Legendary actor and producer Carl Reiner believes entertainment is at its best when it reflects the worries of the times. That is exactly the motto Reiner lived by when he created “The Dick Van Dyke Show” back in 1961. The Emmy and Grammy award winner made a show about things that pertained to his life – relationships with his wife, his boss and how he gets through the day. The 95-year-old will get to see his masterpiece in color this Friday when CBS airs a one-hour special called “The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now In Living Color!,” featuring two episodes personally selected by Reiner.
Carl chatted with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about his career, why “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was so successful, his memories of Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore and how stretching and watching movies became part of his daily routine.
DJ Sixsmith: How did the idea come together to create “The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now In Living Color!”, a one-hour special on CBS?
Carl Reiner: Whoever got the idea wasn’t me, but I thought it was a great idea. During the course of the show, at one point they said we can go to color. All of us got together and said, “How much will it cost?” We all decided against it because we wouldn’t have gotten profits for years. We were wrong. Now we finally see it in color and it looks sensational.
DS: You selected two episodes for the special: “My Blond-Haired Brunette” and “October Eve.” What do you remember about filming these two episodes?
CR: One of them I remember for a reason very dear to me. The one episode where Mary Tyler Moore tells about my wig was written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Up to that point, I had been alone with being the story editor, the writer and the producer and I was going crazy. Along came these two guys Persky and Denoff and they wrote this episode and I just fell in love with it. I took these guys on as story editors and they actually saved my life. That episode “October Eve” has special meaning to me.
DS: CBS is also releasing an “I Love Lucy Christmas Special” this winter. Why do you think this show resonates with so many people?
CR: “I Love Lucy” was performed by maybe the most beautiful and best comedian of all time in Lucille Ball. The only thing I felt about it is that it was not my kind of show because it was a husband and wife against each other. My wife and I were two people against the world. When I finally did a show, we had two people that loved each other, didn’t fool each other and went on with their lives with the problems that exist for most people.
DS: You’ve said in the past that you treasured your time working with Mary Tyler Moore. What was her most unique characteristic?
CR: Mary had it all besides her beauty, which was apparent. She could sing, she could dance and she could do almost anything that was required of her. She proved it when she did her own show and she did it for years and set the tone for the women’s liberation, actually. When she threw her hat in the air, that became the symbol for women during that era and she is to be applauded for that.
DS: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” originally aired in 1961 and won 15 Emmy awards. Why was this show so successful?
CR: The show was special and I knew it was special when I did it. We stayed away from using any slang of the day and politics of the day. I told all of the writers that I had a feeling this show would last for a long time if we think about it as our own lives and only write about things that pertain to us. Things like how we get through the day, how we get through relationships with our wives and relationships with our bosses. I told them that if we stick to that, I think we’ll have a classic. I knew it at the time and by God, they are talking about it now!
DS: You’ve seen a lot of TV shows and movies in your life. What is one role that you didn’t play that you wished you would have played?
CR: I have no regrets. I have movies that I’ve seen and I didn’t want to be in them because the people who were in them belong in them. My favorite movie of all time is “Random Harvest” with Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is also one of my favorites. My son’s movies like “The Princess Bride” is a movie I admire and I have no need to be in these movies, but I do have a need to look at them.
DS: You were in “Ocean’s Eleven” with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. What was your favorite part of that experience?
CR: “Ocean’s Eleven” was a romp because at that point, I hadn’t been acting much. I had been mainly writing and when I was invited to be with these absolutely wonderful guys, I always described them as being more wonderful people than handsome. Each one of them in his own way has contributed to the world, poverty and hunger. They’ve been all over the world to do wonderful things. I was watching Matt Damon the other day and I said to myself, “There’s an icon I love.”
DS: You and Mel Brooks have been friends for a very long time. What happened the first time you met?
CR: I walked into the office one day and Mel Brooks was standing up. I didn’t know who he was and he started doing a Jewish pirate with a Jewish accent. He was saying, “You know how hard it is to set sail these days. It costs $3.50 a yard for sail cloth. I can’t afford to pillage anymore!” Those were the first words I heard coming from his mouth and for the next 10 years, anytime there was a lull in the office, I’d get up and was a man that was 2000 years old. I gave him that and he stuck with it. We did it for 10 years before ever putting it on record.
DS: I know you and Mel like to watch movies together. What was the last movie you both watched?
CR: Nothing today, but we did watch one last night. I forget the name of the movie. That’s one of the things that happens now. But, it was an awful good movie. We will finish it tonight and there are a bunch of good movies that are out there to watch.
DS: You stretch every morning before getting out of bed. How have your stretching exercises kept you in good health?
CR: I don’t know. I hurt myself when I was 30 years old. I fell down an icy stairway and the therapist said, “Do these stretches before you get out of bed.” That was maybe 50 or 60 years ago. Today, I’m four months away from being 96 and I did my stretches this morning. I think it does help a little. It helped me get to 95 and eight months!
DS: What’s the biggest difference between the entertainment business when you first started your career and the world of entertainment today?
CR: Entertainment is good when it reflects the worries of the time. We have some absolutely brilliant comedians, especially when they take on our president. I was just talking about Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. I like Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. I love Conan O’Brien and James Corden. Every one of them is worth your time.
DS: When people watch the special, what do you want them to be left thinking about?
CR: I’m looking forward to it. I want you to think of the fact that the show was done a long time ago and seemingly, it reflects the times today.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now In Living Color!” will be broadcast on Friday, Dec. 22 at 9pm EST/PST on CBS.