How Carl Reiner reinvented TV comedy together with his long-running landmark sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Present
Carl Reiner’s The Dick Van Dyke Present, which ran for 5 seasons beginning in 1961, was the primary nice TV sitcom about TV.
Carl Reiner invented TV comedy.
I’m overstating issues, positive: Reiner, who died Monday at age 98, was considered one of a bunch of pioneers who outlined the medium in its early years. (A number of of them, together with Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks, did a few of their greatest work with him.) I’m additionally understating issues: Reiner’s legacy prolonged to comedy albums and movie — he was even a vigorous presence on Twitter till his final hours on Earth.
However Reiner’s appearing and writing in early days of tv (Caesar’s Hour, Your Present of Reveals) helped outline what TV would change into. It could be playful, experimental, fast-paced. It could be mouthy and expressive, a medium that blew your lapels again.
It could even be self-referential. TV was an eyeball that liked to have a look at itself. It was a cultural drive that was altering us rather a lot in just a little time, reconfiguring residence life and routines, rewiring our metabolism, and creating a whole business devoted to creating that little field speak from morning to nighttime. TV introduced us the world, and that world was more and more made by TV.
And Reiner’s landmark creation, The Dick Van Dyke Present, which ran for 5 seasons beginning in 1961, was the primary nice TV sitcom about TV.
It was not solely that — it was additionally a complicated suburban married-life comedy powered by the how-were-we-ever-so-lucky pairing of Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. However the office half of this hybrid, about Rob Petrie’s experiences within the pressure-cooker writers’ room of the fictional Alan Brady Present, set the template for behind-the-cameras comedies, together with 30 Rock and Moore’s personal self-titled present within the 1970s.
Carl Reiner was Rob Petrie; the office expertise and conditions drew on his expertise as a TV actor after which author within the 1950s. However he couldn’t be Rob Petrie. He tried, enjoying the lead within the failed 1960 pilot for Head of the Household. (Audiences, he later stated frankly, have been too used to seeing him as a “second banana.”) Van Dyke’s charisma and jack-in-the-box bodily comedy because the recast lead gave Reiner a extra telegenic avatar.
As an alternative, Reiner turned the star-within-a-show, the shouty, egotistic boss who stored Rob dancing on eggshells. The position wouldn’t make Reiner a family face. Simply the alternative. Within the early seasons of the present, Brady held court docket and berated his writers as shot from behind (or heard from off-screen), so viewers knew him principally from the again of his bald (or toupéed) head. (Seinfeld would echo the system many years later with its depiction of George Steinbrenner, voiced by Larry David, and embodied by Lee Bear, his again to the digicam.)
The system was a masterstroke. It made Reiner’s lack of distinction distinctive. He was not a second banana however an indignant mild bulb, radiating his peevish glare on all his underlings. Reiner — with a legendary forged at his disposal, together with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Rob’s writers’ room comrades — used himself sparingly. However when referred to as on, that bald head shone.
Reiner, a performer earlier than he was a writer-creator, was typically often called a straight man, as when he teed up questions for his pal Brooks of their 2,000-Yr-Outdated Man routine. However as Alan Brady, an outsized tyrant (an ironic position for a person broadly eulogized as a mensch), he was everybody’s worst boss, and the personification of the brand new, high-stakes medium and enterprise.
In When a Bowling Pin Talks, Hear, from Season 2, he sits in a barber’s chair like a king, being primped by three attendants, when Rob and his co-workers interrupt to inform him that they’ve unintentionally plagiarised a sketch. Brady erupts, solves the issue with a blustery cellphone name, and swaggers out the door, his barber carrying his toupee. At one level, Reiner and Dyke appear to pressure to not break character and crack up — the TV Reiner and the precise Reiner every taken in by the opposite’s act.
After all, whereas enjoying Brady indulged Reiner’s showboating facet, in the long run, he actually was Rob Petrie, a author who constructed a life out of comedy.
Reiner’s capability to know Rob each as stressed-out staffer and amiable household man gave The Dick Van Dyke Present a generosity that later, dyspeptic inside-TV satires lacked.
Sitcoms typically break down between home and office premises, however one measure of The Dick Van Dyke Present was that it was concurrently one of many most interesting examples of each, for which we now have to thank Carl Reiner for writing what he knew. TV was his enterprise, nevertheless it was additionally his residence.
James Poniewozik c.2020 The New York Instances Firm
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