#143: It’s Brother-in-Lawhood Week

143.1  Remember National Brotherhood Week? It was a nice idea, back in the day…one that unfortunately never caught on. Today, people are at each other’s throats like there’s no tomorrow. This is hardly a catastrophe…more like business as usual…it’s been that way in every place and at every time since the dawn of human history…sad but true. Still, that’s not quite our focus today…

143.2  Dear Stolf:  A constant source of mirth and merriment on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” is the fact that producer Mel Cooley got his job because he was Alan Brady’s brother-in-law. Do you know if they ever specified which way that happened…did Mel marry Alan’s sister, or did Alan marry Mel’s sister?  …from Pommeroy Pommerantz, Danville IN

143.3  Dear Pom Pom:  I have good news and bad news…the good news is: yes, I do know which way they had it. The bad news is: they had it both ways.

mel and al

143.4  And that’s not particularly surprising…virtually all TV series, whether they run for 10 episodes or 10 seasons, tend to generate contradictory information…the longer they’re on, the more the inconsistencies pile up. There is a typically long list for the “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which ran 5 seasons…Rob’s father has 2 different first names…Laura has 2 different maiden names…Alan hired Rob based on his work at either a radio station or a TV station, etc., etc. The industry feels no great urgency to make such details consistent, show to show, season to season…the theory has always been that people just don’t pay that close attention.

143.5  A quick check of the net found a site that said in one episode Alan was married to Mel’s sister…and in 2 other episodes, it was the other way around. Could it be more than that? Affirmative. Over the past several months I have watched all 158 episodes and my count stands at Mel married Alan’s sister = 5…Alan married Mel’s sister = 3…and of course in many more episodes, they are said to be simply brothers-in-law, without specifying which way. For the record, citing episodes as A-B where A is the season, and B is the cumulative number of the episode 1-158…

Mel married a Brady…1-14, 1-18, 1-27, 2-49, 3-70
Alan married a Cooley…2-37, 5-145, 5-152

143.6  Thus there is no “right” answer…the writers would have it one way or the other depending on the gag. My favorite example is 5-152, when the writing staff accidentally gives Alan a script with negative comments in it. Mel agrees to help them retrieve it from Alan’s home, but they are reluctant to be burglars. Mel says they wouldn’t be: “It’s my sister’s house, and I’m welcome there anytime Alan’s not home” …which is actually a pretty funny line, sez me. But you see, it had to be that way for the joke to work

143.7  On another occasion, Rob’s Uncle George is in town looking for a wife. Mel says the only unmarried older woman he knows is his mother-in-law, that is, Alan Brady’s mother. Buddy runs it down: “Grab her, Rob! Your boss’s mother will be your aunt…Alan’ll be your cousin…and Mel’ll be your…yuck! Forget it!” We sum up the possibilities in Chart 499…you’ll notice that Alan Brady’s wife has 2 different names…because in 1-17 she’s Barb, in 5-152 she’s Margaret. She is never seen, nor is Mel’s wife, who is never named…it’s always “Mrs. Cooley” or “my wife.”

chart 499

143.8  In fact, the closest we get to seeing Mel’s wife is 2-54, when Rob is enlisting the gang’s help for the opening of an old army buddy’s resort. He says they can bring their wives…and Buddy does, but Mel comes stag.

143.9   For completeness’ sake, I’ve included the double or nuthin‘ possibility, Chart 499C…2 sisters marrying 2 “brothers-in-law.” Some people would consider Mel and Alan brothers-in-law in such a case…I would not. Interestingly, Mel himself does…in 3-63, the famous “babies switched at the hospital” episode…Mel’s wife is out of town…her sister is having a baby…and Mel calls his wife’s sister’s husband his brother-in-law…the brother-in-law that Rob mentions Buddy calls “Godzilla.” In fact, Mel comments on how lucky they are to have a beautiful new niece, given how ugly the parents are…maybe they got the wrong baby…and the episode is off to the races! This sort of suggests Mel’s wife is not Alan’s sister, since his sister-in-law would be Alan’s sister too…presumably they don’t think Alan is ugly, nor Mel’s wife…but this is such a slim clue, I don’t include it in the “count” in 143.5.

143.10  And finally, Chart 499D…why couldn’t both have happened…Mel married Alan’s sister and and Alan married Mel’s sister? Unusual, not impossible. The further back you trace genealogies, the more you’ll find siblings from one family marrying siblings from another…seems like it’s mostly brothers to sisters, but sometimes mixed pairs. This happened because people weren’t nearly as mobile as they are today…so you picked your mate from those around you…and especially within your ethnicity…Alan is obviously Jewish…Mel less so, but it’s sometimes implied.

143.11  Still, the tone of each brother-in-law comment to me suggests one or the other, not both. Like in 1-14…”How do you get to be a producer? He married the star’s sister!” What would be the point of adding “…and the star married his!” That would strike me as being more odd than humorous. But let’s roll up our sleeves and play the Fan Logic Game…if it is one or the other, which is it more likely to be?

143.12  Well, the whole point of this brother-in-law arrangement is that Alan wouldn’t have hired Mel if there hadn’t been that familial connection. Who, thru prolonged nagging and wheedling, would have been more likely to get Alan to do what he didn’t want to do: his wife or his sister?* Obviously, both could have, but with his wife it would have been a constant harangue, day in and day out, and with his mother-in-law chiming in as well: “Hire my poor son!” Whom does Alan have a bigger stake in keeping happy, his wife & mother-in-law, or his sister and her mother, who’s also his mother? I suspect he would have had a better chance in resisting “Hire my husband” from his sister, than “Hire my brother” from his wife, so there’s my answer…Alan married a Cooley. But it does work the other way too…I’m just sayin’…

* BTW…it isn’t because Mel is incompetent…he’s a perfectly good producer and has the patience of an iron saint in dealing with the mercurial Alan. It’s because Alan simply doesn’t like him…in 5-145 Mel reveals: “He didn’t invite me to my own sister’s wedding!”

143.13  The 2 different kinds of brothers-in-law? Are there more than one? Yup, and I don’t just mean rich or poor…and we go there next week…RSVP…

wicked ballsy


In theory, an old TV show was filmed to be seen once…well, twice if rerun in the spring or summer. If a series ran enough seasons, it could be packaged for syndication and seen many more times. But when watching an episode, it still went by just once…those “did I really see that?” moments had to wait for the next time, and even then you had to be quick, and you were left with no real proof. Several decades ago that changed with video tapes…and today with computers, you can not only freeze the frame but capture the image for all the world to see. Not that the world was clamoring for Rose Marie’s cleavage, but it takes all kinds, no?



Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


2 thoughts on “#143: It’s Brother-in-Lawhood Week

  1. Don’t know if you are checking back for comments or not but really enjoyed your theories. The Dick Van Dyke Show was always a family favorite back in the day when tv shows were watched together at a family. I always remember Mel as Alan’s BIL but never knew which way the pendulum leaned. This past year while recouping from surgery I binged watched all 158 episodes. Only planned on watching a few but it is amazing the humor in these old sitcoms you pick up on as an adult as opposed to a 7-12 yr. old. In the earlier episodes Mel married a Brady but the only reference I remember to Alan marrying a Cooley was when they were trying to retrieve a script (now I am going to have to go back & view the other 3 episodes which ref. Alan married a Cooley). I brushed it off as storyline driven since nothing was mentioned in Season 4, viewers forget or they had new viewers who were unfamiliar with the genealogy. Thinking back maybe it was to give the viewers something to think about, which certainly worked. Your nagging theory crossed my mind as well. We know Alan was a womanizer and Mel did not seem to care Alan was cheating on his sister. I can imagine Margaret being fed up and Mel begging her not to leave him. The other side of the coin I can see Mel being totally henpecked and getting anything she wanted by reminding Mel is she leaves so does his job. Bottom line. Loved your blog

    • Thanx Delilah! It was a ton of fun watching every episode, noting all the relationships, then trying to fit them into a TDVDS world view. Sometimes its simply not possible, like Jerry Helper is one time called Gerald and another time called Jerome. But fun to try. I’d like to do others…like Real McCoys, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and especially the Beverly Hillibillies…there are several crossover episodes with Petticoat Junction where Jethro’s mother Pearl Bodine is somehow related to Kate Bradley…sort of an inside joke since they’re played by the same actress. I talk about that somewhere else on my blog…hopefully indexed by Google!

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