Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Carl Reiner comes clean about P&G




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Carl Reiner goes into the TV Hall of Fame Thursday, don't expect him to thank Cincinnati's Procter & Gamble.

        If P&G folks had their way, Mr. Reiner's Dick Van Dyke Show wouldn't have been on long enough to become a TV classic.

        “And we wouldn't be sitting here today,” said Mr. Reiner, 76, at a January press conference for UPN's Hall of Fame telecast. Inductees include Fred Rogers, Lorne Michaels, Fred Silverman, Ethel Winant, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer.

        Folks at P&G, which fully sponsored CBS' first Dick Van Dyke season (1961-62), didn't think it was anything special. With it ranked No. 80 in the ratings after one year, P&G decided to pull out of the comedy, which starred Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam.

        “I remember the guy at P&G gave me one of these” — he connected his forefinger and thumb, making an “OK” sign — “when it went off the air for hiatus. He guaranteed it would be back on,” Mr. Reiner said.

        “But they chickened out. We were opposite Perry Como and the ratings were low.

        “CBS owned a show called Howie,and they were going to put Howie in our spot and cancel us,” said Mr. Reiner, who originally played Rob Petrie in the 1960 pilot called Head of the Family.

Tension was common
        Tension with P&G was common. “Always, always” there were P&G suits in his Dick Van Dyke office complaining about the “capri” pants worn by Laura Petrie (Ms. Moore).

        Tight slacks weren't 99 and 44/100 percent pure to the folks from Ivorydale. P&G wanted Laura Petrie in what all TV housewives wore in the early '60s — a pressed, full-skirted dress and a string of pearls.

        “They 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.'”

        When word of P&G's pull-out reached Hollywood, executive producer Sheldon Leonard flew to Cincinnati to plead his case with P&G executives and Lee Rich, the advertising agency vice president who placed P&G commercials.

        He wasn't totally convincing. P&G agreed to sponsor half of the show, which left Mr. Leonard searching for another sponsor to keep Dick Van Dyke on the air.

        So Mr. Leonard flew to New York and literally barged into a board meeting of P. Lorillard Tobacco Co.

        “Sheldon did a pitch and, thank God, sold the other 15 minutes to Kent Cigarettes,” Mr. Reiner said.

Revolutionary move
        Then Mr. Reiner and Mr. Leonard made a revolutionary move. They accepted a paltry $6,000 per show for summer reruns, inventing the strategy that in recent years saved Drew Carey and Everybody Loves Raymond.

        “That was one of the most creative things I ever did,” said Mr. Reiner, a writer and performer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (1950-54). He also directed Oh, God! and won a Grammy with Mel Brooks last month for their 2000-Year-Old Man comedy album.

        “Repeats back then were not a big thing. But I said, "The people who have seen Perry Como will have a chance to sample us.' And it worked!”

        Four weeks into the 1962 fall season, Dick Van Dyke cracked the Top 10. It finished the year No. 9. The next season it was No. 3, behind The Beverly Hillbillies and Bonanza.

        Dick Van Dyke stayed a Top 20 show for the rest of its run. And Rob and Laura Petrie remained sleeping in twin beds until the show left CBS on Sept. 7, 1966. Was that also part of P&G's puritanical preferences?

        “No, that was television,” he said. “That was just television back then.”

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.

ON THE AIR
        • What: 14th Annual TV Academy Hall of Fame Awards

        When: 8-10 p.m. Thursday

        Where: Channel 25

       



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