I'm not exactly the sentimental type, but sitting down to write this review has opened my eyes to something - My grandfather is mostly responsible for my taste in classic cinema and television, due in large part to our nightly tradition of watching Nick at Nite. At first, I tuned in not for the bonding experience (which happened anyway), but because I was guaranteed to stay up past my bedtime on any given evening. Soon thereafter, I found myself both entertained and captivated by the likes of Get Smart, I Love Lucy, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I was probably the only kid in class who preferred such programming over the offerings on 'SNICK' (Saturday night Nickelodeon), or ABC's TGIF lineup. So, yes, I have very fond memories of the aforementioned shows, which are still favorites of mine even to this day, but it's The Dick Van Dyke Show that has left, and continues to leave the biggest impression. Needless to say, I was positively thrilled when Image Entertainment began to distribute the deserving series on DVD in 2003, and now nearly a decade later, Image has taken a surprisingly bold step in releasing The Dick Van Dyke Show - The Complete Series on Blu-ray.
Why 'bold'? Well, unless the property in question was Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, studios weren't exactly willing to spend the coin to make adequate transfers for a high-def presentation. With Star Trek's fan base as loyal as they are, it was a no-brainer for Paramount to make the investment, but Image took a significant risk in 2010 by releasing all five seasons of The Twilight Zone in rapid succession. The results were nothing short of breathtaking, and apparently the effort was worth their while. Of course, the Rod Serling hosted program wasn't exactly the perfect gauge for determining how classic television would sell on the format - It had its own voice, and still stands apart from most programs even today. The story behind The Dick Van Dyke Show is a different beast altogether, though - It wasn't the first sitcom, nor was it the first sitcom to feature a married couple that dabbled in the entertainment biz while raising a kid. I Love Lucy had already been there and done that. So, despite Image's willingness to be a trendsetter by releasing the series on Blu-ray, I'm sure they're biting their nails and hoping it doesn't end up being a financial liability. Fans of classic television have need to bite their nails, too - This release is an important one for the format. Execs from other studios have surely taken notice, and are wondering if perhaps they should prep their classic programming for HD. That being said, it's feasible to assume the future of classic programming may very well hinge on the success of this complete series set, which in and of itself depends on the quality of the included supplements and A/V presentation... but now I'm getting ahead of myself.
The big question is, what made this show such a success? In short, it's because audiences at home could finally relate to the characters on-screen. People were used to seeing couples or families that lived in big cities, had extreme personalities, and were constantly in a world of trouble that was too far-fetched to echo reality. With this realization in mind, Carl Reiner thought the average American deserved something a little more down to Earth. Eventually deciding to use his experience writing for the variety-based Your Show of Shows for inspiration, everything else pretty much fell into place. The Dick Van Dyke Show focused on the life of comedy writer Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), who raises his son Richie (Larry Matthews) in the suburbs with his beautiful wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore). Every day, Rob commutes to New York City, where he has the pleasure of working with his sharp and witty colleagues, Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). There, they pool their creative ideas to produce scripts for The Alan Brady Show. It's a simple premise, for sure, and people weren't necessarily tired of seeing big laughs stem from outrageous characters with harebrained schemes, but 'simple' was the fresh approach they never saw coming. This was the first show to feature an idealistic family that people genuinely wished they were a part of, and it was also the first time a working office environment was utilized as a primary set. As a result, people actually identified with the work and domestic troubles that presented themselves week after week, and since a bulk of the characters worked on a comedy show, song, dance, and even Vaudeville inspired routines worked as a believable part of the format. Carl Reiner began to have his doubts after his original pilot (called Head of the Family) had been rejected, and that likely continued during most of the first season (as the series didn't reach a top 10 spot until the beginning of season 2), but his format had a credibility unlike the rest, and truly offered something for everyone.
However, The Dick Van Dyke Show went a little further in trying to change the landscape of television. Before the 60's, viewers were used to seeing housewives do backbreaking work while wearing pearls, a fabulous dress and high heels. Obviously, housewives never went out of their way to get dolled up just so they could make a date with dish pan hands, so Mary Tyler Moore made a case that her character should wear slacks in the comfort of her own home. Those directly involved with the show's production were concerned that revealing her curvaceous figure on a family-friendly show would scare off sponsors, and regular 'discussions' about her choice in wardrobe took place right on set. Still, the slacks stayed. Eventually, complaints were written in by older housewives echoing the same concern, and that's when a compromise had to be made - Apparently, producer Sheldon Leonard agreed to let Mary's character wear the tight fitting pants when it made sense contextually, although Mary remembers being given a limit of once per episode. Outside of the slacks controversy, other audience members were concerned that the allusion of a physical relationship was too strong, despite the fact the on-screen married couple slept in separate beds (as was the norm on television at the time). Although it's hard to imagine such issues causing a stir today, they were a big deal at the time, and likely responsible for removing the ridiculously fabricated image that conveyed what a woman was in the early history of television.
What helped this show to endure over the years obviously wasn't a mere retooling of the sitcom format or the aforementioned controversies, but rather its spellbinding cast. Before this show premiered in 1961, the best sitcoms featured a cast that could not only deliver their lines, but crack the audiences up with physical sight-gags. If Lucille Ball was the queen in this regard, Dick Van Dyke was most certainly king. You only have to watch a handful of episodes to see just how talented the man was - He was funny, charming, and he could sing, dance, play a hilarious drunk, toss his body around effortlessly like a rag doll or marionette puppet, and the list goes on. Anything the writers would commit to script, I'm sure there was never a concern that Dick Van Dyke would be able to deliver. Mary Tyler Moore, while typically not as animated by design, was just as diverse as her fellow co-star. Thanks to Mary, Laura Petrie was kind, caring, passionate and wise, or when the story called for it, playful, charming (if not downright bewitching), and fiery. I'm sure Mary's portrayal of Laura had more than just a few men wishing she had been their wife. Of course, you can't talk about the main cast without mentioning Morey Amsterdam or Rose Marie. In other shows, they easily could have been considered secondary cast members, but they're just as prominent as Laura in the show. Hell, sometimes even more so. And what a team they are - You can always count on Morey as the ever sarcastic Buddy, and Rose Marie as the sharp and witty Sally, to deliver as many zingers as it takes to make your sides hurt from laughter. Also noteworthy is Richard Deacon as the hilariously frustrated Mel Cooley, producer of the fictional Alan Brady Show. Speaking of which, let's not forget to mention the efforts of show creator Carl Reiner, who eventually did make it into the series as none other than Alan Brady himself. The only minor complaint I have in casting is Larry Matthews, who played Rob and Laura's son, Richie. He's adorable and I wouldn't replace him, but he more or less broadcasted every time he was about to do something cute or funny by smiling through his delivery.
The combination of the relatable premise and cast is what made The Dick Van Dyke Show as popular as it was, and these same factors ultimately helped the program win 15 Emmy's. I think the material is timeless, for sure, because anyone who has been introduced to this show over the last half century have become instantly attached to it, but like most other classic programming, it really needs more exposure in this day and age. I'm 30 years old, and I'm saddened by the fact that most of my friends and fellow co-workers only know Dick Van Dyke because of his work in Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the Night of the Museum franchise. A reunion special aired in 2004 (which, unfortunately, is not included in this set), and although it brought a tear to my eye to see most of the gang back together again, part of me was disheartened to know that most of my peers were probably doing something else. Hopefully, this Blu-ray set continues to keep the show alive through word of mouth, so that it might continue to entertain generations for the next 50 years and beyond. It was a trendsetter, an important show that helped to shape sitcoms as we know them today. Funny, sincere, and often heartwarming, The Dick Van Dyke Show is truly one of the finest comedies to ever grace television.
Image Entertainment has done The Dick Van Dyke Show justice with a solid 1080p, VC-1 encoded presentation, and in the show's original 4:3 aspect ratio, to boot. The back of the boxed set proudly states that this is high-def transfer comes straight from the 35mm negatives, and there's nothing I can see to contradict that claim. This is a new scan indeed, clearly evidenced by additional information being shown on the sides of the screen (when compared to the DVD's). I'm still going to give the edge to The Twilight Zone's video presentation, but The Dick Van Dyke Show is hot on its heels, and makes me excited for all the possibilities that await us if other studios decide to deliver the likes of The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy.
The new scans have solid black levels and the contrast is nearly flawless for a show that's over 50 years old. Even more impressive is the amount of detail you can make out more often than not - The texture on clothing and furniture, the tiny stray hairs that just wouldn't stay combed down, everything. There are some soft shots here and there, but that probably has more to do with the original photography than anything else, and their frequency is few and far between. Sharpness seems natural and there's really no signs of edge enhancement, and an obvious (and not overly obnoxious) presence of film grain proves that there's been no digital scrubbing applied whatsoever.
All in all, there are only two negative things I can say about the video on this release - First, although I have no complaints of digital artifacts while the show is in motion, grain does, at times, have a tendency to look a little on the 'digital' side. Utilizing the AVC codec probably would have helped to iron this out, but this is really only evident when you're looking at still shots direct from the disc. In motion, the grain still has a very minor digitized look on occasion, but nothing that even comes close to detracting from how great these episodes look. Also, the series does show some regular print damage. For me, this wasn't anything worth raising a stink about, not by a long shot, but it's worth noting that there are black and white specks, the occasional scratch, and in a very generous portion of episodes I watched from beginning to end, there was only one occasion where a couple of frames in succession were bad enough to make me question what happened. I'm assuming there was something on the negatives in those frames that wasn't easy to repair, but again, this rarely happens.
After all is said and done, the specks and the dirt really didn't bother me in the least, and even if it did, the show still looks damn good for being 50+ years of age. I was stunned that Image even brought this show to Blu-ray in the first place, but their transfer really went above and beyond what I was expecting. So many shots and scenes actually have a sense of depth and dimensionality about them now, while the clarity is simply out of this world. The old DVD's just look blurry in comparison, so yes, this upgrade is worth it.... BIG time. Fans of this show or classic television in general really need to see this to believe it.
All 157 episodes have been provided Mono DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and the show has never sounded better. The dialogue is crisp and clear, and there are hardly any audible defects worth mentioning. Again, in a generous amount of episodes I had the opportunity to screen in full, the source was seemingly in good enough condition to not have any breaks, although there was sort of a weird 'wobble' at the beginning of the end credits theme for a fraction of a second, but this isn't a regular occurrence by any means. There isn't an underlying hiss on the tracks, nor are there any pops or crackles. Much like the video presentation itself, the audio in this set has done The Dick Van Dyke Show justice and then some. I imagine this even sounds a great deal better than it did on television sets across the country in the 60's. Image Entertainment seems to fly under the radar with their releases as their output doesn't match that of major studios, but they've definitely made themselves synonymous with 'quality' in my book.
Image has provided us with an exhaustive amount of extras! For starters, most of the 157 episodes have their own menu of supplements. These range from promotional Episode Photos, and commercials that aired with the show back in its heyday. Since many of these spots are for cigarettes, one of the discs actually start off with a warning about smoking. It may sound silly, but it's a far better alternative than not including the ads at all. The option to play these episodes without the commercials also exists. Another regular addition to the episodic supplement listings are the ME-TV Promo spots. Since the aforementioned supplements appear regularly throughout, I won't be mentioning them in the disc breakdown below.
The remaining extras are truly a veritable treasure trove for Dick Van Dyke fans. Some of the most notable and frequent ones you'll see, are a series of Remembering or The Cast Remembers featurettes. These are made up of interview segments with Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and other members of the cast as they remember working with co-stars and on specific episodes.
A fair number of episodes also feature commentary tracks, usually with Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke, and although these are a nice inclusion and can offer a lot of interesting information, there's plenty of gaps that leave the experience somewhat dry.
Also included are a variety of Emmy Award winning acceptances, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore appearances on The Danny Kaye and The Danny Thomas shows, the original pilot starring Carl Reiner (titled Head of the Family), a color test for the infamous It May Look Like a Walnut, Dick Van Dyke warning against drinking and driving in a Safety Council Reel, and so much more. The supplement that got to me the most, was an intimate clip where Dick and Mary revisit the old sets and introduce a clip that never aired during the show's initial run.
Here's a disc-by-disc listing of all the supplements (again, minus the aforementioned items that appear on most episodes):
-CBS Promo [aired during Password, January 26, 1962]
-Head of the Family Pilot
-Carl Remembers Pilot
-Carl & Sheldon Remembers Pilot
-The Cast Remembers 'My Blonde-Haired Brunette'
Season 1 - Disc 2
-The Cast Remembers Buddy
-'Where Did I Come From?' - Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick van Dyke
Season 1 - Disc 3
-'I Am My Brother's Keeper' Dick Van Dyke Promo
-'The Sleeping Brother' - Commentary by Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner
-Carl, Rose and Morey remember Dick's Physical Comedy
-Emmy Awards (1961-1962) Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl Reiner - Paul Reiser
-50th Anniversary Q&A - Q&A session with Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and Garry Marshall
Season 2 - Disc 1
-Kick the Habit Anti-Smoking PSA
-Remembering the 'Bank Book'
-'The Attempted Marriage' - Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-'My Husband is Not a Drunk' - Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-'A Bird in the Head Hurts' - Commentary by Rose Marie, Larry & Ann
-Remembering the Ottoman
-Remembering Rob and Laura
-Remembering Buddy and Sally
-Emmy Awards (1962-1963) Outstanding Directorial and Program Achievements in Comedy
Season 2 - Disc 2
-Remembering Dick's Sneezing (in 'Gesundheit, Darling')
-Remembering Jerry Paris
-'It May Look Like a Walnut' CBS Promo
-Making 'It May Look Like a Walnut'
-'It May Look Like a Walnut' Color Test
-Emmy Awards (1962-1963) Outstanding Achievement in Comedy
Season 2 - Disc 3
-'When a Bowling Pin Talks, Listen' Family Cavalcade Promo
-'All About Eavesdropping' Commentary by Rose Marie, Larry & Ann
-Remembering "Oh, Rob"
-Safety Council Reel
-Dick on The Danny Kaye Show
Season 3 - Disc 1
-'That's My Boy' Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-Remembering 'That's My Boy'
-'Laure's Little Lie' Dick Van Dyke Promo
-Remembering the Betty Lou
-Remembering Sheldon Leonard
-Sheldon on the Role of Executive Producer
-The Danny Thomas Show (10/21/63) - An Entire Episode with Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell
Season 3 - Disc 2
-Remembering Joe Coogan
-Rehearsal Footage from 'A Day in the Life of Sheldon Leonard'
-The Cast Plays 'Stump the Stars'
-Emmy Awards (1963-1964) Outstanding Writing & Directing Achievement in Comedy
Season 3 - Disc 3
-Remembering Alan Brady
-'October Eve' Commentary by Carl Reiner & Dick Van Dyke
-Remembering October Eve
-Mary on The Danny Kaye Show
-Dick and Mary on 'Van Dyke & Company'
-Emmy Awards (1963-1964) Outstanding Continued Performance by Actor/Actress in a Series
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl - Steve Martin and George Clooney
-Nick at Nite Promos
Season 4 - Disc 1
-Remembering Don Rickles
-Clip from the Animated Program 'The Alan Brady Show'
-Remembering the Pink Pills
-Mary on The Danny Thomas Show
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl - Dick Van Dyke
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl - Ray Romano and Brad Garrett
Season 4 - Disc 2
-DVD Exclusive Awards: The Dick Van Dyke Show: Season One (Best Overall DVD, TV Program)
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl - Rose Marie, Larry Mathews, Bill Persky
-Diagnosis Murder: Dr. Mark Sloan Meets Rob Petrie
-Dick Sings the Theme Song at the Hollywood Bowl (2001)
Season 4 - Disc 3
-'Never Bathe on Saturday' Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-Remembering 'Never Bathe on Saturday'
-'Baby Fat' Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-'Baby Fat' Commentary by Garry Marshall
-Remembering 'Baby Fat'
-Remembering the Motorcycle
-The Dick Van Dyke Show Remembered
-Emmy Awards (1964-1965) Outstanding Program Achievement in Entertainment
-Nick at Nite Promos
Season 5 - Disc 1
-'Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth' Commentary by Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
-Remembering Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth
-Emmy Awards (1965-1966) Outstanding Comedy Series
-TV Academy Tribute to Carl - Garry Shandling
-ME-TV Promo - My Blonde-Haired Brunette (Season 1)
-ME-TV Promo - Package 1
-Remembering '4 1/2' and 'The Allen Brady Show Goes to Jail'
Season 5 - Disc 2
-Keep Your Fingers Crossed (Theme From The Dick Van Dyke Show)
-Remembering Richard Deacon
-'Dear Sally Rogers' Commentary by Rose Marie, Larry Mathews and Bill Idelson
-Emmy Awards (1965-1966) Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series
-ME-TV Promo - Package 2
-Comic Relief (1992)
-TV Land Awards (2003)
-Nick at Nite Promos
Season 5 - Disc 3
-Remembering Buddy's Bar Mitzvah
-'The Gunslinger' Commentary by Carl Reiner & Dick Van Dyke
-Remembering 'The Gunslinger'
-Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman - If Men Could Cry
-TV Land Promo for The Dick Van Dyke Show
-Theatrical Trailer - The Art of Love
-The New Dick Van Dyke Show Preview
The Dick Van Dyke Show was a popular staple in 60's pop culture, and it was a popular staple for me in the 90's, too (thanks, Nick at Nite!). This program truly has everything - It displays generous amounts of laughs, wisdom and heart, and effortlessly blends song, dance, and Vaudevillian routines into the mix without making them feel forced. More importantly, the Petrie's were the first down to Earth family that people could relate to, not to mention the work and domestic obstacles in their lives. Above all else, The Dick Van Dyke Show can be thanked for bringing to light just how unfathomably unrealistic women were being portrayed on television before its arrival, and for driving home the point that good concepts aren't mutually exclusive to zany characters that conjure up wild ideas. Without the simplicity of this show, who knows? We may never have seen the likes of Seinfeld, which is infamously known as being a 'show about nothing'. As far as the A/V presentation and supplements are concerned - the outcome of which determining if you'll commit to a purchase, if not affecting the future of classic programming on Blu-ray in general - stick this in your Meershatz Pipe and smoke it:
Image Entertainment have once again delivered a timeless show in pristine quality. The video has to be seen to be believed (although if you're already familiar with how good The Twilight Zone looks, you already know how good classic television can look in HD), the audio is impressively rendered, and there's a plentiful amount of extras to boast about. "Oh, Rob!" Taking all this into consideration, how can this set not be worthy of the coveted DVDTalk Collector's Series label?