Carl Reiner invented TV comedy.
I’m overstating issues, positive: Reiner, who died Monday at age 98, was one in all a gaggle of pioneers who outlined the medium in its early years. (A number of of them, together with Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks, did a few of their greatest work with him.) I’m additionally underneathstating issues: Reiner’s legacy prolonged to comedy albums and movie — he was even a lively presence on Twitter till his final hours on Earth.
However Reiner’s appearing and writing in tv’s early days (“Caesar’s Hour,” “Your Present of Exhibits”) helped outline what TV would grow to be. It will be playful, experimental, fast-paced. It will be mouthy and expressive, a medium that blew your lapels again.
It will even be self-referential. TV was an eyeball that liked to take a look at itself. It was a cultural pressure that was altering us rather a lot in just a little time, reconfiguring house life and routines, rewiring our metabolism and creating a whole trade devoted to creating that little field discuss from morning to nighttime. TV introduced us the world, and that world was more and more made by TV.
And Reiner’s landmark creation, “The Dick Van Dyke Present,” which ran for 5 seasons beginning in 1961, was the primary nice TV sitcom about TV.
It wasn’t solely that — it was additionally a classy suburban married-life comedy powered by the how-were-we-ever-so-lucky pairing of Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. However the office half of this hybrid, about Rob Petrie’s experiences within the pressure-cooker writers’ room of the fictional “Alan Brady Present,” set the template for behind-the-cameras comedies together with “30 Rock” and Moore’s personal self-titled present within the 1970s.
Carl Reiner was Rob Petrie; the office expertise and conditions drew on his expertise as a TV actor after which author within the 1950s. However he couldn’t be Rob Petrie. He tried, taking part in the lead within the failed 1960 pilot for “Head of the Household.” (Audiences, he later mentioned frankly, had been too used to seeing him as a “second banana.”) Van Dyke’s charisma and jack-in-the-box bodily comedy because the recast lead gave Reiner a extra telegenic avatar.
As a substitute, Reiner grew to become the star-within-a-show, the shouty, egotistic boss who saved Rob dancing on eggshells. The position wouldn’t make Reiner a family face. Simply the other. Within the early seasons of the present, Brady held court docket and berated his writers shot from behind, so viewers knew him solely from the again of his bald (or toupéed) head. (“Seinfeld” would echo the gadget a long time later with its depiction of George Steinbrenner, voiced by Larry David and embodied by Lee Bear, his again to the digital camera.)
The gadget was a masterstroke. It made Reiner’s lack of distinction distinctive. He was not a second banana however an indignant gentle bulb, radiating his peevish glare on all his underlings. Reiner — with a legendary forged at his disposal, together with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Rob’s writers’ room comrades — used himself sparingly. However when known as on, that bald head shone.
Reiner, a performer earlier than he was a writer-creator, was usually often called a straight man, as when he teed up questions for his pal Brooks of their “2,000-Year-Old Man” routine. However as Alan Brady, an outsized tyrant (an ironic position for a person broadly eulogized as a mensch), he was everybody’s worst boss, and the personification of the brand new, high-stakes medium and enterprise.
In “When a Bowling Pin Talks, Hear,” from Season 2, he sits in a barber’s chair like a king, being primped by three attendants, when Rob and his co-workers interrupt to inform him that they’ve by accident plagiarized a sketch. Brady erupts, solves the issue with a blustery telephone name and swaggers out the door, his barber carrying his toupee. At one level, Reiner and Van Dyke appear to pressure to not break character and crack up — the TV Reiner and the precise Reiner every taken in by the opposite’s act.
In fact, whereas taking part in Brady indulged Reiner’s showboating aspect, in the long run he actually was Rob Petrie, a author who constructed a life out of comedy. Reiner’s means to know Rob each as stressed-out staffer and amiable household man gave “The Dick Van Dyke Present” a generosity that later, dyspeptic inside-TV satires lacked.
Sitcoms usually break down between home and office premises, however one measure of “The Dick Van Dyke Present” was that it was concurrently one of many most interesting examples of each, for which we have now to thank Carl Reiner for writing what he knew. TV was his enterprise, however it was additionally his house.