An en­dur­ing love

The cult of telly’s most nepo­tis­tic show, Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der, re­volved around the Van Dyke boys, writes Steve Kil­gal­lon.

Sunday News - - FEATURE -

Barry Van Dyke is well aware that some 16 years af­ter its long run came to an end, his old de­tec­tive show Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der is still rolling out the re­peats some­where in the world – the roy­alty cheques tell him so.

‘‘It’s the show that won’t die,’’ says Van Dyke. ‘‘It keeps pop­ping up all over the place.’’

Surely that means a river of cash flood­ing into his Los An­ge­les home. ‘‘I get a stack of cheques,’’ he agrees af­fa­bly. ‘‘I think ‘oh good, some money from the show’. It will be for four dol­lars and sixty seven cents. It all adds up. But some of them are pretty funny so I hang them on the fridge: there’s one for 18 cents.’’

He also still hears from fans of the show. For those who were stu­dents in late 90s Bri­tain, Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der resided in the ro­ta­tion of re­peats that oc­cu­pied the so­porific, post-lunch, edi­tion of Neigh­bours sweet spot.

The Bri­tish stu­dent cult sta­tus isn’t news to Van Dyke – he’s al­ways had a lot of UK fan mail. Like Has­sel­hoff, they were also, he says, big in Ger­many. His old co-star and old man, Dick van Dyke, once said they were the show for old peo­ple and Se­in­feld was for the young­sters. Based on his post­bag, Barry isn’t so sure: he thinks they had a much wider pull than that.

‘‘It’s nice the ap­peal has lasted,’’ he says, of the news that Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der is once again hav­ing the re­sus­ci­ta­tion pad­dles at­tached to its corpse. ‘‘It’s kind of like com­fort food. It’s not of­fen­sive, it’s pretty gen­tle.’’

As well as be­ing con­vivial lunch-set­tling en­ter­tain­ment, Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der was per­haps the most nepo­tis­tic show in tele­vi­sion his­tory – its whole shtick was that a real fa­ther and son played a crime-fight­ing fa­ther and son team, but over time it ex­panded to in­clude no less than eight Van Dyke fam­ily mem­bers, many of those af­ter Barry got a shot in the writ­ing-di­rect­ing chair. At first, he doubts that stat, then he does a quick tot up – him­self, his dad, his un­cle, his sis­ter, all four of his kids – and is forced to agree, that yes, it was eight. ‘‘I never even counted be­fore,’’ he says.

Dick played twinkly-eyed, ec­cen­tric but re­mark­ably-good-atcrime-solv­ing ED doc­tor Mark Sloan. Barry played his lux­u­ri­ously-haired but sober de­tec­tive son Steve.

Mark Sloan was a char­ac­ter Dick orig­i­nally con­ceived for a show called Jake and the Fat Man, but when the stu­dio wanted him to ex­pand it, he was re­luc­tant.

Barry coun­selled him to take it, and then he too was of­fered a part as the sen­si­ble side­kick son. ‘‘It showed his ver­sa­til­ity as a dra­matic ac­tor,’’ he ar­gues. ‘‘We had some good dra­matic episodes. We got into sit­u­a­tions – I got in­jured in al­most ev­ery episode and we came close to los­ing me a few times; my sis­ter got into dire straits... we worked on some real nice dra­matic stuff.’’

Dick said no, and Barry didn’t turn pro un­til he was 19. ‘‘Wisely, he told me to en­joy my child­hood and when you get old enough, we will talk about it. I amglad it worked out that way – you see so many child ac­tors and it hasn’t worked out for them.’’

His own kids, as it turned out, didn’t be­come ac­tors. Shane and Carey did some act­ing, then be­gan writ­ing film scripts for a small in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion house whose cred­its in­clude the bizarre hor­ror com­edy Shark­nado. Wes be­came an artist and Taryn be­came a kinder­garten teacher.

It would not be mean to say Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der was a ca­reer high point for Barry. Be­fore that, he had guest spots on shows like The Love Boat and TJ Hooker; Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der, with its spinoff va­ri­etals, pro­vided some 16 years of work, on and off. Now at 64, he says ‘‘he’s not real ag­gres­sive’’ about chas­ing the work. He is, how­ever, try­ing to co­pro­duce a film with his dad, who is 91 years old, to make two in­de­pen­dent low-bud­get movies.

If he ever wants to re­mem­ber, he can. The Hall­mark Chan­nel in the US shows five episodes a day, ev­ery day of Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der. ‘‘Some­times I like to tune in and try [to] guess what year it was [from]. We did close to 180 episodes – some I re­mem­ber, some I don’t re­mem­ber at all.’’

Where’s it show­ing on this side of the world, he wants to know? I ex­plain that New Zealand has a fairly ob­scure ca­ble chan­nel which traf­fics solely in the nos­tal­gia in­dus­try and will be adding Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der to a ros­ter of the Dukes of Haz­zard and so forth. He’s quite pleased at the thought. ‘‘I look for­ward to that $2 cheque to put on my fridge.’’ ● Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der, Jones!, Thurs­days, 8.35pm.

The best crime fight­ing duo in day­time tele­vi­sion: Steve and Mark Sloan, aka the Van Dyke boys.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.