Lovers of classic television always are game to hear the people who made it talk about it.
After its two "Pioneers of Television" documentaries, PBS returns to that turf with "America in Primetime," a four-week series filled with familiar actors and top producers waxing nostalgic ... but the project also stays current by including such shows as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Mad Men." The program begins its run Sunday, Oct. 30 (check local listings).
If the comments by participants ranging from Alan Alda and Roseanne Barr to series mentors James L. Brooks ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi") and Steven Bochco ("NYPD Blue," "Hill Street Blues") aren't exactly groundbreaking, it's still fun to hear the talents responsible reflect on home-screen history.
Each one-hour segment is tied to a particular theme. The heroes, women and misfits of television are among the subjects, and an installment subtitled "Man of the House" recalls family figures from sheriffs ("The Andy Griffith Show") to mobsters ("The Sopranos").
Also featured prominently in that roundup is Rob Petrie, the husband, father and comedy writer at the center of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Marking the 50th anniversary of its CBS premiere, the Emmy-winning 1961-66 sitcom recently rejoined the weeknight TV Land lineup.
The ever-amiable Van Dyke also appears in "Pioneers of Television," and in an interview for this article, he says he enjoys remembering "the days when we actually had 28 minutes to do a (comedy) show. Today, they get maybe 20 minutes to tell their story, and it's just not enough time. They're really up against it these days."
In the documentary, Van Dyke mentions uses of a "red herring" in "Dick Van Dyke Show" scripts to distract network censors and keep wanted material. "We'd put in something totally outlandish," he explains, "then fight them over that. Of course, it was Carl's (series creator-producer Reiner) idea. He was kind of edgy for back then, on race and things of that kind. He delved into that when nobody else did."
Dick Van Dyke helps PBS recall television's view of American life
Dick Van Dyke