DickVanDyke3coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes
1963-64, 800 min. (32 episodes), B&W
Not rated (would be G)
Image Entertainment
Aspect ratio:  1.33:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA Mono
Bonus features:  B

Did you hear the one about the comedy writer for a top variety show who made a sitcom pilot about his life that was rejected by the network, only to have a producer recast the show so it worked so spectacularly it won 15 Primetime Emmys over five seasons and earned 13th place on TV Guide’s Top 50 TV Shows of All Time?

The joke was almost on Carl Reiner, who decided to draw on his experience writing jokes and skits for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and put all of his best material into a pilot that he starred in—only to be rejected. But producer Sheldon Leonard told Reiner he wanted to cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and also bring seasoned entertainers Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie onboard. Despite disappointing ratings the first season, sponsor Procter & Gamble liked the show so much that they threatened to pull all advertising from CBS daytime programming if the show wasn’t given a second season.

That did the trick, and the public grew to love writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke), his writing pals Buddy and Sally, his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), son Ritchie (Jerry Mathews), and quirky neighbors Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert) and Jerry (Jerry Paris) Halper.

Part of the show’s broad appeal comes from its ingenious blending of two sitcom types:  the domestic sitcom, with an I Love Lucy pairing of neighbors, and the workplace sitcom, with Reiner appearing as Alan Brady, the star whose variety show employed Rob and his co-writers. That greatly expanded the range of jokes, and The Dick Van Dyke Show was one smartly written comedy. But Van Dyke’s natural talent for physical comedy and Laura’s knack for getting into her own “Lucy” predicaments make it a sitcom that appeals, even now, to family members of all ages. 

This season the show finished its highest in the Nielsen ratings, coming in third behind Bonanza and the top show, The Beverly Hillbillies. This season also contains two of the all-time best series episodes, “That’s My Boy” and “The Masterpiece.” The former earned the longest sustained audience laughter for the entire series in a very funny episode that finds Rob convinced they brought the wrong baby home from the hospital. And in “The Masterpiece” the gang goes to an art auction and some of them end up bidding unintentionally on a painting.

DickVanDyke3screenIn other episodes, Rob is paranoid that he’s losing his hair, a teacher falls in love with Laura, an embarrassing painting of Laura turns up, the Petrie’s mistakenly think Jerry is leading a double life, Rob tires to get a favorite old star of his as a guest star and tries to keep another star in line, Rob recalls their accidentally illegal marriage and their honeymoon, Laura drives Rob crazy when she helps at the office, Sally becomes an overnight sensation, Laura gets Rob in trouble when she brags about him to a magazine reporter, and Rob mistakenly plays poker with cards he marked to teach Ritchie a card trick. Guest stars this season include Greg Morris (TV’s Mission Impossible) and Richard Haydn (The Sound of Music).

Families with very small children may wish to go with Season 2 instead, because it features more episodes with little Ritchie, but for overall quality Season 3 remains one of the most solid, and it’s easy to just keep watching one after the other when the picture quality is so spectacular. There are some nice bonus features, too, including a full episode of The Danny Thomas Show in which Morey Amsterdam appears as Buddy Sorrell, plus two Mary Tyler Moore appearances on variety shows and some fun rehearsal footage.