6 Little-Known Facts About The Dick Van Dyke Show

The Dick Van Dyke Show may seem dated in some ways, but it broke so much TV ground in an otherwise staid era.

1. It was all Carl Reiner's Idea

From 1950-54, Carl Reiner cut his show business teeth as a writer/performer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. His fellow writers on the show included the famous (Mel Brooks) and not-so-famous (Selma Diamond, who would later portray bailiff Selma Hacker on Night Court). When Caesar's show ended, Reiner wrote a pilot script and several episodes for a new TV sitcom which closely mirrored his own life. Called Head of the Family, the show highlighted the daily life of Rob Petrie (Reiner), a TV comedy writer who lived in New Rochelle with his wife and son. Borscht belt comedian Morey Amsterdam was cast as the Mel Brooks-type joke writer, and Rose Marie portrayed the self-deprecating spinster-in-search-of-a-husband Selma Diamond.

2. The Lead Role Almost Went to Johnny Carson

The pilot caught the attention of veteran producer Sheldon Leonard (The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show) who liked the concept and the script, but didn't care for Reiner's acting ability. He not-so-tactfully suggested that the lead character needed to be more mainstream American (translation: less Jewish) for the show to be successful with a wide audience. The finalists for the lead role of Rob Petrie boiled down to Johnny Carson and Dick Van Dyke. Thanks to name recognition generated by a successful run on Broadway in Bye, Bye Birdie, Van Dyke landed the job. Of course, the runner-up didn't do so badly for himself.

3. The Girl with Something Moore

As a teen, Mary Tyler Moore had auditioned for a role as Danny Thomas' daughter on his self-titled sitcom. Despite her comedic prowess, Thomas rejected her, saying that "no one would believe a girl with a little button nose like hers could be a daughter of mine." A few years later, when Moore auditioned for the role of Laura Petrie, she not only caught Carl Reiner's attention, but also jogged Danny Thomas' memory. While Van Dyke initially objected to her hiring since she was 11 years younger than he, the onscreen chemistry proved magical enough to banish any doubts he harbored. Despite her youth, Moore was no pushover. When initial scripts called for her to vacuum the living room in a dress and high heels à la June Cleaver, the actress put her foot down. Mary was a young mother in real life, and she wore comfortable clothing to perform household chores. Thus was born Laura Petrie's trademark Capri pants, which simultaneously gave network censors fits and set suburban housewives free of their pantyhose prison.

4. Breaking Color Barriers

From a 21st-century point of view, it seems ridiculous to praise a series for using African-American actors in roles other than maids or railroad porters. But when The Dick Van Dyke Show premiered, the world of prime-time sitcoms was a different place. Even though the Civil Rights movement was slowly progressing, TV was still dragging its feet when it came to change. As a result, one of the most popular episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show—"That's My Boy?"—almost didn't make it to film. In the episode, exhausted and overwrought new dad Rob was convinced that the hospital had sent him and Laura home with the wrong baby. A couple named Peters had welcomed a baby in the same hospital on the same day, in a similar hospital room number, and the Petries had even received some of the Peters' gifts in error. The comedic (and controversial) payoff to the episode arrived when Mr. and Mrs. Peters visited the Petrie household and were revealed to be a black couple, played by Greg Morris and Mimi Dillard. The positive response from the studio audience gave producer Sheldon Leonard the confidence to sign Bill Cosby for a co-starring role in a new series he was producing, I Spy.

5. The Drama behind the Laughter

Behind the scenes, all was not always well. Dick Van Dyke was a self-confessed "people pleaser" and was loathe to reveal any unhappiness or frustration, either on the set or when meeting fans. Instead, he found solace after hours with a good friend named Jack Daniels. (Years later, Van Dyke publicly announced his alcoholism and checked himself into a facility for treatment.) Meanwhile, co-star Mary Tyler Moore began to experience strange unexplained medical complaints on the set, including dizziness, weight loss, and blurred vision. Presuming she was overworked, she ignored the warning signs which she later found to be attributed to Type 1 diabetes. Then, during the series' fourth season, Rose Marie's beloved husband of 20 years passed away. She was so overcome with grief that she wanted to quit the show, but director John Rich coaxed her into staying.

6. Words behind the Music

The opening to The Dick Van Dyke Show is certainly memorable (and not only for Dick's famous stumble over the ottoman). But what most folks don't know is that lyrics were written to go along with the program's instrumental theme. In fact, they were written by co-star Morey Amsterdam, who also penned the words for the hit "Rum and Coca-Cola." Memorize the following lyrics and think of them as you watch the traditional Dick Van Dyke introduction:So you think that you've got trouble.
Well trouble's a bubble.
So tell old mister trouble to get lost.

Why not hold your head up high and
Stop cryin', start tryin'.
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
How Accurate are Hollywood Medical Dramas? A Doctor Breaks It Down
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Medical dramas like Grey's Anatomy get a lot of things wrong when it comes to the procedures shown on the screen, but unless you're a doctor, you'd probably never notice.

For its latest installment, WIRED's Technique Critique video series—which previously blessed us with a dialect coach's critique of actors' onscreen accents—tackled the accuracy of medical scenes in movies and TV, bringing in Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, to comment on emergency room and operating scenes from Pulp Fiction, House, Scrubs, and more.

While Onishi breaks down just how inaccurate these shows and movies can be, she makes it clear that Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong. Some shows, including Showtime's historical drama The Knick, garner praise from Onishi for being true-to-life with their medical jargon and operations. And when doctors discuss what music to play during surgery on Scrubs? That's "a tale as old as time in the O.R.," according to Onishi.

Other tropes are very obviously ridiculous, like slapping a patient during CPR and telling them to fight, which we see in a scene from The Abyss. "Rule number one of CPR is: never stop effective chest compressions in order to slap or yell words of encouragement at the patient," Onishi says. "Yelling at a patient or cheering them on has never brought them back to life." And obviously, taking selfies in the operating room in the middle of a grisly operation like the doctors on Grey's Anatomy do would get you fired in real life.

There are plenty of cliché words and phrases we hear over and over on doctor shows, and some are more accurate than others. Asking about a patient's vitals is authentic, according to Onishi, who says it's something doctors are always concerned with. However, yelling "We're losing him!" is simply for added TV drama. "I have never once heard that in my real life," Onishi says.

[h/t WIRED]


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