Tuesday, November 01, 2011
the unknown star of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
I suppose if the pod producer came to the writer with a piece of talent attached or a commitment he's laying off then I could see the value. He’s bringing something tangible to the project. But all too often these pod producers bring nothing. They give you notes you don’t need, provide yet another layer of bureaucracy, and for the privilege, they take a piece of your backend profits.
So it might surprise you to learn that I believe the success of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW – arguably one of the greatest sitcoms in history – was directly as a result of a pod producer. Everybody knows that Carl Reiner was the brilliant creative force behind that show. But how many people outside of the television industry know the major contribution of Sheldon Leonard?
Sure, the name looks familiar. You’ve seen it on the credits. And a few of you may even remember him as an actor. But without Sheldon Leonard there would be no DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, and even if there were, there would be no DICK VAN DYKE SHOW after the first season.
So what all did he do? Just this:
Carl Reiner created the series and did the original pilot with himself starring as Rob Petrie. The pilot tanked, primarily because Reiner was not right for the role. Leonard convinced Reiner to re-cast the lead. How'd you like to be the one making that suggestion to an actor?
Leonard convinced Reiner to do the show in front of an audience.
Leonard showed Reiner how a multi-camera format worked.
Leonard suggested Dick Van Dyke for the lead.
Leonard suggested Rose Marie for Sally.
Sponsors held sway over network shows back then. Leonard arranged for mighty Proctor & Gamble to sponsor THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.
When the series struggled out of the gate, Leonard lobbied hard for a time slot change, which the show got.
After the first season, the show was all but canceled. Leonard took the unheard of step of flying to Cincinnati and convincing Proctor & Gamble to stay aboard.
When P&G decided to only sponsor half the show, Leonard then went to Lorillard Tobacco and got them to commit to the other half. All of this within a matter of days.
And when the CBS president still wouldn’t renew the show (based on a personal grudge), Leonard got P&G to threaten to pull their business off the CBS daytime schedule unless they found a place for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. It was the Hail Marys of Hail Marys.
And along the way he offered great creative input, shielded Reiner from network bullshit, and gave Reiner the resources he needed to produce his classic show.
Now THERE’S a pod producer.
I got the chance to meet him once. He guested on an episode of CHEERS. It was a true honor.
And one final note: Don't know if they did this on purpose or not but the two main characters on THE BIG BANG THEORY are named Sheldon & Leonard.
If you’re interested in THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, there’s a great book out called THE OFFICIAL DICK VAN SHOW BOOK by Vince Waldron. It goes into wonderful detail on the show, all the behind-the-scenes dirt, creative decisions, people involved. And it’s a fun read. No slogging involved. More tomorrow on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and a very special birthday greeting.