Head Of The Family–Carl Reiner’s 1961 Sitcom Pilot

What was missing was love and humanity. I am astonished to say this was a mean spirited sitcom–something it did not set out to be.

head-of-the-family.jpgI just watched the pilot that ended up becoming the Dick Van Dyke show. It’s part of what Comcast offers on their Fancast page. Dick Van Dyke was nowhere to be seen, nor were Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie or Morey Amsterdam. This was Carl Reiner’s show, written, created and starring Carl Reiner and featuring a cast with New Yawk accents so thick I thought I was back at PS 163.

I’m a huge Carl Reiner fan, but this was awful. Truly. It wasn’t bad because the jokes didn’t work–they were like all the other jokes on all the other sitcoms. What was missing was warmth and humanity. I am astonished to say this was a mean spirited sitcom–something it did not set out to be.

I can’t understand how Reiner didn’t see it. And, if he didn’t see it, I worry about who he was in 1961. The protagonist in this autobiographical show had big issues.

Luckily “Head of the Family” became the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Lucky Barbara Britton was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore and Morty Gunty (Morty Gunty–my father will enjoy seeing that name) was replaced by Morey Amsterdam.

There are no TV pilots any more. If it’s made, it’s aired (and it certainly doesn’t run 26:20). There is no sandox to experiment in. I can thank and blame the Internet I got to see this 45+ years after the fact. I will never look at Carl Reiner in the same way.

3 thoughts on “Head Of The Family–Carl Reiner’s 1961 Sitcom Pilot”

  1. I saw that pilot too. It IS weird seeing the role w/o Dick van Dyke or any of the gang we came to know. It’s sort of like when you see the original pilot episode of Star Trek, where Shatner isn’t on it. (They were able to use some clips from that episode in a famous episode later though, once the show was on the air.)

    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed finding it on Fancast, and if you are a sitcom fan, you and your readers may be interested to know we have an amazing library (4,500 hours of streaming free full length content, with more than 5,600 episodes) of totally free shows (sit coms, sci fan, animation, current hits and classics) everything from Family Guy and 30 Rock to Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore’s respective shows.

    Watch them all at



    Jim (for Fancast)

  2. I recently saw this pilot. It was made in 1959 and aired in 1960. It was not very funny, but is interesting for historical purposes — sort of a parallel universe version of the Dick Van Dyke Show. Yes, too much New York flavoring to it, with the Buddy Sorrell and Ritchie characters annoying, especially Ritchie. It also lacked the great Dick Van Dyke Show theme song, instead having a horn-heavy theme.

  3. Carl Reiner was a genius. He saw this pilot wasn’t right (ok, bad!) and replaced all the actors, himself included. How many actors would replace themselves?
    (And yes, original Richie & Buddy were annoying! And what’s with way they pronounced Petrie “Pee-trie?!)

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