Thursday, December 06, 2012
Here's Carl Reiner's pilot (above) for what would later become "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Poor Carl. The studio execs hated it. And justly so...it was just too generic. Fortunately Danny Thomas, who had his own production company, saw the potential in it and asked his producer Sheldon Leonard to give it a second try. That second try would make a BIG difference.
I thought it might be fun to compare the two versions. I'm cheating a little because I'm illustrating the second version with the seventh episode of the series just to make the contrast greater.
Here's (above) the way the way it looked after Leonard finished with it. He replaced Carl with Dick Van Dyke, brought in Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, shot the series with a live audience at Desilu which used an innovative three camera technique, and picked powerhouse John Rich to direct. Carl was re-assigned as a producer, which effectively meant Story Editor with strong creative influence. Leonard saved the show.
Now we all know Carl Reiner was an immense and flamboyant talent...look what he did with Sid Caesar...but when he had a chance to do his own show his own way he was strangely timid. He apparently needed other people to create an environment where he could come alive and be himself. That's what Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard did for him. They wanted to streamline the structure so Carl's personality could shine through, unencumbered. Wow! There were some good producers in those days!
One last thought: you're probably thinking that Dick Van Dyke and the rest of the cast were the true stars of that show, not Reiner. That's only half true. Somebody had to do for Dick Van Dyke what the executive producers did for Carl. Reiner made it possible for Van Dyke to shine. He gave Dick lots of physical shtick to do...more than any other sitcom would have allowed...and he carefully built up to the physical stuff so it would have maximum impact.
Take a look at the extended physical comedy in the scene above and remember...somebody had to allow that to happen. Somebody had to encourage it. Somebody had to give it context, so it wouldn't seem like a digression. That was Carl.