Next Projection Christmas Advent Calendar - December 15th: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Alan Brady Show Presents”
“The Alan Brady Show Presents” was the only Christmas episode produced by The Dick Van Dyke Show, and is considered by many fans to be a classic of both the variety show and Christmas special genres. Ironically, this episode is less notable for being a Christmas special than it is for its portrayal of, well, The Alan Brady Show. This fictitious show-within-a-show was always talked about but rarely seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Alan Brady himself was only filmed from behind or heard off-camera for years. In the third-season “The Alan Brady Show Presents,” we get an entire episode of The Alan Brady Show, plus our first full look at the character of Alan Brady, even though he is impossible to see thanks to his Santa Claus costume. It would be almost a year before audiences would finally see Alan Brady unobscured and undisguised.
Dick Van Dyke stars as Robert Petrie, head writer of The Alan Brady Show. As “The Alan Brady Show Presents” opens, Rob, along with co-writers Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), are planning to head out for Christmas vacation, having just submitted their Christmas script to Alan. They’re stymied by Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), Alan’s assistant, who stops them to say that the episode they wrote was terrific, but it’s not what Alan wants. Worried that his personality doesn’t exude the necessary warmth to keep his public interested, Alan has decided to showcase the staff and their families in a variety show for Christmas, and recruits the writers, along with Rob’s wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) and son Ritchie (Larry Matthews), for the special.
Nothing about this premise makes one bit of sense, of course, which may not be unusual for sitcoms, but is somewhat unusual for The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s implausible that the writing staff would turn in a script for a Christmas episode just a couple of days before Christmas, and audiences would have known immediately that there were several recurring characters, such as Buddy’s wife Pickles, who would logically have been involved in the variety show, too, but are never mentioned.
It’s clear even to the casual viewer that “The Alan Brady Show Presents” was not up to The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s usual production standards. Beyond the lazy script, there are problems with the cast stumbling on their lines, and Rob is out of character for the entire episode. Most notably, the episode was filmed without a live audience, a necessity because of costume and set changes, but the canned laughter sounds a bit off, not least because a couple of the people laughing sound just like Reiner and Rose Marie.
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in this episode. After Rob explains the backstory to the Alan Brady Show audience, we’re on to the real meat of the show. First, Rob conducts a classic Christmas choir consisting of Buddy, Laura, Sally and Mel. In keeping with Alan Brady’s impressive, unchecked egotism, they sing an ode to Alan Brady, a glorious and heavenly song whose only lyrics are the words “Alan” and “Brady.” One by one, the singers are overcome with existential crises and, like Rene Descartes before them, discover that if they are to fully exist, they must declare their existence to the world.
Well, it’s not so highbrow as all that: in a fit of pique, each singer belts out their own name instead of Alan’s, and each is summarily dismissed until no choir is left.
In the second act, Rose Marie sings “Santa, Bring Me a Fella,” in that classy early 1960s way, featuring a lovely gown, sharp set decoration and a surprisingly good voice; Rose Marie had been entertaining since she was three years old, and it shows. This act segues into a wacky musical competition between Sally and Buddy, and after commercial break, we see Rob and Laura play two street-corner Santas who fall in love.
The next bit featuring little Ritchie singing “The Little Drummer Boy” was meant to be a serious and moving moment, but is marred by the fact that poor Larry Matthews cannot sing at all. Very little has been written about this particular episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, but what has never fails to mention Matthews; he is just that bad.
The final act features everyone dressed as toy soldiers singing “I Am a Fine Musician,” a song that the show had used before in the second season, when the gang found themselves entertaining in the Catskills. The re-use of this song, along with a few other self-referential jokes and the cast singing the theme to The Dick Van Dyke Show, essentially serve to break the fourth wall, acknowledging that what the audience is watching is a fake show within another fake show within an implausible context. It’s a nice touch and goes a long way toward excusing many of the episode’s flaws, and making “The Alan Brady Show Presents” one of the better example of a variety show from television’s classic era.