When my partner, David Isaacs and I were starting out, writing spec scripts and trying to break in, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was on every afternoon. We’d watch it religiously, both for inspiration and laughs. Unlike most shows today, the writing credits of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW were at the end.
We considered ourselves such students of the show that we tried to guess who wrote each episode. We felt we could differentiate the individual subtle styles of the primary writers. Freelance writers would throw us off. We’d mistake Bill Idelson’s shows for someone else’s, but for the most part the scripts were written by either Carl Reiner, Bill Persky & Sam Denoff, and Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson.
If it was an episode from one of the first few seasons you couldn’t lose betting on Carl Reiner. How he wrote so many episodes (they did 39 a season back then) and was still alive in 1965 must less today is remarkable. But in the middle and later years of the show two teams shared the heavy lifting along with Carl.. Both teams were terrific. Persky & Denoff’s “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” is one of the great single episodes of comedy of all-time.
But our favorite team was Marshall & Belson. Their episodes just seemed a touch edgier, sharper, and funnier. It was often hard to distinguish between Reiner and Persky & Denoff, but we could almost always identify a Marshall & Belson script.
So our goal was not to just become comedy writers, we wanted to be “Marshall & Belson.” We wanted our scripts to have that extra dash of sparkle that stood out. We wanted young writers to be able to identify our scripts the way we were able to pick out theirs.
I think that goal served us well. It pushed us to set higher standards for ourselves. With so much competition it's easy to feel you've won just by breaking in. And that is quite an accomplishment. But ultimately it's not enough. What can you do to stay in the game?
If you’re a young writer toiling on those specs, I really recommend adopting our mind set. Whether it’s Dan Harmon, Tina Fey, Aaron Sorkin, Vince Gilligan, the Charles Brothers, Larry David – whoever you admire – strive to be that good. You never know. Someday someone might want to be you.