Dick Van Dyke is having a good week.
Along with others involved in his self-named series, one of television comedy’s genuine legends will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1961-66 CBS sitcom’s debut Friday (Sept. 30) at Los Angeles’ Egyptian Theatre. A certain highlight will be his planned performance of the show’s theme song with his barbershop quartet.
“They’re making quite a thing out of it,” the ever-friendly Van Dyke marvels to Zap2it. “We’ll show a couple of episodes and do a Q&A, that kind of thing. I can’t conceive that half a century has passed. It doesn’t seem that long ago to me. And Carl (Reiner, creator, producer and co-star of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’) and I are still here. That’s what surprises me.”
The occasion also is being marked with a revised edition of Vince Waldron‘s “The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book” — for which Van Dyke wrote the introduction — and a “Fan Favorites” DVD collection of memorable episodes. Additionally, the Television Critics Association gave the show its Heritage Award at its annual event in August.
Saying he still likes watching the episodes himself, Van Dyke claims, “There are so many, I’ve forgotten some of them, and I’ll sit and laugh at them. Over time, you forget the little mistakes that you regretted, and you just enjoy the show. I love to see what I don’t remember.”
Van Dyke is among many the home-screen veterans in “America in Primetime,” a PBS miniseries on TV history that begins a four-Sunday run Oct. 30. Reiner also is featured, as well as an actress both of them are forever associated with: Mary Tyler Moore, who will receive the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award in January.
“I was so proud of her,” Van Dyke recalls of the way Moore adapted when she was cast as comedy writer Rob Petrie’s wife Laura. “When her show became such a hit, I said to Carl, ‘You know, she needed the five years on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to prepare for that, that time with people who knew comedy.'”
As classic as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” remains, with weeknight airings on the nostalgia-driven channel Me-TV, its title star has another identity to many viewers. He also had a long run (1993-2001) as crime-solving doctor Mark Sloan on CBS’ “Diagnosis: Murder.”
Van Dyke remembers former CBS, ABC and NBC programming chief Fred Silverman asking him to do “this spinoff of ‘Jake and the Fatman.’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to think about doing a one-hour show at my age.’ I was about 65 then, and he said, ‘I just want you to do the pilot. You don’t have to do the series.’
“So I did the pilot. Then, he said, ‘They want to do one movie-of-the-week. Would you mind?’ I said, ‘No, that’s fine,’ and we ended up doing three of those. Then he said, ‘They want to pick up eight one-hour episodes. Would you mind doing those?’ And then there were 11, and then 15 … that’s how they doled them out for 10 years.”
Indeed, Van Dyke has received plentiful recognition for “Diagnosis: Murder” as well as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” over the years, “from younger kids. particularly. And all my friends in comedy said, ‘They’ll never buy you doing a dramatic part.'”