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Carl Reiner 1922 - 2020
June 30, 2020  | By Mike Hughes  | 3 comments

Carl Reiner packed a lot of lives into 98 years.

He was the perfect straight man for Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks, the ideal mentor for Steve Martin. He wrote seven movies, directed 15 of them (including Oh, God and four of Martin's films), acted in tons more. He wrote a novel and memoirs.

But TV viewers will mainly remember Reiner, who died Monday, for one thing: He created the predecessor for sharp situation comedies rooted in real life.

"The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the few smart sitcoms of the 1960s," TVWW's founder, David Bianculli, wrote in The Platinum Age of Television (Doubleday, 2016), "a decade in which the genre was awash with flying nuns, talking cars and subservient witches and genies."

Into this time of gimmick-choked comedy, Reiner dared to write about ordinary life. As he told the Television Critics Association in 2003: "I said, 'What piece of ground, Reiner, do you stand on that nobody else stands on?' […] I said: 'That's it – the home life and the working life of a writer.'"

He had spent seven years writing for Sid Caesar's variety shows, in a packed writing room that included Brooks (left, with Reiner), Neil Simon, and Woody Allen. He was also the straight man to Caesar and (in the 2000-Year-Old Man sketches) to Brooks.

Now people were sending him sitcom scripts to act in. As he told the TCA: "My wife said, 'These are terrible […] Why don't you write one?'" He wrote more than that. In a "six-week period, I wrote 13 episodes of a thing called Head of the Family."

They were clever scripts, everyone seemed to agree, but the pilot, with Reiner in the starring role, was rejected. Nudged by his agent, Reiner reluctantly agreed to meet Sheldon Leonard, the producer of the Andy Griffith and Danny Thomas shows (and, of course, the namesake of the Big Bang Theory characters). Leonard's solution, Reiner said, was simple: "We'll get somebody better to play you."

Still, Leonard didn't have a substitute. As Grant Tinker (then working for an advertising agency) recalled in Tinker in Television (Simon & Schuster, 1994), Leonard was dispirited when he left one night. "He called the next morning, in a much-improved mood. 'I've found our guy,' he announced."

Leonard had just been to Broadway's Bye Bye Birdie and seen Van Dyke. To play the wife, Danny Thomas suggested Mary Tyler Moore, who had auditioned for his show.

The result – with Reiner as Van Dyke's boss (Alan Brady, left) – worked. Eventually.

Ratings the first season were so-so, Tinker wrote. "Instead of basing their decision on their creative judgment of the show itself, as network executives are paid to do, CBS had opted to read the Nielsen numbers and then just give up."

Leonard wasn't the give-up type. He already had half the show sponsored by Procter & Gamble and needed someone else. Reiner said he "pounded on the table of Kent Cigarettes and said, 'You gotta pick up the other half of this show.' […] We were just about to go into the dumpster."

The cigarette people picked it up, and CBS relented. Tucked neatly behind TV's most-watched show (The Beverly Hillbillies), Reiner's show finished No. 9 in the Nielsen ratings that year. In the years that followed, it was No. 3, No. 7 and No. 16 – then quit after just five seasons.

The show had won 15 Emmys, including three for best comedy and three more for Reiner's scripts. It was an exception to "the usual run of pap" in that era, Robert Metz wrote in CBS: Reflections In a Bloodshot Eye (Playboy Press,1975). It is "regarded as a landmark comedy effort."

Reiner never returned to full-time TV but kept busy as a director, writer, dad (including movie director-producer Rob Reiner), and all-around personality. At 95, he was the central figure in a documentary, chatting with other people who were thriving in their 90s, including Brooks, Tony Bennett, Kirk Douglas, Norman Lear, and Betty White.

That film is entitled, If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.

Sadly, today Carl Reiner gives the title new meaning.

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Evidently CBS,MeTV and Decades are all showing Dick Van Dyke episodes that are Reiner-centric. CBS has two colorized DVD episodes(and approved by Reiner years ago) are scheduled for this Fri. 7/3 @8PM. MeTV devotes their Sunday Dick Van Dyke hour with Reiner in the comedic situations. And Decades starts Fri. 7/10 @9PM to 11PM,then continues Sat. 7/11 @ Noon non-stop till Mon. 7/13 @7AM. with their selections of episodes. Note- Decades has one screwy website.
I understand the feature film,10 From Your Show of Shows, has never made it to DVD. Comedy Central had some Sid Caeser shows years ago.
Jul 2, 2020   |  Reply
TCM coming through July 28. Enter laughing, all of me, the comic, where’s poppa and oh God. Sadly the Russians are coming not included. One of my All time favorites from childhood.
Jul 1, 2020   |  Reply
Great investigating. I posted pretty early and could find no info. Looks like it came out @2PM. Great lineup,all things considered. Kinda amazed they were reading my mind,especially on The Comic & Enter Laughing. They have shown Russians a few times,it would be a great "end of summer" feature. Odd-Johnny Mandel scored Russians and he also passed 6/29. This silly gem has a fine song penned by Mandel and Peggy Lee-The Shinning Sea. Stan Getz did a typical Getz-ballad reading of Mandel's work. This is what jazz can be while smooth,not $mooth jazz on the Weather Channel.
Jul 1, 2020
TCM is probably filled for July and August is Summer Under The Stars,so it may be till Sept. that a tribute can be done. A 1972 feature of kinescopes from Sid Caesers' first show,10 From Your Show of Shows, has a fair amount of Reiner,and the rest of the cast is pretty good,too. The Russians Are Coming,The Russians Are Coming show Reiner as the straight man to Jonathan Winters & Alan Arkin. Enter Laughing,an imperfect story based on Reiner's real life attempts to get into show biz-Wiki says this has never been on DVD. Another DVD no-show,The Comic,would be perfect TCM fodder combining the dark side of silent film stars and interesting performance by Dick Van Dyke. Which Steve Martin/Reiner film? Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid-if only for TCM fans.
Jul 1, 2020   |  Reply
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