LOS ANGELES, May 7 (UPI) -- As NBC gives a spectacular send-off to two classic comedy series -- "Friends" and "Frasier" -- CBS is bringing back the cast of its legendary comedy hit, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," for a long-awaited reunion special.
Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie joined Larry Matthews, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Jerry Van Dyke and series creator-producer Carl Reiner for "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited," an hourlong show that brings their original characters together after an absence of nearly 40 years from America's prime-time TV schedule.
The original show featured Van Dyke as comedy writer Rob Petrie and Moore as his wife Laura. Rose Marie and the late Morey Amsterdam co-starred as Petrie's comedy-writing colleagues Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell, and Reiner appeared as their insufferably insecure and overbearing boss, Alan Brady.
Jay Sandrich, a four-time Emmy-winning director whose credits include "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Cosby Show" and "The Odd Couple," was an assistant director on the original "Van Dyke" show. He told United Press International everyone connected with the show knew from the start it couldn't miss.
"It went on the air and it just didn't get any ratings," said Sandrich. "Of course it's historical now that the show was canceled."
The show eventually became a Top 10 hit for CBS and won 14 Emmys.
Vince Waldron, a playwright and author of "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book," told United Press International the show's approach to comedy became "the template for most of the intelligent, upscale, grown-up shows to follow, from Mary Tyler Moore's stable of top-rated comedies in the '70s, to 'Barney Miller,' 'Seinfeld' and beyond."
Van Dyke went on to star in movies and, eventually, to return to series TV with the long-running CBS drama "Diagnosis Murder." Moore went on to star in the legendary CBS comedy, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which held the record for most Emmys won by a single series until "Frasier" eclipsed it.
Reiner followed "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with a string of successes as a feature-film director -- including "Oh, God!," "The Jerk," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and "All of Me." He had been contemplating a "Van Dyke" reunion for some time, but the opportune time -- and a premise he liked enough to develop -- only recently came up.
Reiner told UPI he got the idea accidentally, while taking part in what he called a "silly" program on TV Land, the cable channel devoted to replays of classic TV shows.
"They were giving awards to people who died," he said. "I looked around the stage and saw Dick and Mary and Rose Marie and Larry."
In short order, he came up with an idea for Brady to press Petrie and Rogers out of retirement and back into service to write a eulogy for him -- so he could edit it before he died. Although Reiner hadn't revisited the characters in nearly four decades, he said that once he had the idea worked out, he was able to write the show in three or four days.
"It was like riding a bicycle," he said.
Rose Marie called Reiner a brilliant writer and said it's no surprise that the show still works.
"Everybody thought we were going to dry out or something, which is ridiculous," she said. "I get fan mail from people who practically look at it as a new show. I don't think they realize it's in black and white."
Waldron, who also oversees the Web site classicsitcoms.com, said when the show began it didn't appear to be substantially different from other TV comedies -- but it was really subversive, for 1961.
"The observant viewer need look no further than the show's very first episode -- at the closing scene in which Laura drops the pearls from her neck and beckons Rob into the bedroom -- to see that something very different was going on here," said Waldron. "These people were hot for each other."
Sandrich said Moore's sex appeal -- obvious from the start -- was a significant part of the show's success.
"Mary would wear those tight, beautiful-fitting Capri pants," he said, "and we'd get letters from all over the country, asking, 'When is she going to wear some more pants?'"
Waldron said it was clear that Rob and Laura Petrie also genuinely liked each other, and audiences saw themselves in the couple from New Rochelle, N.Y., -- or at least an idealized version of themselves.
"Having a situation comedy hold up a behavioral mirror to its audience was a new thing," he said. "That was a radical step for a TV show to take at the crest of the 1960s."
The "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited" has few subversive moments. Rob Petrie utters a couple of mild swear words -- but they serve as a setup to a joke and a shrewd commentary on the difference between TV programming then and now.
The show -- which includes highlight clips from the original series -- is frank about mortality, something that TV comedies rarely if ever were able to manage 40 years ago. Not only is the show centered on the writing of a eulogy, it also deals matter-of-factly with the passing of Sorrell and two other regular characters -- producer Mel Cooley, played by the late Richard Deacon; and next-door neighbor Jerry Helper, played by the late Jerry Paris.
The show closes with a dedication to the memory of the departed cast members, as well as producer Sheldon Leonard, who died at 89 in 1997.
"I give him all the credit I can," said Reiner. "If it wasn't for him it wouldn't have gone on."
Reiner acknowledged that his generation of entertainment professionals is confronting its own mortality.
"It looks like it, doesn't it?" he said. "Well, we're all of the age where we've got to start thinking about turning over the reins to our children."
Rose Marie said she had heard talk about a possible Christmas show.
"I said you'd better hurry up," she said.
Reiner -- currently reprising his "Ocean's 11" role in "Ocean's 12" -- isn't sure whether there will be another "Van Dyke" reunion show. If there is, he's ready to go for it.
"If they say let's do another one, I've got one in my head," he said.
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