Enjoy 'Dick Van Dyke Show' Sunday, Which P&G Almost Killed

Dec 8, 2016

Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in CBS publicity photo for "Dick Van Dyke Show" first season in fall 1961.
Credit CBS Television

If Procter & Gamble had its way, the "Dick Van Dyke Show" being celebrated by CBS in prime-time Sunday would never have aired.

P&G, the sponsor for the first "Dick Van Dyke" season (1961-62), pulled the plug on advertising  a second season of the Dick Van Dyke-Mary Tyler Moore comedy after it finished No. 80.

But there was a bigger problem: Pants.

"Dick Van Dyke Show" cast (minus producer/actor Carl Reiner) in 1962
Credit CBS Television

Executives at Cincinnati's P&G didn't like Laura Petrie (Moore) wearing clingy Capri pants. P&G folks wanted to trade Laura's tight slacks for what all the other '60s TV housewives wore:  Pressed, full-skirted dress and a string of pearls.

Creator/producer/actor Carl Reiner once told me that P&G executives "came to my office and said, 'Capri pants are not what people wear.' And I said, 'That's what she wears all the time!' And they said, 'Well, you have to have her in a dress at least one scene every show.'  "

Executive producer Sheldon Leonard flew to Cincinnati with Lee Rich, the advertising agency vice president who placed P&G commercials, to plead their case to P&G executives to save the show, according to "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book" by Vince Waldron (Hyperion, 1994).

P&G agreed to sponsor only half of the show, which sent Leonard scrambling to New York to keep "Dick Van Dyke" on the air. He finally sold the other 15 minutes to Kent Cigarettes.

Ironically, P&G turned out to be the hero of this story. After securing full sponsorships, Leonard learned that CBS executives "seemed completely uninterested in renewing" the show, Waldron wrote. So P&G threatened to pull its lucrative daytime soap operas off CBS in 1962.

"Do you want to keep our daytime business?" Leonard recalls the P&G executives telling the network. "Then you'd better find a time spot for Dick Van Dyke."

Alan Brady (Reiner) talks to his hairpieces on "Coast To Coast Big Mouth" airing Sunday Dec. 11.
Credit CBS Television

And a hit was born.

"Dick Van Dyke" jumped into Nielsen's Top 10 the first month of the second season, in fall 1962, and finished No. 9. It was No. 3 the third season,  behind the "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Bonanza" (1963-64), and stayed in the Top 20 through its final season (1965-66). "Dick Van Dyke" won 15 Emmys in five seasons for Van Dyke, Moore, Reiner, director Jerry Parris and writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff.

For those who never saw the show, here's the set-up: Dick Van Dyke starred as Rob Petrie, a television comedy writer for "The Alan Brady Show" (Reiner). He worked with writers Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers (Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie) and producer Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon). Rob and stay-at-home wife Laura (Moore) had a son, Ritchie. Next door lived dentist Dr. Jerry Helper (series director Paris) and his wife Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert).

Moore and Van Dyke in "That's My Boy??" episode airing Sunday Dec. 11.
Credit CBS Television

On Sunday, CBS airs two newly colorized episodes as "The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now in Living Color!" (8 p.m., Channel 12, CBS) from 1963 and 1965. They're two of my favorite episodes.

"That's My Boy??": Van Dyke is hilarious as the new father convinced they've brought the wrong baby home from the hospital in the third season premiere from Sept. 25, 1963.  

"Coast to Coast Big Mouth": Laura is tricked by a game show host into revealing that TV star Alan Brady (Reiner), her husband's boss, is bald. Mary Tyler Moore shows off her brilliant comic skills tearfully explaining to her husband the prizes she won on the game show. It's a classic, ranked No. 8 on TV Guide's list of the “100 Greatest TV Episodes of All-Time.”  The episode opened the fifth and final season on Sept. 15, 1965.

If ratings are good, expect to see more "Dick Van Dyke Shows" on CBS in the future, similar to the "I Love Lucy" specials. Just don't expect CBS or P&G executives to admit they wanted to cancel the show before it was a hit.