An en­dur­ing love

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

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

Steve Kil­gal­lon.

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’s also still hear­ing from fans of the show. For those who were stu­dents in late 90s Bri­tain, Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der resided pleas­antly in the ro­ta­tion of re­peats that oc­cu­pied the so­porific, post-lunch, post-lunchtime 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, that it’s not dated,’’ 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 and there was al­ways hu­mour in­volved.’’ He thinks a bit fur­ther – the recipe also in­cluded good guest stars, some good mys­ter­ies and a good core cast.

As well as be­ing con­vivial lunch­set­tling 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-at-crime-solv­ing ED doc­tor Mark Sloan. Barry played

Mommy Dead and Dear­est, Thurs­day, 9.30pm, SoHo

Doc­u­men­tar­ian Erin Lee Carr ex­plores a crime in the age of so­cial me­dia. Things are not al­ways as they ap­pear, in the case of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose, and what starts out as a grisly tale of ma­t­ri­cide morphs into a rab­bit hole of de­cep­tion. Child abuse, men­tal ill­ness and for­bid­den love con­verge in this mys­tery of a mother and daugh­ter who were thought to be liv­ing a fairy tale life that turned out to be a liv­ing night­mare. ‘‘Will duly keep any viewer with an am­bu­lance-chas­ing bone in their body some­what guiltily riv­eted to the tube,’’ wrote Va­ri­ety’s Den­nis Har­vey.

Pride and Prej­u­dice, Mon­day, 7.30pm, Vibe

Twenty-two years af­ter it first gripped his lux­u­ri­ously-haired but sober de­tec­tive son Steve. Mark worked out who­dunit, Steve did the pa­per­work. ‘‘Per­son­al­ity wise – if he was a doc­tor and I was a homi­cide de­tec­tive, then yeah, we were pretty much play­ing our­selves,’’ Barry says. ‘‘Our re­la­tion­ship was pretty much what it was in real life, and it be­came so com­fort­able act­ing with him, it was so easy. It was nat­u­ral, and sim­ple.’’

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, Mark had to re­live some things from his past... we worked on some real nice dra­matic stuff.’’

Dick said no, and Barry didn’t turn au­di­ences around the world, this Jen­nifer Ehle and Colin Firth-star­ring six-part ver­sion of Jane Austen’s clas­sic tale is back. ‘‘A splen­did adap­ta­tion, with a re­mark­ably faith­ful and sen­si­tively 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 am glad 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 a suc­cess­ful 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 spin-off va­ri­etals, pro­vided some 16 years of work, on and off. Never, how­ever, was it re­li­able. ‘‘It was al­ways touch and go. We would do eight episodes, pick up an­other eight, and we would fin­ish a sea­son not know­ing if we would come back for an­other sea­son... but it had a steady, nu­anced script,’’ wrote The New York Times’ John O’Con­nor.

Halt and Catch Fire, Wed­nes­day, 9.30pm, SoHo

The fourth and fi­nal sea­son of this 1980s-set pe­riod drama will see the cast of char­ac­ters nav­i­gat­ing the early days of the in­ter­net and web browsers, pon­der­ing their des­tinies both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, while the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the tech world con­tin­ues to com­pli­cate their re­la­tion­ships. ‘‘An ur­gent story of re­hu­man­i­sa­tion for a cold, wired cul­ture. Plug in now,’’ wrote En­ter­tain­ment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen.

Nym­pho­ma­niac, Fri­day, 8.30pm, Rialto

Dan­ish direc­tor Lars Von Trier di­rects this very loyal au­di­ence..’’ Now at 64, he says ‘‘he’s not real ag­gres­sive’’ about chas­ing the work. He is, how­ever, try­ing to co-pro­duce 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.’’

Jones!, Thurs­days, 8.35pm.

Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der, four-hour, two-vol­ume drama about a woman who re­counts her erotic ex­pe­ri­ences to a man who saves her af­ter a beat­ing. Char­lotte Gains­bourg and Stel­lan Skars­gard star. ‘‘Seems cal­cu­lated to shock, but what’s most dis­qui­et­ing is how funny, ten­der, thought­ful, and truth­ful it is,’’ wrote the Bos­ton Globe’ sTy Burr.

So­phie’s Choice, Satur­day, 8.40pm, Ma¯ ori TV

Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star in this Os­car-win­ning 1982 drama about an as­pir­ing writer who dis­cov­ers his new neigh­bours are har­bour­ing some deep se­crets. ‘‘A fine, ab­sorb­ing, won­der­fully acted, heart­break­ing movie,’’ wrote Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert. - James Croot

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

Barry and Dick Van Dyke and the cast of Di­ag­no­sis Mur­der.

The doc­u­men­tary Mommy Dead and Dear­est ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship of a mother and daugh­ter.

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