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6 Little-Known Facts About The Dick Van Dyke Show

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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.

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17 Painless Facts About M*A*S*H
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Fox Home Video

In 1968, surgeon H. Richard Hornberger—using the nom de plume of Richard Hooker—collaborated with writer W.C. Heinz to create the book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, based on his experiences with the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Two years later, Robert Altman used the book as the basis for a movie about the fictional 4077th unit (he cut the number 8055 in half.) Two years after that—on this day 45 years ago—M*A*S*H came to life again in the form of an 11-season television series that culminated in the most-watched series finale in television history. Here are some facts about the show that won't get you a Section 8.

1. ALAN ALDA AND JAMIE FARR SERVED IN THE U.S. ARMY.

Alda (Hawkeye Pierce) was in the Army Reserve for six months in Korea. Farr enlisted, and was stationed in Japan when Red Skelton requested his services on his USO Tour through Korea. Wayne Rogers (Trapper John McIntyre) joined the U.S. Navy for a time as a ship navigator. Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicut) served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

2. MCLEAN STEVENSON AUDITIONED FOR HAWKEYE, AND COMEDIAN ROBERT KLEIN TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF TRAPPER JOHN.

Stevenson was convinced to take the role of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake instead. As for Klein, he denied a claim that he lived to regret the decision.

3. LARRY GELBART WROTE THE PILOT IN TWO DAYS FOR $25,000.

The veteran screenwriter had been living in London after growing tired of Hollywood, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to adapt Robert Altman’s movie for television audiences.

4. KLINGER WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE IN ONE EPISODE.

The cast of MASH
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

He was also supposed to be gay. Jamie Farr’s character was changed to a heterosexual who cross-dressed to try to get himself kicked out of Korea. Allegedly, the Klinger character was influenced by comedian Lenny Bruce’s claim that he got discharged from the Navy for claiming to have “homosexual tendencies.”

5. ONLY THE NETWORK WANTED THE LAUGH TRACK.

Gelbart and executive producer Gene Reynolds were against the canned laughter; unfortunately CBS knew of no other way to present a 30-minute “comedy.” Gelbart and Reynolds did manage to get the network to agree to take out the laughing during the scenes in the operating room, and as the seasons progressed, the track got quieter and quieter. In the U.K., the BBC omitted the laugh track entirely.

6. CBS DIDN’T WANT ONE "UNPATRIOTIC" EPISODE.

An episode where soldiers stand outside in the freezing cold so that they can make themselves sick enough to be sent home was rejected by CBS. That soldier tactic was apparently actually used during the Korean War.

7. THE WRITERS CAME UP WITH AN INGENIOUS WAY OF DEALING WITH SCRIPT COMPLAINTS.

After growing tired of having to listen to cast members’ notes about their scripts, M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine and his fellow scribes changed their script on two occasions so that the actors were forced to pretend it was parka weather on 90- to 100-degree days on their Malibu ranch set. They took the hint and the “ticky tack” notes stopped.

8. WAYNE ROGERS WAS ABLE TO LEAVE THE SHOW BECAUSE HE NEVER SIGNED A CONTRACT.

Rogers was threatened with a breach of contract lawsuit. The problem was that he had never signed a deal, objecting to the standard contract given to TV actors when he had started playing Trapper John, particularly the “morals clause,” which he considered antiquated. Rogers said that aside from missing the cast—and his friendship with Alda in particular—he had no regrets about leaving the show after season three.

9. ALDA WAS THE ONLY ACTOR WHO WAS AWARE OF HENRY BLAKE’S FATE UNTIL MOMENTS BEFORE SHOOTING THE FINAL SCENE IN “ABYSSINIA, HENRY.”

Alan Alda in MASH
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Gelbart and Reynolds used the opportunity for McLean Stevenson wanting to leave after the third season to “make a point” about the “wastefulness” of war, and decided to kill off Henry Blake. After distributing the script without the last page and shooting all of the scenes written therein, Gelbart asked the cast to wait a few minutes before the start of the end-of-season wrap party and gave them each one copy of the final page, where Radar enters the O.R. and announces that Henry didn’t make it.

Larry Linville (Frank Burns) immediately remarked that it was “f***ing brilliant.” Gary Burghoff (Radar) turned to Stevenson and called him a son of a bitch, because he was going to get an acting Emmy for the episode. (He didn’t.) They then shot the scene in two takes. Gelbart and Reynolds claimed they received over 1000 letters from people upset over the ending. Reynolds also claimed that CBS was so unhappy with the decision that in at least one repeat airing, they cut out the final scene.

10. THE WRITERS RAN OUT OF NAMES.

During season six, there's an episode that features four Marine patients named after the 1977 California Angels infield. Throughout season seven, the patients were named after the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers. Ken Levine didn’t just use baseball player's names though; in “Goodbye Radar,” Radar’s new girlfriend was named after one of Levine’s former lady friends, Patty Haven.

11. THE SERIES LASTED MUCH LONGER THAN THE ACTUAL KOREAN WAR.

The series spent 11 years telling the story of Army doctors and nurses dealing with a three year, one month, and two day war.

12. ALDA CO-WROTE 13 AND DIRECTED 31 EPISODES OF THE SERIES.

That 31 count includes the series finale. Alda was the first person to ever win an Emmy for acting, directing, and writing on the same program.

13. A METRIC TON OF FUTURE STARS MADE GUEST APPEARANCES.

Ron Howard played an underage Marine. Leslie Nielsen played a Colonel. Patrick Swayze portrayed an injured soldier with leukemia. John Ritter, Laurence Fishburne, Pat Morita, Rita Wilson, George Wendt, Shelley Long, Ed Begley Jr., Blythe Danner, Teri Garr, and even Andrew Dice Clay also all visited the 4077th.

14. THE SERIES FINALE IS STILL THE MOST WATCHED EPISODE OF TELEVISION IN AMERICAN HISTORY.

Seventy-seven percent of the people watching television in the United States on the night of Monday, February 28, 1983 were watching the two-and-a-half-hour series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” That was 121.6 million people. A company only had to pay $30,000 to run a 30-second commercial when M*A*S*H got started in 1972. For the series finale, a 30-second spot cost $450,000.

15. THERE WERE THREE SPINOFFS.

Trapper John, M.D., aired from 1979 to 1986 and was about Trapper John McIntyre’s present-day tenure as chief of surgery back in San Francisco (it didn’t star Wayne Rogers.) AfterMASH featured Col. Potter (Harry Morgan), Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), and Klinger (Jamie Farr) working at a veterans' hospital in Missouri right after the events of M*A*S*H; it was cancelled in its second season as it was unable to compete with The A-Team. W*A*L*T*E*R followed the new adventures of Walter “Radar” O'Reilly (Burghoff again), who became a St. Louis cop after losing the family farm and his wife (not Patty Haven) and attempting suicide. The pilot wasn’t picked up, and only aired once, and only in the eastern and central time zones, on CBS on July 17, 1984.

16. RADAR’S TEDDY BEAR WAS SOLD AND RETURNED TO BURGHOFF.

Gary Burghoff as Radar in MASH
Fox Home Video

Burghoff said Radar’s teddy bear had been lost for 30 years until it suddenly turned up at an auction in 2005. A medical student bought it for $11,500, and promptly sold it back to Burghoff.

17. A CONSTRUCTION WORKER FOUND THE SHOW’S TIME CAPSULE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

In the series' penultimate episode, “As Time Goes By,” the characters bury a time capsule under the Fox Ranch. Two months later, the land was sold. Soon after, a construction worker found the capsule and got in contact with Alan Alda to ask what he should do with it. After he was told to keep it, Alda claimed the construction worker “didn’t seem very impressed.”

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18 Things You Might Not Know About Frasier
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The character of psychiatrist Frasier Crane was added to Cheers during the series’ third season as a temporary release for some of the Sam and Diane relationship tension. Dr. Crane was only supposed to be around for a few episodes, but thanks to a combination of good writing and Kelsey Grammer’s performance, Frasier became a series regular by Cheers's fifth season. He was so popular that he was eventually spun off into his own series, which premiered on September 16, 1993—and lasted an amazing 11 years. Here are some fun behind-the-scenes facts for all you Frasier fans.

1. THE ORIGINAL IDEA FOR THE SHOW HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH FRASIER.

Kelsey Grammer and the creative team behind Frasier (David Lee, David Angell, and Peter Casey) originally thought that any use of the Dr. Crane character would encourage unfair comparisons to Cheers, so their initial ideas involved Kelsey playing a paralyzed media mogul cared for by a street-smart nurse in a Manhattan penthouse. Paramount hated the idea and convinced all concerned that it would be unwise not to capitalize on the built-in Cheers audience.

2. THEY WANTED TO SET THE SHOW AS FAR AWAY FROM BOSTON AS POSSIBLE.

Once it was agreed that Grammer would continue as Dr. Crane, the creators still wanted to distance themselves from Boston and the whole "crossover syndrome." They knew that the network would insist on having former Cheers characters make guest appearances if the show was set anywhere in Massachusetts, so they moved Frasier across the country to Seattle. The gourmet coffee scene was just taking root in that area, which provided a central meeting place for the characters. The creators didn't want Frasier Crane to work in private practice, since that had already been done on The Bob Newhart Show. Grammer's resonant voice seemed natural for radio, so the concept of a call-in psychiatry show seemed natural.

3. LISA KUDROW COULD HAVE PLAYED ROZ ...

Future Friends star Lisa Kudrow originally won the role of Frasier’s producer, Roz Doyle. But during the third day of rehearsals prior to filming the pilot, the producers realized that while Kudrow was certainly funny enough, she just wasn’t forceful enough to match Grammer when he went all out. They needed a female “alpha dog” to play the part, so Kudrow was out and second choice Peri Gilpin was in. The character was named after Roz Doyle, one of the producers of Wings who died of breast cancer in 1991 at age 49.

4. ... AND ROSIE PEREZ WAS ALMOST DAPHNE.

Rosie Perez was this close to being psychic home health care worker Daphne. Grammer was pushing for the character to be a Latina, while the producers had their eye on Jane Leeves. Grammer’s main objection to the British Leeves was that the show might too closely resemble Nanny and the Professor, a warm and fuzzy family sitcom of the 1970s that starred Juliet Mills as an English nanny with psychic abilities. Grammer agreed to Leeves as the choice when his initial table reading with the actress went exceptionally well.

5. KELSEY GRAMMER SANG THE SHOW'S THEME SONG.

Composer Bruce Miller was given the challenging assignment of writing a theme song for the series that didn’t specifically mention psychiatry, radio, or the name “Frasier.” Lyricist Darryl Phinnesse came up with the cryptic phrase “tossed salad and scrambled eggs” as a metaphor for the “mixed up” patients that Dr. Crane saw regularly. Miller originally envisioned Mel Tormé singing the theme over the closing credits, but the producers preferred to employ Grammer’s golden throat.

6. THE SHOW'S DESIGNERS SPENT MAJOR MONEY FURNISHING FRASIER'S APARTMENT.

“So what do you think of what I’ve done with the place?” Frasier asked his father, Martin, in the pilot episode. “You know, every item here was carefully selected. The lamp by Corbu, this chair by Eames, and this couch is an exact replica of the one Coco Chanel had in her Paris atelier.” The show’s set designers spent almost half a million dollars to give Frasier’s apartment its “eclectic” look. The Coco Chanel replica sofa was covered with 24 yards of Italian suede for an estimated cost of about $15,000. The Eames chair was rented, but the Pastoe curved sideboard was purchased for $3,200 and the Wassily chair had a $1,395 price tag. Martin’s eyesore of a recliner was also on the pricey side, since the prop department couldn’t find an appropriately ugly chair at any second-hand store. The chair was eventually covered with tape and covered with fabric purchased from an exclusive shop that specialized in deliberately tacky 1970s-era textiles.

7. THE FIRST CUT OF THE PILOT WAS SIX MINUTES TOO LONG.

After seven passes, it still came in sixty seconds more than it should and the creative team decided they couldn’t cut any more. NBC agreed and said they would find the extra time—not by cutting a commercial, but by taking 15 seconds from the other 4 shows on that night.

8. JANE LEEVES WORKED WITH AN ACCENT COACH.

Leeves grew up just north of London, England, but since her character was from Manchester she used an affected Mancunian accent (which received a lot of criticism from fans when Frasier aired in the U.K.). Leeves worked with a voice coach to ensure that her accent would be understood by American viewers. John Mahoney, on the other hand, grew up in Manchester but emigrated to the U.S. when he was 19 years old. He concentrated on losing his accent shortly after settling in Illinois so that he would “blend in.”

9. THE CAST MEMBER WHO RECEIVED THE MOST FAN MAIL ISN'T THE ONE YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

When Frasier first started topping the Nielsen ratings every week, which cast member received the most fan mail? Eddie the dog. Leeves once wryly observed that when Entertainment Weekly used Frasier as a lead story in 1993, Eddie was the only cast member to appear on the cover. Eddie was portrayed by a Jack Russell Terrier named Moose, who'd originally been adopted by a family that wasn't aware of the breed's rambunctious nature. Moose had relentless energy—he dug holes in the back yard, chased anything in his path, chewed furniture and even climbed trees to escape his enclosure. His family gave him up to a rescue organization, which is where professional trainer Mathilde de Cagny discovered him. She decided he would be a good working dog because of his boundless energy and desire to always be doing something. Moose turned out to be an apt pupil, and learned to follow commands immediately. During the doggie auditions for the show, the producers were looking for a pooch that could stare endlessly at Kelsey Grammer (a running joke on the series), and Moose performed flawlessly, staring at Mathilde's outstretched index finger offstage until he was "released."

10. WHEN HE RETIRED, MOOSE WAS REPLACED BY HIS SON.

Moose retired at the age of 10 (after the end of Season 7) and his son Enzo took over the role of Eddie. Moose had been bred with the idea of achieving a look-alike replacement when it became obvious that Frasier would have a long run. Enzo had two siblings, a sister named Miko who was too small to play Eddie, and Moosie, who had noticeably different markings. Peri Gilpin, who played Roz, fell in love with Moosie and adopted him.

11. THE FRASIER WRITERS SOMETIMES WORKED SUBTLE HOMAGES TO CHEERS INTO THE SCRIPTS.

One famous example was the recreation of a scene where Sam and Diane were embroiled in a vicious argument that almost ended up in fisticuffs but instead resulted in a passionate embrace. Of course, when Frasier used the same tactic during a shouting match with financial analyst Julia Wilcox, he ended up being accused of sexual harassment.

12. MOST OF THE CHEERS CAST MADE APPEARANCES ON THE SHOW.

Most of the main Boston tavern regulars made appearances on Frasier. Lilith, logically, visited the most since she was Frasier’s ex and Frederick’s mom. Sam, Diane, and Woody all found themselves in Seattle for varying reasons, and a business trip to Boston in Season 9 enabled the Crane family to see the rest of the Cheers gang in one fell swoop. Noticeably absent, however, was Rebecca Howe, played by Kirstie Alley. Alley had contacted co-creator David Lee when Frasier was in the planning stages and informed him that as a Scientologist she did not believe in psychiatry and as a result would not be able to make an appearance on the series. Lee responded simply, “I don’t recall asking.”

13. THE EPISODE WHERE NILES CO-HOSTED HIS BROTHER'S SHOW WAS RE-WRITTEN WHEN GRAMMER WENT TO REHAB.

On the evening of September 21, 1996, Kelsey Grammer flipped his Dodge Viper (a gift from NBC) not far from his driveway in Agoura Hills, California. He wasn’t severely injured, but the resulting DUI arrest spurred him to check in at the Betty Ford Clinic. Frasier was on hiatus for the following three weeks due to the Major League Baseball playoffs, and the episode 4.05 (“Head Games”) was quickly rewritten to feature Niles hosting his brother’s radio program while Frasier was away at a convention. Grammer filmed his bit for the intro at a later date and it was tacked on to the show before broadcast.

14. THE PRODUCERS CREATED NILES SPECIFICALLY FOR DAVID HYDE PIERCE.

There wasn’t any particular plan in place to give Frasier a brother until the assistant casting director approached the creators with a photo of David Hyde Pierce in hand and asked, “Doesn’t he look like Kelsey did 10 years ago?” Startled by the physical resemblance, the creative team dug up some tapes of a short-lived Norman Lear-produced political sitcom called The Powers That Be, on which Pierce portrayed a shy, suicidal Congressman. A meeting was arranged with the actor and he was offered the newly created role of Niles Crane after a brief interview.

15. THE WRITERS EXPLAINED AWAY JANE LEEVES' PREGNANCY IN AN INTERESTING WAY.

Leeves was expecting in real life during Season 7, and her burgeoning baby bump was explained on the show as weight gain from Daphne’s sudden compulsive overeating as a method of dealing with her relationship with Niles. She was sent away to a spa for a few episodes and returned svelte (after daughter Isabella was born).

Roz’s pregnancy in Season 5, however, was strictly a plot device—an attempt by the writers to give the character a story arc of her own. Gilpin wasn’t with child, and she had a lot of explaining to do to friends and family members who thought she’d neglected to tell them about her impending motherhood. The entire Roz’s baby storyline was a misstep in retrospect, Gilpin and the producers agreed, and the infant remained behind the scenes for the most part because Grammer didn’t want the hassle of the tightly restricted work schedule of child actors.

16. EVEN THOUGH HE WAS RETIRED, MOOSE HAD ONE LAST CURTAIN CALL.

Moose was 14 when Frasier came to an end. The dog's fur had turned snow white and he was almost completely deaf, but his trainer carried him out onstage after the final episode taped so that the pooch could take his bows with the rest of the cast. David Hyde Pierce commented that it was one of the most moving moments of the evening, watching Moose recognize and react to the applause one last time.

17. KELSEY GRAMMER PLAYED FRASIER FOR A VERY, VERY LONG TIME ...

Counting the time he spent on Cheers, Kelsey Grammer played the character of Frasier Crane in prime time for 20 consecutive years, a record TV-land hadn’t seen since James Arness played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke for the same length of time. Grammer's publicist invited Arness to join Kelsey on The Today Show in 2004, but according to Grammer, Arness rejected the idea with a brief expletive that rhymes with “duck shoe.”

18. GRAMMER IS THE FIRST AMERICAN ACTOR TO BE NOMINATED FOR THE SAME CHARACTER ON THREE DIFFERENT SERIES.

Cheers and Frasier are obvious, but Frasier Crane also made an Emmy-nominated guest appearance on Wings.

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