Dick Van Dyke and TV's "Diagnosis Murder"

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

With regards to Diagnosis: Murder (which originally aired on CBS from 1993 to 2001), then-CBS Entertainment head-honcho Leslie Moonves once observed, "You can't kill it with a stick."

Moonves was referring to the fact that the one-hour mystery/drama series (which now thrives in syndicated reruns and on DVD) seemed to take on a ratings life of its own. No matter what was originally scheduled against it, or vice-versa (including the power-house Friends on NBC), somehow, someway the show found an audience.

Not exactly ever hip, in a CSI-kind-of-way, Diagnosis featured TV icon Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a physician with a special interest in solving murder mysteries. Originally airing as a series of TV-movies in the early 1990s, Diagnosis soon became a regular weekly staple on CBS and was produced the old-fashioned way; Barnaby Jones and Jake and the Fatman. In fact, Diagnosis was essentially a spin-off from the latter, while it became The Lawrence Welk Show of its genre (which is crime-medical-drama). But then it also created a genre of its own (crime-medical-dramedy).

But on the inside (the reality of the situation), it was fooling even the harshest of critics, as it delivered sixty minutes of straight-out, solid mystery entertainment.

Besides the fact that it was one of the most smoothly-produced and written shows of its kind, at its core rested and performed its shining, secret weapon: Dick Van Dyke himself.

Long dormant and missing in action since the demise of the original, ground-breaking Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-66), the New Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1971-74), Van Dyke & Co (NBC, 1976), and the Van Dyke Show CBS, 1988), the multi-talented actor, singer, dancer finally found his way back to weekly hit TV with Diagnosis: Murder.

Like The Beatles, Jerry Seinfeld, and a chosen few others, Dick Van Dyke never had to work any other job than the original hit employment that first introduced us to him.

In other words, none of them ever had to prove anything; everything else that Jerry Seinfeld did after Seinfeld was "extra"; every other song that Paul McCartney wrote or sang beyond The Beatles compositions were "extra". And every other piece of television air-space that Dick Van Dyke breathed (after the demise of the original Dick Van Dyke Show) was gravy. And that gravy train includes Diagnosis: Murder ( which continues to offer a nice, smooth gravy ride in rerun ratings for Hallmark).

You can't go wrong watching Diagnosis: Murder, if only for the way Dick Van Dyke somehow manages to reel you in - every time - with that on-screen charm that can never be fully, properly described, or bottled.

Just when you think you're watching a run-of-the-mill, poor-man's, male edition of Murder, She Wrote, this Van Dyke and company program (which includes Dick's son Barry Van Dyke playing his on-screen, detective, side-kick, off-spring; and former TV network whiz-kid Fred Silverman as one of the show's producers) dupes you with a completely enjoyable, clever and intelligent hour of television...very well spent.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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