When Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner and Rose Marie got together for a reunion of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” it was as if 40 years hadn’t passed.
“It was all still there,” Van Dyke said. “We did a lot of laughing.”
Reiner, who created and wrote the series, for years had resisted CBS’ overtures for a traditional clip show, with the actors sitting around talking about themselves.
Eventually, he settled on a story line and in a couple of days wrote what he called the 159th episode.
The original series, which ran for 158 episodes from 1961 to ‘66 on CBS, was considered one of television’s classic comedies. It peaked at No. 3 in the Nielsen ratings in 1963-64 and won four straight best comedy Emmys.
It was set behind the scenes of a mythical TV comedy called “The Alan Brady Show.” Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) was the head writer, and he worked with Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (the late Morey Amsterdam), both of whom were close friends of Rob and wife Laura (Moore).
Tonight’s hourlong special opens in the Petries’ black-and-white living room. A colorized Ray Romano of “Everybody Loves Raymond” walks in to reminisce before giving way to the Petries in present day.
Rob and Laura have moved from New Rochelle, N.Y., to Manhattan, where Laura runs a dance studio in their home. Rob is fascinated by gadgets, including his computer and flat-screen monitor.
Rob gets a phone call from the neurotic Brady, who wants his former writers Rob and Sally to pen his eulogy before he dies. He entices them with fat contracts.
“I’ve never done a heartfelt eulogy for someone with no heart,” Van Dyke’s character says.
Rob and Sally express doubt about the assignment, given their true feelings about Alan. But they accept, leading to a series of remembrances using clips from the old shows.
Larry Matthews, who played the Petries’ son Richie, makes a brief appearance. Van Dyke’s real-life brother, Jerry, who appeared in a few original episodes, is back and dating the Petries’ neighbor, Millie Helper (Ann Morgan Guilbert).
The show also recalls late cast members Amsterdam, Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley) and Jerry Paris (who directed and played Millie’s husband Jerry).
Van Dyke said the rehearsals should have been taped.
“People forgetting their lines. Rosie’s hearing aid going off,” he said. “Carl plays Alan Brady in his usual bombastic bit of hot air.”
“It was like old times working together again, everybody looking out for everyone else,” said Rose Marie, whose gravelly voice remains intact.
Her Sally was a rarity in those days — a single woman who earned a living in field dominated by men.
“I was the first women’s libber on TV. I worked with men, made the same money and was treated the same way,” Rose Marie said. “A lot of girls told me they became writers because of me.”
The interplay between Van Dyke and Moore in the original series was so convincing, viewers believed they were married in real life.
“We had similar approaches to life, and we were respectful of life and other people,” Moore said. “You can’t but help love that man for the talent he has.
“He was so good to me when I was just testing my comedy wings. I owe him and Carl Reiner everything.”
Moore was relatively inexperienced in show business compared to Van Dyke when she was hired.
“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 said. “He allowed me to become the world’s first funny straight woman. It was five of the happiest years of my life.”
Moore went on to have her own self-titled show in the 1970s. Van Dyke had a successful run on CBS’ “Diagnosis: Murder.”
He had an ownership interest in the original series, “which has been an annuity for me and my family over the years.”
Rose Marie points out she “never got a bonus, I never got a raise, I never got a gift.”
In exchange, though, she played a memorable role in television history.
“There was a chemistry that’s very hard to find,” Rose Marie said. “Between the writing and the chemistry of the people, it’s the reason the show became a legend.”
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