris Karloff impression.
Missing, however, are the two episodes starring Jerry Van Dyke as Rob's stammering, sleepwalking, banjo-playing brother, and one in which Laura uses Judo to defend Rob at a bar (and bruises his ego in the process). Also missing is the one where the gang has to deal with a haunted cabin, and one that has Laura getting Rob in trouble by getting him more press than Alan in a magazine article. If it were up to me, I would have included one of the necklace episodes--either the one where Rob buys Laura the world's ugliest necklace that she's forced to wear, or the one where Laura accidentally destroys a family heirloom on Rob's side of the family. I also would have included "A Show of Hands," that had Rob and Laura dyed black on a night that they had to go to a formal dinner, and maybe even the one where Rob offers refuge to a couple of British pop stars (played by real-life pop stars Chad & Jeremy).
But unlike "I Love Lucy," where there's near-consensus on what episodes are absolute classics, everyone seems to have his or her own favorite "Dick Van Dyke Show" episodes. That's a great testimony to the power of this genial sitcom. Included in this collection are six episodes from Season 1, three from Season 2, four from Season 3, four from Season 4, and three from Season 5:
"The Curious Thing about Women" (Season 1). When Laura is convinced that an episode of "The Alan Brady Show" was based on her, Rob sets out to teach her a lesson.
"Where Did I Come From?" (Season 1). A flashback episode tells the story of the day Ritchie was born.
"One Angry Man" (Season 1). While serving on a jury, Rob is smitten with the beautiful defendant and tries to convince his peers of her innocence.
"My Blonde-Haired Brunette" (Season 1). Feeling as if Rob isn't attracted to her anymore, Laura bleaches her hair.
"Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced" (Season 1). Flashback episode tells how Rob broke Laura's foot the first day he met her.
"The Sick Boy and the Sitter" (Season 1). Laura is convinced if she goes to a party with Rob that Ritchie will develop an illness requiring a doctor's care.
"It May Look Like a Walnut!" (Season 2). Dream episode guest-stars Danny Thomas as an alien in this "Twilight Zone" spoof.
"The Secret Life of Buddy and Sally" (Season 2). Rob thinks Buddy and Sally are moonlighting as writers, but it turns out it's much more than that.
"What's in a Middle Name?" (Season 2). Another flashback episode tells how Ritchie got the middle name Rosebud.
"October Eve" (Season 3). Laura is shocked when an artist she once posed for includes the painting in a show . . . and she's nude.
"Big Max Calvada" (Season 3). Sheldon Leonard guest stars as a mobster who pays Rob, Buddy and Sally to help his nephew become funny . . . or else.
"That's My Boy??" (Season 3). Flashback episode explains how Rob was convinced they brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.
"All about Eavesdropping" (Season 3). Bad things happen when Rob and Laura eavesdrop on neighbors Millie and Jerry.
"100 Terrible Hours" (Season 4). Rob interviews for the head writer job at "The Alan Brady Show" after pulling a 100-hour radio show marathon.
"4 ½" (Season 4). Rob and a pregnant Laura are trapped in an elevator with a man who robbed them. Don Rickles guest stars.
"The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail" (Season 4). The writers perform at a prison, but Rob is mistaken for one of the inmates.
"Never Bathe on Saturday" (Season 4). Laura gets locked in a hotel bathroom. I'm not sure why this one is considered one of the "best."
Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth (Season 5). Laura is tricked on a game show into telling the whole world that Alan Brady is bald.
"Dear Sally Rogers" (Season 5). For a gag, Sally fills time on a TV talk show by appealing to men to send her marriage proposals. And the show decides to surprise her and introduce her to one of them.
"Uhny Uftz" (Season 5). Working late, Rob sees a flying saucer out his window.
Image Entertainment has released complete-episode sets for each of the five seasons, and they've also put together a complete series set. I don't know if I'd agree that these are the "20 All-Time Classic Episodes," but it's certainly a great sampler/introduction to one of the most beloved, warm-hearted and funny TV series.
Once you get past the theme song title sequence, the video quality is as good as it gets for a black-and-white TV show. Even on a widescreen TV with the image stretched to fit the screen there's great contrast and surprising clarity. I've seen Blu-rays with more grain and indistinct edges. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and these transfers, like the previous "Dick Van Dyke Show" seasons that Image released on DVD, really do the classic series justice.
The audio is a simple Dolby Digital Mono, but it's clear and assertive, and that makes it a perfect complement to the really classy video presentation.
The best bonus feature is a carryover from the Season One release: "Head of the Family," the series pilot starring Reiner as Rob, Barbara Britton as Laura, and Gary Morgan as their son.
The worst bonus feature is an episode from Van Dyke's 1993-2001 crime series, "Diagnosis Murder." If this collection celebrates the 50th anniversary of the show, why take up disc space with this hour-long unrelated show when the space could have been filled using bonus features from the previous five season releases? Or better still, why not a couple a bonus episodes from "The Dick Van Dyke Show"? It would have felt more complete if they had included the two Jerry Van Dyke episodes from the first season.
Other bonus features are fun but short. There are Emmy Award Telecast clips featuring the show's time in the spotlight, a fun appearance by Van Dyke singing the show's theme song at "The Hollywood Bowl," and rehearsal footage that fans should enjoy. Rounding out the bonus features is a short "making of" extra on "It May Look Like a Walnut" and a collection of cast and producer interviews.
Finally, there's a lenticular "collectible card" featuring Laura Petrie messing with the ottoman from the opening. It's not as easy to see as some lenticulars, but you can make it out with the right angle.
Van Dyke and Moore had great chemistry, but so did everyone else on this show. Van Dyke may have gotten top billing and appeared in more scenes than anyone else, but in many ways this show felt like an ensemble . . . and what a great ensemble it was! As I said, I'm not sure that these are the 20 best episodes, but there are no stinkers among them, and it's a great introduction for newcomers to this classic sitcom.