The return of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
Legendary TV series' regulars come back for special
By Stephanie Snipes
Broadway veteran Dick Van Dyke and newcomer Mary Tyler Moore played Rob and Laura Petrie in "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
"The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited" airs Tuesday night on CBS at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
(CNN) -- In 1961, a guy named Dick Van Dyke left the bright lights of Broadway, walked into a living room, tripped over an ottoman and tumbled right in to the hearts of millions of television viewers.
With the creative skills of Carl Reiner, the producing ingenuity of Sheldon Leonard and a supporting cast that included Broadway singer Rose Marie, comedian Morey Amsterdam and newcomer Mary Tyler Moore, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" did something most shows only dream of -- it became one of the most beloved comedies of all time, an icon of its era.
It almost wasn't.
The show, which centered around the lives of Rob Petrie (Van Dyke), a comedy writer for "The Alan Brady Show," his wife (Moore) and co-workers, was originally canceled after the first season. Executive producer Sheldon Leonard begged network executives to give it another chance.
"We were so proud of what we were doing and we knew we had something good. We couldn't believe that we were canceled," said Van Dyke.
But CBS reconsidered, and the show slowly grew into a big hit. It was still a hit in 1966 when it left the air because its cast and staff wanted to try new things (and, by that time, Van Dyke was a movie star as well).
Now, after almost 40 years, they're back in an all-new television special called "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited."
For years, "Van Dyke Show" creator, writer and producer Carl Reiner resisted CBS's offers to do a retrospective episode full of cast interviews and sob stories of glory days lost. That changed when he attended the 2003 TV Land Awards, in which he and the cast won the "Legend" award.
"We were all up there, Dick and Mary and Rosie and Larry Mathews and I looked around and I said, inadvertently, 'Look at this, we could do a show,' " said Reiner.
The next day someone from CBS, who overheard his comment, called to see if he was serious, and after some thought he realized he was. But it had to be done on his terms, Reiner said: No sappy sit-down interviews, no teary-eyed cast members. Instead, Reiner came up with an idea to do a brand new episode.
"There [have] been reunion shows and they've been terrible, 'I remember this, and I remember that, and I remember this and I remember that,' who cares, you know? This is a story. This is a continuation," says Rose Marie.
What's old is new again
In the new episode Rob and Laura are living in Manhattan, having moved from their old suburban haunt of New Rochelle, New York. Sally Rogers is married to her old beau Herman Glimsher, and Millie Helper, whose husband Jerry passed away, is dating Dick's brother, Stacey (Jerry Van Dyke).
And then Alan Brady (Reiner) asks the old gang to write his eulogy. "Revisited" includes black-and-white clips from old shows, but Reiner prefers to think of the special as "The Dick Van Dyke Show's" 159th episode.
Van Dyke marvels at how easy it was to get back together.
"We just happened to luck out with five people who really liked each other, all had a sense of comedy timing and we just worked together like greased lightning. It was such fun in those days and it was just the same going back again," said Van Dyke.
Rose Marie played the gruff-voiced Sally Rogers.
Rose Marie, who played the gruff-voiced Sally Rogers -- in the days of the original show, the rare "career woman" -- agrees.
"It was absolutely fabulous, it's one of those things where you leave off and you haven't seen anybody for many years and when you see them, you say, 'So, as I was saying,' " she said.
There was an underlying feeling of sadness. Since the show went off the air, Sheldon Leonard, Amsterdam (Buddy), Jerry Paris (Jerry) and Richard Deacon (Mel) have all passed away.
"It was such fun getting together with everybody but it was so sad because we missed so many people, Morey and Deacon. ... Forty years was almost too long," said Van Dyke.
Since the days of JFK and Capri pants, the members of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" have moved on in both their professional and personal lives. But fans of the show will always remember them as the funny and heartwarming friends they let into their home each week.
"Desi Arnaz once told me, 'How many people do you think you entertain when you're on television?' And I said, 'Oh, I don't know, maybe 30 or 40 million?'
"He said, 'Four. The mother, the father and [two] children. ... That's who you're entertaining,' " said Rose Marie.
Reiner, who Van Dyke credits as a "genius," says that the medium has changed too much for him to consider returning to television writing.
Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke on the set of the 159th episode.
"That's a whole different ballgame today and different rules, I don't know. ... [I]t's a different time with different expectations. I don't know of anything I would want to do. Time passes by and you get older and it's tougher," he said.
Still, none will forget the incredible experience Reiner gave them. In an interview with The Associated Press, Moore gave thanks.
"That was the major break in my life, having Carl believe in me and after a few episodes, write to my sense of humor," she told the AP. "He allowed me to become the world's first funny straight woman. It was five of the happiest years of my life."