Emmy commemorative: Heavyweight – Carl Reiner

Mining own life for real chuckles

Carl Reiner started out too smart for his own good.

“They kept skipping me a grade in school,” Reiner recalls of his childhood in the Bronx. He got so far ahead of himself, he says, “I started to dumb down.”

Graduating with an average one point below what was required for free admission to City College, Reiner ended up in the millinery trade. Academia’s loss was TV sitcom’s gain.

Unburdened with extraneous intellectual baggage, Reiner became his own inspiration, mining life experiences on “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour” (winning Emmys in 1956 and 1957 for supporting actor in a comedy or dramatic series), and then creating and writing “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” work on which garnered him five Emmys.

“After ‘Caesar’ I got lots of sitcom scripts,” Reiner says. “None of them appealed to me.

“I asked myself, ‘What piece of ground do I stand on that nobody else does?’ Well, I was a comedy writer, living in New Rochelle, N.Y., going to work in New York City.”

More significantly, he and wife Estelle had a marriage where one didn’t put down the other. Unlike Lucy or Molly Goldberg, he says, “I didn’t want a sitcom full of disassembling; I wrote about who we were.”

Rob Petrie was born. But good writing alone didn’t sell it.

“My scripts were good,” Reiner says, “but many elements have to come together. Dick Van Dyke just made everything we did better. Mary Tyler Moore was completely winning. The entire cast was so talented you never thought they were just doing lines.”

He also singles out his co-writers: Sam Denfoff, Bill Persky, Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall for praise.

Reiner, meanwhile, currently is executive producer for a new animated series, “The Alan Brady Show,” for Viacom-owned TV Land cable network.

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