spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Yesterday was the first. Tomorrow I jump onto other things.
First: some of my observations. Whenever I write a TV script I always visualize the final product on the air. I don’t pictures the actors on the stage with cameras and crew hovering. Imagining the final product helps me think of the characters, not the actors who play them. Doing the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW I realized this was the first time I had ever pictured a script in black-and-white.
I also felt that the tone was very different if I was writing a scene in the Petries’ house vs. the office. At home all of the humor is character-based. The laughs come from attitudes and behavior. At the office, however, because of Buddy and Sally and the nature of what everyone’s job is, there are lots of jokes.
So later in my script, when I had Buddy and Sally in the house, it was like a hybrid.
When Bill Persky said I captured the style and rhythm of the show, that’s what he meant. Especially at the house where writers couldn’t just rely on “jokes” to get their laughs. A home scene can be extremely funny but it requires constructing a situation conducive to comedy. For me, I was careful to make sure everyone had an attitude and a point-of-view. Otherwise, it’s just talking heads firing off one-liners. At the office however, Buddy could take shots at Mel, Sally could rattle off self-deprecating quips, and everyone could chime in with jokes and schtick as if they were pitching for the Alan Brady Show.
Finally, I asked Bill, “If this were just a spec you read on a pile of specs, what would your reaction be?” He said he would call me in, they would either send me out with a revised version of my story, or they would give me another story. So either way I would get an assignment. Now, for me that’s like winning the Triple Crown, an Oscar, and the Espy Courage Award. The number one goal for any spec script is to get you work. Too bad my timing was off by only 50 years.
Bill said that he and his partner, Sam Denoff broke in the same way. They wrote a spec DVD Show. Carl did not like the story but did like their writing. He invited them to come in with ideas. One they pitched was based on a real life experience that happened to Bill. When his child was born there was a mix up at the hospital over flowers. That led to the THAT’S MY BOY?? episode – a genuine classic. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but the payoff produced the longest laugh ever. And that was their FIRST episode. Yikes. You can see it here if you haven't already.
We speculated on how they’d do the show today. I said first of all there would be no Buddy Sorrell. Former Borscht Belt comics no longer exist – except for maybe Billy Crystal. Bill thought today they would have to go diversity for Buddy. I said Sally would become “Amy Schumer.” She wouldn’t be talking about all the losers she dated; she’d be talking about all the losers she slept with. Mel would be openly gay. And there are no primetime variety shows – Alan Brady might be a late night talk show host. Laura would be a working mom. And the Army flashbacks would be in Afghanistan.
For me this experiment has been a huge success. I always wanted to write a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode, and talking to Bill Persky, batting around ideas – for a few precious moments it was like I was in an actual DVD Show story conference. So how cool was that? And my fingers are crossed that Carl Reiner will weigh in at some point and it’ll get even better. I hope it was fun for you guys too (and God forbid educational). My sincere thanks to Bill Persky for his time and wisdom. And to everyone associated with THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. You provided a lifelong inspiration, a career path, and more laughs and exploding hormones than an impressionable wise-ass teenager should be allowed to have.