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EXCLUSIVE: Dick Van Dyke Says He Once Thought Mary Tyler Moore Was Too Young to Play His Wife

by Raphael Chestang 4:23 PM PST, December 09, 2016
Playing EXCLUSIVE: Dick Van Dyke Says He Once Thought Mary Tyler Moore Was Too Young to Play His Wife

Just in time for the holidays, The Dick Van Dyke Show is back and in living color.

ET caught up with star Van Dyke and creator Carl Reiner at Reiner's home, where they shared some rare stories from their glory days.

"We got canceled at the end of the first year and we thought it was over," Van Dyke, 90, tells ET. "Thank God, I think it was the summer reruns where people saw it."

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The enduring classic starred Van Dyke as television comedy writer Rob Petrie and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, Laura. It debuted on Oct. 3, 1961 and aired for five seasons on CBS before taking its final bow on June 1, 1966. Throughout its reign, the classic program snagged 15 Emmy Awards, including five for Reiner, three for Van Dyke and two for Moore.

While Van Dyke and Moore are one of television's most iconic couples, Van Dyke took some convincing that their pairing would be believable.

"I said, 'She's a little young, isn't she?' 12 years," recalls Van Dyke, noting the age difference.

"I said, 'Nobody's going to know,'" Reiner, 94, remembers. "Nobody ever even mentioned it. The first time they kissed on the pilot, that was it. They were together."

Not only did Van Dyke and Moore light up the screen, they also had chemistry off-camera.

"I had a real crush on her," Van Dyke admits.

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"They really were attracted to each other, but they both had relationships," Reiner says.

The TV couple became so in tune that Van Dyke insists they could have performed together without a script.

"We became like an improv," Van Dyke says. "You could just tell us a scene and we could make it up. She read me very well, and I read her timing very well, and it was just such a pleasure to work with her."

Seeing the black-and-white show in color offers a few surprises for longtime fans. One revelation is that the ottoman Van Dyke trips over in the opening titles is olive green. Van Dyke quipped that the colorization uncovered a few things for him as well.

"I discovered I had brown hair!" Van Dyke joked. "Everybody thought I had black hair."

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While the technology to film in color was available during the show's run, Reiner rejected the idea when he learned it would cost an additional $7,000 per episode.

"We would have seen no profit for years, so we said it's too expensive," Reiner explains. "We might as well be getting a profit rather than waiting 23 years for it."

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CBS has already seen success with colorized versions of I Love Lucy during the holiday season. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dec. 2 airing of the beloved sitcom attracted 6.6 million viewers. The network is hoping to have similar success with The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Episodes "That's My Boy??" and "Coast to Coast Big Mouth" will air back-to-back beginning at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11 on CBS.

Van Dyke shares that the racial undertones of "That's My Boy??" nearly prevented it from ever seeing the light of day. Airing in 1963, with the March on Washington still fresh in people's minds, the episode is told mostly in flashbacks, as Rob is prodded into telling the story of when he was convinced that he and Laura brought the wrong baby home from the hospital.

In the episode, another couple, the Peterses, also welcomed a baby that day in a nearby hospital room, and misdelivered flowers make Rob believe that they brought home the Peters baby instead of their own. The ending punchline occurs when the Peterses appear at the Petries' home, revealing they are a black couple.

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"It was the longest laugh I have ever heard in my life," Van Dyke says. "We had to cut the cameras."

"We were always looking to get African-Americans into the show, because it was such a white neighborhood, and I was very aware of those social problems that existed in our country," Reiner says. "Once, we had Godfrey Cambridge, a black man, playing an FBI agent coming into the house, using the house as a set-up point, and I remember them calling and saying, 'Are there FBI agents that are black?' And I said, 'There are now.'"

Fifty years after the show left the air, it continues to reach and inspire new generations.

"I get a lot of mail from young people from eight, 12, 13 years old who discovered the show," Van Dyke says. "I have young people coming to me, saying, 'I became a writer because of your show.'"

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