Raise your hand if you remember The New Dick Van Dyke Show. OK, a few of you wily veterans. How about When Things Were Rotten? Anyone? Well, Dick Van Patten sure remembered them. The TV stalwart, who died Tuesday at 86, was in both 1970s series, and he tells the story in this outtake from PBS’ American Masters program Mel Brooks: Make A Noise. Van Patten relates how series creator-writer Carl Reiner cast him as the title star’s boss in New Dick Van Dyke, which aired for three seasons on CBS and co-starred a post-Ghost And Mrs. Muir Hope Lange. (“Most people don’t know about it because it wasn’t on that long,” Van Patten says.) That led to Reiner asking if he and his friends could use Van Patten’s tennis court for their weekly Sunday game. Little did he know that would mean Mel Brooks, Alan Alda and Gene Wilder.
One Sunday, Van Patten says, Brooks calls him over and offers him a role in a new series he created for ABC. Mind you, this was 1975 — with Brooks coming off two of the previous year’s biggest films: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. The project was When Things Were Rotten — a “very funny farce comedy” based on the legend Robin Hood. (Sound familiar, Men In Tights fans?) Van Patten was Friar Tuck to Dick Gauthier’s Robin. “I thought it would go on for years,” Van Patten says, “and it was canceled after 13 weeks.”