What Can We Steal From “The Curious Thing About Women,” an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show?

Title of Work and its Form: “The Curious Thing About Women,” an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show
Author: Written by David Adler, Directed by John Rich
Date of Work: Originally broadcast on January 10, 1962
Where the Work Can Be Found: The episode can be found on the Dick Van Dyke Show DVD collection.  As of this writing, it is streaming on Netflix.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: The Creative Process

Discussion:
The Dick Van Dyke Show ended nearly fifty years ago, but it is still one of the best programs in television history.  Carl Reiner drew on his experience as a writer and performer on Your Show of Shows and created Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), head writer for The Alan Brady Show, a variety program.  Rob has a beautiful and intelligent wife named Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) and works with two great comedic minds: Buddy and Sally (Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie).  While plenty of stories were focused on Rob’s glamorous job, what really set Dick Van Dyke apart was Reiner’s ability to depict Rob’s very normal home life.

“The Curious Thing About Women” begins as Rob is eating breakfast, preparing to make the drive from New Rochelle to Midtown Manhattan.  He is upset to discover that his wife, Laura, has already opened and read all of his mail.  Rob and Laura have an extremely healthy fight before Rob heads to work.  Rob, Buddy and Sally need to come up with a sketch for Alan Brady…they hit upon the idea of making Rob’s anecdote into a sketch.  You have a wife who claims she isn’t insanely curious about what is in her husband’s mail.  Of course, the wife becomes insane and opens the mail.  When the sketch airs, Laura is not happy at being labeled a “pathological snoopy-nose.”  Rob and Laura have another fight; this one is a little less pleasant, but it’s still healthy.  The next day, Rob is at work when a package is delivered for him.  What happens?  The inevitable: Laura’s curiosity overtakes her.  She opens the package, which turns out to be an inflatable boat.  Rob returns (of course) and simply asks the woman hiding behind the giant boat, “Did a package come for me?”

Look at that second scene, as Rob, Buddy and Sally are in the office, trying to write a sketch.   Is there a writer who can’t relate?  Who hasn’t stared at a blank page wondering what the heck they are going to write?  And how many zillions of writers have dreamed of a career in a writer’s room because of the show?  (I’m one of them, obviously.)  Three brilliant writers are batting around ideas.  Rob, Buddy and Sally build on every good idea and shoot down every mediocre one.  By the end of the scene, they have a great sketch.  Just like tempered steel, great works are forged over time and are the result of lots of sometimes tedious work.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I remember being able to see the ending coming during my long ago first viewing of the episode.  Rob writes a sketch about his wife opening a boat.  Rob’s boat arrives.  What else could Laura do but open the package and wrestle the boat?  The climax of Mr. Adler’s script may be a little bit predictable, but it is inevitable.  Doesn’t this mimic the way life works?  If you treat your boyfriend or girlfriend poorly for an extended length of time, isn’t a breakup inevitable?

Mr. Adler also follows the rule of threes.

  1. Rob mentions he bought an inflatable Army surplus boat that will soon be delivered
  2. Laura watches the Alan Brady sketch in which the curious wife inflates the boat
  3. Laura opens the package and inflates the boat

The audience is warned what will happen and a kind of suspense is built.  Laura gets to see the sketch on the television, but the audience doesn’t.  Mr. Adler’s script allows the audience at home to share Laura’s experience, just as they likely share the experience of arguing with a spouse, only to be proven wrong.

What Should We Steal?

  • Bounce ideas around with friends (or alone) to give them the freedom they need to mature.  Ideas need to be distilled.  They need to percolate.  If you combine the results of those two concepts, you get Irish coffee, which may or may not help you write.
  • Prepare your audience for the climax of the piece.  Would we laugh if Laura inflated the boat in the first thirty seconds of the episode?  We wouldn’t laugh because the bit wouldn’t mean anything to us.  After twenty-five minutes of preparation, there are stakes attached to Laura opening up the package, boosting the humor and the drama.

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