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.

Performance Party

There’s this Dick Van Dyke episode where Rob and Laura invite the gang to their house… and everyone performs. Buddy brings his cello. Sally sings. Rob and Laura dance to Mountain Greenery.

I went to the real life equivalent of that party tonight. OK, everyone didn’t perform, but plenty did!

The back deck of the ‘party house’ was converted into a stage, with a sound system and lighting. In fact, that very deck carried the list of artists, written in chalk.

I can’t give you many details except to say, the evening was fun for me. I got to bring Helaine and Steffie and my folks. Luckily for everyone else, we were among the non-performers.

I know a lot of talented people. They can sing, dance and play instruments. Where have I gone wrong?

Raider Of The Lost Archives

My friend Paul, who I’ve known over 35 years, has been a producer in Los Angeles for a long time. As his career evolved he got involved in repackaging older shows to rerun on cable. When the Smothers Brothers went back to E! or Sonny and Cher’s old shows reran, it was Paul who put together the package.

He is called, “Raider of the Lost Archives!” The title fits.

To make these old shows new and attractive, special extra features get added. This is where Paul is a genius.

For each release there is also the pain of getting clearance and making payments to artists and performers who’d worked on these shows decades earlier. Some are tough to find. Some are impossible to find.

Over the past few years Paul has branched out. Now he repackages old shows into DVDs. The medium is different though his work product is similar.

Every few weeks we’ll be on the phone talking and Paul will tell me about some TV star of twenty or thirty years ago who he will be meeting to get guest commentary for a new DVD collection. Usually, these are people who were big stars, but have now retired… or sadly aged out of the roles they used to play.

All this work pays off, because sometimes it’s the special features, the little extras, that make his DVDs so desirable.

I’m not the only one who’s realized that. Just yesterday he scored the top two of the five “Best DVDs” in an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Paul lives in Los Angeles where success is often looked upon with envy. Not here. This is my friend and I couldn’t be more proud.

Here are the five best TV series on DVD, based on the legacy of the show and the inclusion of bountiful and substantive extras. They’re sure to take you to another dimension, a journey not only of sight and sound but of mind.

1. “The Dick Van Dyke Show”

Rob and Laura Petrie never had it so good. Each of the five season sets for the classic sitcom includes a giddy wealth of special features, thanks to DVD producer Paul Brownstein’s uncanny ability to dig them up and — more important — secure the rights to use them. Favorites are the cast’s appearance on the game show “Stump the Stars” and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore’s in-character commercials for products such as dish soap and — gasp! — cigarettes (the latter a hidden feature). (Image, $69.99 per season; $249.99 for the entire five-season run.)

2. “The Twilight Zone”

Brownstein strikes again with the “Definitive Edition” re-releases of Rod Serling’s sci-fi anthology series, which has two seasons to go after the new third-season set. Goodies include commentary, isolated scores, archival audio interviews and fun bits such as the Sci Fi Channel’s promo spots for its annual “TZ” marathon. And the first-season set comes with the best program notes ever included with a DVD, the 466-page “The Twilight Zone Companion.” (Image, $119.99 for first season, $99.99 for others.)

Continue reading “Raider Of The Lost Archives”

Friends Doing Well

Within the past few days two of my friends have had significant career achievements that I wanted to mention.

I wrote about Paul, who I’ve known since 1969, winning a DVD award. Now, I have a photo to prove it. That’s Paul Brownstein with Dick Van Dyke (Paul calls the project the DVD-DVD) whose commentary, along with Carl Reiner’s, had more than a little to do with Paul’s win.

I also heard from Marcia Mule. Before I go on, let me tell you you’re mispronouncing her name. It’s Mar-see Mew-lay. Much better!

Marcia, and her partner, are producing a new series on Bravo, “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” There’s a subject near and dear to my heart. In the first episode, the two best players left early, beaten by a lucky hand. Unfortunately, the two best players were fairly big names, David Schwimmer and Ben Affleck.

Still, the show held my interest, though the poker was far from well played. Alan Pergament wrote a nice article about Marcia and the show in the Buffalo News.

I know Marcia because she was one of our producers at PM Magazine/Buffalo back in the very early 80s. I remember how nice she was then, and how nice her parents were. Back in those days, when I was willing to appear on TV without a shirt (I don’t even shower without a shirt now), Marcia’s family used to let us use their pool as a location. Those shoots were wonderful.

Marcia and I spent too many days in too many Dodge vans in too much Buffalo snow. I am glad that her production company is getting work and hope she’s making huge money and becoming very happy.