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The Roundabout TV Career of Jerry Van Dyke

January 8, 2018

Actor Jerry Van Dyke, an affable fixture on sitcoms from the ‘60s to the present, passed away this weekend at the age of 86. Here are some of the quirkiest moments from his long career.

Jerry Van Dyke

The Jerry Van Dyke Show

Just like his older brother, Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Van Dyke found work on TV as a young actor. Unlike Dick, however, it took Jerry some time to find his niche…and to learn how to make better decisions. Dick became a TV legend in the early ‘60s for The Dick Van Dyke Show, where Jerry Van Dyke often guest-starred. However, the first TV role in the family overall went to Jerry. In 1954, both brothers auditioned to host a variety show on a local station in Terra Haute, Indiana. Jerry got the gig over Dick, and The Jerry Van Dyke Show was born.

The Judy Garland Show

Van Dyke hit Hollywood a few years later and landed small roles on dramatic and anthology series. He got his big break when he was cast as co-star to Judy Garland on CBS’s comedy/variety The Judy Garland Show in 1963. While Garland was a beloved star and her variety specials had been successful, the show didn’t take off. Halfway through the show’s first (and ultimately only) season, the show was revamped—most of the comedy sketches were dropped…and so was Van Dyke.

Gilligan’s Island

However, Van Dyke made an impression with CBS because around the same time he was fired from The Judy Garland Show, producers of a new sitcom set on a deserted island offered him the lead role. He turned it down, however, and so Gilligan’s Island starred Bob Denver instead.

My Mother the Car

Think Gilligan’s Island was a silly show? It wasn’t any sillier than the 1965 show Van Dyke signed up for. Often cited as one of the worst TV shows of all time, Van Dyke starred in My Mother the Car, which was about a guy who drove a car haunted by the disapproving voice of his dead mother (played by Ann Sothern).

Accidental Family

After My Mother the Car was swiftly canceled, Van Dyke starred in the short-lived 1967-68 comedy Accidental Family. He played a single-father/touring entertainer who raised a precocious son when he wasn’t out on the road. (It had almost the exact same premise as Danny Thomas’s long-running hit Make Room for Daddy.) The show was canceled midway through the season.

The Andy Griffith Show

A few months after the cancelation of Accidental Family, Van Dyke received yet another big break: the chance to replace the departing Don Knotts on The Andy Griffith Show. Van Dyke said no.

Coach

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s Van Dyke found work with bit parts in movies and on TV shows, but primarily worked as a touring standup comedian. In 1989, Van Dyke landed the role for which he’d become best known: bumbling sad-sack defensive coordinator Luther Van Dam on the college football comedy Coach. Van Dyke received four Emmy nominations for his trouble.

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