The Dick Van Dyke Show

TV classics: The Dick Van Dyke Show

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 158 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Matthews, Richard Deacon.

Plot summary: Rob is the writer of a successful TV show. At home, he is the loving husband of Laura and their son Ritchie. Together, they master the adventures and challenges of everyday life with warm hearts and a healthy sense of humor.

The-Dick-Van-Dyke-ShowReview: In 1960, Carl Reiner created a TV show based on his experiences as a writer in Hollywood. Called Head of the Family, the show featured Reiner himself in the leading role as Rob Petrie and Mr. and Mrs. North alumn Barbara Britton as his television wife. Despite the lovely casting choice for Mrs. Petrie, the show failed to meet the necessary enthusiasm to be picked up for a complete season and found its way back to Carl Reiner’s writing desk. Re-imagined and re-cast with Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, the show made a comeback one year later. Named after the new leading man, The Dick Van Dyke Show found a home on CBS for its first season and was renewed for four more due to Procter & Gamble’s commercial influence on the network.

Rewarded with 15 Emmy Awards (out of 25 nominations), the show offered a look behind the scenes of a fictional variety program, The Alan Brady Show, as well as a glimpse into the Petrie household. Although using the quirks of Hollywood as a setting was nothing new by 1961, The Dick Van Dyke Show managed to find a balance between the ballyhoo of entertainment and the everyday chaos of family life. Blessed with the comedic talents of the two leading actors as well as their natural chemistry, the show was lighthearted, smart and funny. Shaped in quality and style by writer/creator Carl Reiner (who also appeared as fictional TV star Alan Brady), the show remained top notch from beginning to end and is still popular in reruns today. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, the entire series can also be revisited by old fans and new ones alike – a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who appreciates classy comedy and a wholesome but quirky style.

Remember the show or need a reminder? Watch the pilot here.

Ford Television Theatre

TV classics: Ford Television Theatre

USA 1952-57, 5 seasons, 195 episodes, 30 minutes each, NBC and ABC. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Cast examples: Gene Barry, Joan Bennett, Barbara Britton, Raymond Burr, Bette Davis, Richard Denning, Irene Dunne, Barbara Hale, Brian Keith, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O’Sullivan, Larry Parks, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck et al.

Plot summary: Like many anthology series of the time, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week.

Review: Like many of its sister anthology series, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week. Originally a radio program, the show was first broadcast like on TV in 1948 and picked up for a full run of 195 half-hour episodes in 1952. The show got its name from its sponsor, the Ford Motor Company and was often introduced by a commercial that presented the latest Ford models. Ford Television Theatre managed to attract a great variety of movie and working actors, including Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne or Claudette Colbert.

Unfortunately rather hard to come by these days, the episodes differed in quality and are definitely still a matter of preference and taste. Barbara Hale’s appearance on Behind the Mask, for instance, increased the resonance of the episode for me which offers a storyline about a medical impostor that’s too complex for the format. Man without Fear on the other hand made perfect use of its thirty minutes and lived of its concise story and brilliant cast including Raymond Burr as a haunted fugitive who confronts the man who got him into prison. The Ming Llama presented Angela Lansbury with her captivating talents but failed to live up to the story’s apparent inspirational source, The Maltese Falcon.

All in all, it’s safe to say that Ford Television Theatre offered a decent collection of episodes with a great mix of stories from all kinds of genres. Some were based on true stories, others were plain entertainment, ranging from suspenseful to corny. Footnote on a Doll with Bette Davis as Dolly Madison was one of the latter and due to Ms. Davis’ reliably gripping performance, it’s one of my favorites. Remember to Live is another episode I greatly enjoy, especially because it made use of Barbara Hale’s background as an artist. Fugitives with Raymond Burr in a small role completes my current list of favorites, surprising enough not for his convincing as always delivery but for the main plot he’s only a side note in.

But no matter if you share my preference in actors, their talents and style, Ford Television Theatre created entertainment for everyone. So if you get a chance, check out some episodes and see how they affect you. Favorite actors or not, I’m sure you’ll discover more than just a single gem.

Mr. and Mrs. North

TV classics: Mr. and Mrs. North

USA 1952-54, 2 seasons,  57 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS (1952-53), NBC (1954), black & white. Based on Richard & Frances Lockridge’s original novels. Cast: Barbara Britton, Richard Denning and Francis De Sales

Plot summary: Pam and Jerry North keep stumbling into murder cases they investigate with or without a little help from their police detective friend.

Review: Before Mr. and Mrs. North found their way to the small screen, the married sleuths had a career in radio, a motion pictures and a series of novels to look back on. Originally created by Richard Lockridge as newspaper fiction in the 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. North were first reprinted as short stories and then further developed into a series of crime novels by the author himself and his wife Frances. In 1941, the sleuths were presented on Broadway, then moved on to silver screen Hollywood and radio one year later. Following their continued radio success, Mr. and Mrs. North were finally picked up for the small screen in 1952, starring Barbara Britton and Richard Denning as the title characters.When the show was canceled in 1954, the two leading actors reprised their on-screen chemistry on the continued radio program until it was taken off the air one year later.

For the duration of the show, Mr. and Mrs. North were often supported by befriended New York police Lieutenant Bill Weigand (Francis De Sales). Although helping them with an occasional interrogation or professional advice, the cases were always solved by the hobby sleuths, primarily by Pam who had a tendency to get herself in trouble for uncovering the truth. Jerry, her loving husband, often seemed to be one step behind – a fact that didn’t stop him from ignoring her hunches or ideas until her words made sense to him (mostly when Pam had already put herself in danger again).

If you think that the show may have dwelled on the interaction between husband and wife, in fact it did. That was the driving force of the show. The crimes they stumbled into were a mere setup for an entertaining half hour of married investigating. Sometimes, the solutions to their cases were so simple, it wouldn’t have worked if Pam and Jerry’s behavioral pattern hadn’t been so funny. Barbara Britton and Richard Denning did a beautiful job creating a sparkle of spousal familiarity that added spice and joy to the short and easy plots.

All in all, Mr. and Mrs. North is a diverting program with a group of sympathetic characters and a decent cast of actors who were joined by fantastic guest performers such as Raymond Burr (who would take on the role of his life as Perry Mason in 1957). It’s a great show for a cold winter night when all you want is to lean back on the couch with a hot cup of whatever-you-like.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.

Mr. and Mrs. North pilot episode