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Retro : Nites for Nick and Dick

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday Nick at Nite!

Happy Birthday to you!

Baby boomers’ favorite cable network, Nick at Nite, celebrates its 8th birthday on Wednesday. It’s hard to imagine a TV world without hip, cool Nick. Where else can one wallow nightly in the delights of “Mr. Ed,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Superman,” “The Dick Van Show,” “Mork & Mindy, “Dobie Gillis” and “Get Smart?”

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Nick is throwing a big birthday party Wednesday for its fans: Nick at Night’s Television Heritage Day features four hours of first episodes of its TV Land series. Relive the first words Ed said to Wilbur, watch little Superman land on Earth, discover how Capt. Parmenter was put in charge of “F Troop,” learn how Oliver persuaded Lisa to move from New York to “Green Acres” and catch the black-and-white pilot episode of the Emmy-winning “Get Smart.”

Television, past, present and future, is important to Nick. Two months ago it launched a campaign to “preserve our television heritage.” Dick Van Dyke was named “chairman” of Nick at Nite and is now doing commercials for Nick on the importance of preserving old and new TV shows for future generations.

Van Dyke said it was “serendipity” he was appointed chairman. Last year at a press conference with television critics, Van Dyke discussed his feelings about television’s heritage and “its responsibility to the public, which I feel it is not living up to. I expressed some of my ideas. (Nick) and I found we agreed on a lot. So we got together.”

He believes the Nick at Nite series are classics that “hold up awfully, awfully well despite the fact they were not given the creative latitude shows have today.”

Although a fan of NBC’s “Seinfeld,” Van Dyke isn’t very happy with most of what he sees now on television.

“TV is the most dominate influence in the world,” he said. “But I think they are brainwashing the public. They are not reflecting what’s happening in our culture, they are shaping our culture. It is just so important to preserve the heritage of the really good things that were done before when they did seem to exercise responsibility.”

Van Dyke has been enjoying watching reruns of his old series on Nick. One of his favorite episodes is the infamous walnut show, written by creator Carl Reiner, in which Danny Thomas played an alien who loved walnuts, had an eye in the back of his head and no thumbs.

“It was the most fun (episode) to do,” Van Dyke said. “We wanted to do a dream sequence that was totally bizarre and kind of a horror thing. We all kind of pitched in on it and came up with the idea. Carl (Reiner) came up with the idea of using Danny Thomas. I don’t know why it struck us so incredibly funny that the invader from outer space looked like Danny Thomas.”

In May, the “Van Dyke Show” cast--Van Dyke, Reiner, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie-reunited for the first time since the series left the air in 1966, for a brief appearance on HBO’s “Comic Relief.”

“We had a great time,” he said. But Van Dyke ruled out any type of reunion special or movie.

“Tom Wolfe was right,” he said. “You can’t go back.”

“Nick at Nite’s Television Heritage Day” airs Wednesday from 8 p.m.-midnight on Nickelodeon. Repeats of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” air weeknights at 9:30 and Saturdays and Sundays at midnight.


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