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The Dick Van Dyke Show

Joanne Morreale

Television Studies, Popular Culture

Published: December 2015
ISBN: 9780814340318
Pages: 144 Size: 5 x 7
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos
Published: December 2015
ISBN: 9780814340325
Pages: 144 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos

The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS 1961–66) was a uniquely self-reflexive sitcom that drew on vaudevillian tropes at a time when vaudeville-based comedy variety was disappearing from television. At the same time, it reflected the liberal politics of the Kennedy era and gave equal time to home and work as it ushered in a new image of the sitcom family. In The Dick Van Dyke Show, author Joanne Morreale analyzes the series' innovative form and content that altered the terrain of the television sitcom.

Morreale begins by finding the roots of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the vaudeville-based comedy variety show and the "showbiz" sitcom, even as it brought notable updates to the form. She also considers how the series reflects the social context of Kennedy's New Frontier and its impact on the television industry, as The Dick Van Dyke Show responded to criticisms of television as mass entertainment. She goes on to examine the series as an early example of quality television that also pointed to the complex narrative of today, examining the show's progressive representations of race, ethnicity, and gender that influenced the content of later sitcoms. Morreale concludes by considering The Dick Van Dyke Show's afterlife, suggesting that the various reappearances of the characters and the show itself demonstrates television's "transseriality."

Fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show and readers interested in American television and cultural history will appreciate this insightful reading of the series.

Joanne Morreale is associate professor in the media and screen studies program at Northeastern University. Her most recent book is The Donna Reed Show (Wayne State University Press, 2012).

Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of its representational politics and season-to-season, episode-to-episode narrative developments, Joanne Morreale convincingly argues that The Dick Van Dyke Show helped to revolutionize the sitcom form. She demonstrates how writer-producer Carl Reiner’s self-referential program not only revealed the inner workings of ‘showbiz’ but also tackled taboo subjects in the midst of significant social and political changes in the United States. At once steeped in Jewish humor and grounded in traditional midwestern values, The Dick Van Dyke Show brought together progressive and conservative strains of JFK’s "New Frontier" while deftly combining genres (workplace comedy and domestic comedy) and performative modes (reality-based and anarchic slapstick). Morreale’s deeply researched, lucidly written study helps to secure this Emmy Award–winning sitcom’s place in the pantheon of TV classics.

– David Scott Diffrient, author of M*A*S*H, Omnibus Films: Theorizing Transauthorial Cinema, and the co-author of Movie Migrations: Transnational Genre Flows and South Korean Cinema

Joanne Morreale’s engaging and well-researched study of The Dick Van Dyke Show illuminates the cultural importance of this iconic 1960s sitcom. Her rich contextualization explores the genesis of the program in producer/writer Carl Reiner’s early career, the show’s historical roots in 1950s TV variety/comedy programs, and its perfecting of the workplace sitcom genre. Morreale traces how the show drew on the cultural vibe of the Kennedy era, with wit and a sensitivity to shifting gender, racial, and ethnic identities and a progressive view of marriage. Lively and informative – a great read.

– Kathy Fuller-Seeley, professor of film and media studies at the University of Texas at Austin

The groundbreaking Dick Van Dyke Show is given the thoughtful treatment it deserves in Joanne Morreale’s insightful analysis. Rich with detailed examples from the series, Morreale’s study shows the many ways the program was a television pioneer, from its narrative and visual styles to its representations of social groups and its influence on subsequent TV. This must-read will put The Dick Van Dyke Show on your must-watch list!

– Elana Levine, author of Wallowing in Sex: The New Sexual Culture of 1970s American Television

Joanne Morreale’s The Dick Van Dyke Show is well-researched, informative, and accessibly written. This thin volume makes a strong case for the importance of the show in television history and encourages the reader to seek out episodes of this iconic series.

– Kathy Merlock Jackson, The Journal of American Culture