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The Dick Van Dyke Show Turns 50

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On October 3, 1961—50 years ago today—The Dick Van Dyke Show first aired on CBS.

The show followed the adventures of an easygoing comedy writer named Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke), his beautiful wife Laura (the then-unknown Mary Tyler Moore), and his two comedy co-writers, Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (actor Morey Amsterdam).

Let's take a closer look at this comedy classic.

Head of the Family

Originally, the series was titled Head of the Family and starred Carl Reiner, the show's creator and producer. But executives at CBS decided Reiner wasn't quite right for the part and cast Dick Van Dyke in a new version.

Johnny Carson was also in the running to play Rob Petrie.

Broadway or the Living Room?

Van Dyke was actually taking a bit of a risk signing on to do the show. At the time, he was starring in the hit Broadway show Bye Bye Birdie, which he had to quit to do a television series. If the series had flopped, he would have been out of work.

Credit Roulette

The original opening credits for the show were just a packet of photos of the cast spilling onto a table and being shown individually on the screen. These credits were used only during the show's first season. For the remaining four seasons, two other memorable openings were used: the famous shot of Rob entering the room, greeting his wife and friends, and tripping over the ottoman, and an almost identical version in which he enters, walks toward the group, and expertly sidesteps the ottoman. These two versions were used randomly for the opening credits. A third variation, in which Rob enters, sidesteps the ottoman, and then stumbles anyway, was introduced in season three and was used occasionally.

According to Van Dyke, before each episode, viewers would bet on which opening would be used that week.

Pilot Jitters

The pilot episode was actually shot on the same day President John Kennedy was inaugurated. Van Dyke was so nervous doing the episode that he developed a cold sore on his upper lip; extra makeup had to be applied to hide it. Van Dyke says he cannot remember JFK being inaugurated.

Begging and Pleading

For its first season, the show was not successful and was actually canceled by CBS. Producer Danny Thomas personally went to the network execs and had to convince (beg) them to leave the show on the air. The show picked up steam during summer reruns that year, remained on the air, and became the classic series we all know. When Van Dyke decided to end the series in 1966, it was the CBS executives who begged him to stay.

The Inspirational Mel Brooks

Buddy Sorrel, the wise-cracking joke writer played by Morey Amsterdam, was based on Mel Brooks. Brooks worked as a comedy writer with Carl Reiner, The Dick Van Dyke Show's creator and producer, on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in the 1950s. (The photo shows Reiner, at left, and Brooks on the right.)

Who's Laughing?

The show was usually filmed before a studio audience, but there were at least three occasions when it was not. One of those days was November 22, 1963. While the cast was in the middle of rehearsals that day, they heard about JFK's assassination, but decided to go ahead and film the episode "Happy Birthday and Too Many More" anyway. However, it was decided they would film the episode with no studio audience, figuring no one would be in the mood to laugh.

Brought to You by Kent Cigarettes

Kent Cigarettes sponsored the show and would often give the cast and crew free cartons of cigarettes. Mary Tyler Moore, then a heavy smoker, would routinely take her cartons, as well as those of the set's non-smokers, and trade them in at a local store for her preferred brand.

The Starring Couple

Although they played one of the most attractive couples in TV history, Dick Van Dyke was a full 12 years older than Mary Tyler Moore. He originally thought she was too young to play his wife. Both Van Dyke and Moore later admitted to having crushes on each other during the show's run. Countless viewers actually believed the two were married in real life.

Real Life Friends, TV Enemies

Although they played bitter enemies on the show, Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon (who played Mel Cooley) were actually very close friends in real life. Many of the best insults Buddy hurled at Mel were crafted when the two of them went out for drinks after work.

The Wardrobe Controversy

A small controversy erupted when Mary Tyler Moore started wearing capri pants on the show. The executives at CBS objected because, at the time, all TV housewives (June Cleaver, Alice Kramden, Wilma Flintstone) wore dresses. But Moore insisted all the housewives she knew wore pants. She was allowed to continue wearing them, helping capri pants become a popular fashion fad for women across America. (Interestingly, the most famous sitcom wife of all time, Lucille Ball's Lucy Ricardo, often wore pants on episodes of I Love Lucy.)

Dick Van Dyke and the Civil Rights Movement?

On September 25, 1963, an episode aired called "That's My Boy?" Written by Reiner, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff, the episode flashes back to Rob and Laura bringing home their newborn baby. Rob confides to his neighbor Jerry (director Jerry Paris) that he might have been given the wrong baby at the hospital. Rob details how a Mrs. Peters was staying in the hospital in room 203 at the same time Laura (aka Mrs. Petrie) was staying in room 208. Rob is convinced the hospital confused the baby of Mrs. Peters with his own.

Rob places a desperate call to Mr. Peters, who agrees to come to Rob's home to discuss the matter.

As Rob welcomes an unseen Mr. Peters at his front door, he's shocked. Rob giggles nervously as Mr. Peters enters the room and is revealed to the studio audience. Mr. Peters, played by Greg Morris, is African-American. This reportedly led to the longest uninterrupted span of laughter from a live studio audience.

Rob sheepishly greets a laughing Mr. Peters, shakes his hand, and welcomes him into his home, in an understandable state of acute embarrassment. Contrasted with Rob's discomfort, Mr. Peters is being calm, cool, and collected.

According to Reiner, "It was the first time in television history that a black man was shown as being superior to a white man." If Hulu works where you are, you can watch the episode here:

"So You Think That You've Got Troubles?"

The famous Dick Van Dyke Show theme song actually had lyrics, though they were never used on the show. The lyrics, composed by Morey Amsterdam, were first revealed by Van Dyke in a 2010 interview with NPR. The first three verses:

So you think that you've got troubles?
Well there'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.

When you find the joy of livin'
Is lovin' and givin'
You'll be there when the winning dice are tossed.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Check Out These 10 Fun Facts About Supermarket Sweep
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Lifetime Television

Thanks to a recent deleted SNL scene in which host Melissa McCarthy lost her mind on a segment of Supermarket Sweep, we started reminiscing about the heart-pumping, family-friendly game show back in early 2016. Back in the day, you couldn’t watch the show—which debuted in 1965—without fantasizing about reenacting it at your local grocery store. On it, pairs of contestants would race through supermarket aisles, attempting to pack their carts full of the most valuable items, in between quiz-style segments. Revivals of the series stopped filming in 2003, but there's good news for fans who can't let the dream of appearing on the game show die: Deadline reports that it's about to make a television comeback. Relive the high of Supermarket Sweep with these fun facts about the game show.

1. THE MEAT WAS FAKE.

In a special for Great Big Story, former host David Ruprecht confirmed, “All the meat was fake.” Former contestant Mike Futia reaffirmed the fact to The A.V. Club saying, “Everything that was meat, cheese—all that was fake because they’d get the meat juices on their sweaters. And that’s not telegenic, so they wanted to get rid of that.”

2. A LOT OF THE FOOD WAS EXPIRED.

“We shot for about five months every year and they used the same food over and over again,” Ruprecht admitted to Great Big Story. “A lot of the food, having been thrown in and out of the carts for three, four months had gotten pretty beaten up.”

3. WINNERS DIDN’T GET TO KEEP THE FOOD.

Given what Ruprecht said above, contestants were probably thankful that they didn’t get to keep the food. And according to Great Big Story, they didn’t get to keep their sweatshirts either. “They got $5000 but they didn’t get their sweatshirts,” said Ruprecht.

4. BEAUTY PRODUCTS COULD WIN YOU THE GAME.

Pro tip: Heading for the beauty aisle instead of the meat freezer could very well have won you the game. “Those who [used this strategy] won,” Ruprecht told Great Big Story. “Instead of five hams and five turkeys that load up your cart, you ... get five hair colorings ... get five of all these expensive health and beauty products. With one cart, you could beat everybody.”

5. FOR CONTESTANTS, PERSONALITY WAS KEY.

Supermarket Sweep was a TV show, after all, and vibrant personalities have always made for good television. “When we were going through the process, they put you in a room with a few other people and ask you sample questions,” former contestant Mike Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “And you could sense it was because they wanted to see if you were slouching and things like that ... I felt pretty confident that we’d get the callback to have a taping.”

6. WINNING DURING THE TAPING DIDN’T GUARANTEE YOU’D ACTUALLY COLLECT YOUR WINNINGS.

“It was a syndicated show,” Mike Futia explained to The A.V. Club, “so they taped all the episodes, and you didn’t even know if you were going to get the money if you won unless it aired, which could be six months later, because they then had to sell it.” On the bright side: Even if you didn’t collect, at least you could always say you played Supermarket Sweep.

7. SHOOTING DAYS LASTED 12 TO 14 HOURS.

Most of that time consisted of waiting around. “We literally got in a room when we got called back for the actual taping, and they said, ‘Be prepared to be here. It could be a 12- to 14-hour day because there are three pairs of people on each show,’” Futia explained to The A.V. Club. “That day, I want to say they were taping something like eight shows. So you had 48 people just in a room, and the first thing they tape is your introduction where you run down to the camera and everybody gets introduced to [host] David Ruprecht ... Then they call you back and you tape the first segment.”

8. CONTESTANTS WORE DICKEYS.

Talk about dated fashion: “By winning, we didn’t get to keep the sweaters because we got paid,” Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “But if you lost, your consolation prize was that you got to keep the sweater—but you didn’t get to keep the dickey.”

9. CONTESTANTS GOT TO MAP OUT THEIR ROUTES.

To prevent contestants from looking like chickens running around with their heads cut off, the show allowed them some time to strategize. “When you’re taping the show before the …  Supermarket Sweep round, you get about 10 minutes or so to walk around the supermarket so you can see the prices,” Futia told The A.V. Club. “Everything has a price on it, so ... you map out what you’re going to do. And it’s the weirdest things that were expensive, like hoses.”

10. THE “SUPERMARKET” WAS REALLY, REALLY SMALL.

“A little bit bigger than a bodega in the city” was how Futia described the supermarket set that was built for the 1990s revival of the series. “It’s very tiny. It looks huge, but it’s small. Even in the aisles, you had to be careful if you and your cameraman were running and another group was coming down that aisle. You had to make sure you were all the way to the side or there could have been an accident.”

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