The show's production company was called Calvada Productions. The name came from the names of all of the key persons involved in production: Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Dick Van Dyke and Danny Thomas. In one program, co-producer, Leonard played a character called "Big Max Calvada".
CBS cancelled the show after one season, then renewed it. When the show finally did go off the air, it was because the cast and producers wanted to quit while they were still proud of it. In addition, Carl Reiner said at the very beginning that the show would not run for more than five years.
The show's pilot was created by Carl Reiner and was highly autobiographical. CBS executives decided that the main character was too Jewish, too intellectual and too New York and cast Dick Van Dyke instead of Reiner.
For the first few years of the show, Alan Brady's face was never shown but his voice was heard, because Carl Reiner wanted to get a big star to play Alan. Reiner eventually decided to take on the role himself as the egotistical star.
The first episode filmed without a live audience was The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Bad Old Days which aired on 4 April 1962. It used speeded-up filmed inserts during Rob's dream of a 1920s lifestyle, which made shooting in front of an audience impractical.
A small controversy occurred because of Mary Tyler Moore wearing Capri pants on the show. Up until the show's premiere most housewives were seen in dresses, but Moore's explanation was that most of the housewives she knew wore pants. Because of Moore, Capri pants became a huge fashion craze in the early 1960s.
In the 1959 television pilot "Head of the Family" which eventually became the basis for the show, Carl Reiner played the Rob Petrie, Barbara Britton played Laura Petrie, and Sylvia Miles played Sally Rogers.
The series originally was to focus on Rob at the office with Sally Rogers as the lead female character and Laura as a minor one. The character of Laura became so popular that Mary Tyler Moore became the lead female character and more of the focus of the show shifted to the relationship between Rob and Laura. Many times situations at the office were still focused on Rob and Laura. This put a strain on the relationship between Rose Marie and Mary Tyler Moore, and while the two ladies got along well, they never became close friends.
In the series' penultimate episode (a "best of" show), Rob writes his autobiography and shows it to everyone. At the end of the episode Alan decides to buy the rights to the manuscript and turn it into a TV series with him as the star after he finishes the variety series.
Laura usually wore Capri pants on the show. The network was against this at first, and said that she had to be in a skirt for a certain number of scenes per episode. To fight this, they filmed a scene where Laura walked into the kitchen in Capri pants and came out a second later in a skirt. The network finally relented.
Dick Van Dyke initially objected to having Mary Tyler Moore on the series, because he felt that she was too young to convincingly play his wife. He changed his mind once their remarkable onscreen chemistry became apparent.
Reportedly Mary Tyler Moore told the producers she was older than she really was in order to get the role of Laura. This fact was later incorporated in the episode in which Rob and Laura have to get remarried because Laura had lied about her age, telling Rob she was 19 when she really was only 17.
Although "My Blonde-Haired Brunette" (when Laura dyes her hair blonde) was the ninth episode filmed during the first season, it was the second episode to be aired. Carl Reiner was so impressed with Mary Tyler Moore's rapid development that he wanted to showcase her in an episode as soon as possible.
Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore played a married couple so convincingly on the show that many viewers actually thought they were married in real life. They did in fact become very close - "like brother and sister", as Van Dyke said - and both admit they had crushes on each other while the show was in production. They have remained close friends ever since.
Another episode filmed without a live audience was The Dick Van Dyke Show: Happy Birthday and Too Many More. In the middle of rehearsals, the cast and crew got the news that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The cast then decided to go ahead and film the episode, but without a studio audience present. The feeling was that no one would be in the mood to laugh at such a somber time.
Carl Reiner would often ask cast and crew members about funny things that had happened to them, then he would write whole episodes about these occurrences. As a result, many of the episodes over the course of the show's five-year run were based on actual events.
When CBS canceled the show after one season, Sheldon Leonard traveled to Procter & Gamble's main headquarters in Cincinnati to make a personal plea for sponsorship, hoping it would sway CBS toward renewal. Procter & Gamble agreed to sponsor half a season. Eventually, Lorillard Tobacco Company, makers of Kent Cigarettes, agreed to pick up the other half, and the show was picked up by CBS for a second season. Ironically, when the show went off the air on its own five years later, CBS was doing the pleading for the show to continue.
Dick Van Dyke took a big chance agreeing to do this show because in order to do it, he had to leave the Broadway hit show "Bye Bye Birdie" for which he won a Tony Award. If the show was not a hit, he would been out of work.
The task of casting Laura proved to be the most difficult. About 60 actresses auditioned for the role before Mary Tyler Moore was chosen. She almost didn't go to the audition, but was persuaded by her agent.
Dick Van Dyke was granted a one-week leave from "Bye Bye Birdie" to film the show's pilot episode. During his absence, understudy Charles Nelson Reilly filled in. When Van Dyke left "Bye Bye Birdie" for good in April of 1961, he was succeeded by the future host of The Match Game, Gene Rayburn. Van Dyke was so nervous about filming the pilot that he developed a cold sore on his upper lip, requiring additional makeup to cover it up, and he admits he cannot recall President John F. Kennedy being inaugurated on the same day the pilot was filmed.
The writers' office where Rob works is a recreation of the writers' bullpen from Your Show of Shows, where Carl Reiner worked as a writer. The character Rob is based on Reiner and the character Buddy Sorrell is based on then-television comedy writer Mel Brooks. The character of Alan Brady was based on Sid Caesar.
According to Morey Amsterdam, the show was scheduled to return for the 1966-1967 season and was going to be seen in color for the first time. However, the plan was scrapped when Dick Van Dyke decided he had enough. This contradicts Carl Reiner, who is on record as saying the decision to end the series was his alone. In any event, Reiner made it clear that he would not be returning as producer after the fifth season, and the consensus opinion was that it would have been impossible to do the show without him.
During filming for the weeks that the makers of Kent cigarettes sponsored the show, free cartons of Kent cigarettes were handed out by the company to the cast and crew. Mary Tyler Moore, then a heavy smoker but since quit, would take her cartons and the ones of non-smoking crew members and trade them in at a local store for cartons of her preferred brand.