Some Things Never Change

I’m in the midst of writing my fourth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, which is based, of course, on the TV series that starred Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan. There were a lot of creative choices made on the show, for the convenience of production, that I’ve carried over into the books (like Mark Sloan and his adult son Steve living together in the same house). I’ve wondered just how much I should begin deviating from the show to accomodate the broader opportunities of a novel.

I’m not fooling myself… most people who are buying my DM book are doing it because they loved the show and want to repeat the experience…not because they are looking for a clever whodunit. The books will always be seen as TV tie-ins, no matter how well-reviewed they might be in their own right. But how much can I tinker with the characters, format and situations without alienating that core audience? And how much should I in order to keep the series fresh and engaging for the readers?

I don’t have answer… but my gut tells me to take the NERO WOLFE approach. Over the decades that Rex Stout wrote the books, virtually nothing changed in the lives of the characters… except, every now and then, he’d shock you with an unexpected situation (Wolfe has left the country!) or revelation (Wolfe has a daughter! A trusted operative is a killer!). But things would always return to the status quo… Wolfe and Archie back in the brownstone, solving crimes.

Maybe I should have Steve move out of Mark’s house… and then move right back in.

12 thoughts on “Some Things Never Change”

  1. Maybe you could have Mark move to New Rochelle and…oh, never mind. Heh…
    I’m curious to read your thoughts on the recent “Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited” special that you hinted at below. I have my own thoughts on what happened to my favorite TV show of all time…

  2. You know what must be done: Steve moves from Mark’s house to the Big House. A prison riot breaks out and…well…hijinks ensue. You could call it Diagnosis Murder #4: The Squealing Partner.

  3. Bob,
    I love Dick, and I loved the Dick Van Dyke Show, but I thought the reunion wasn’t very good… especially if you hold up the “new” scenes with the “classic” clips…of course the reunion could only pale by comparison. Standing on it’s own, the reunion simply wasn’t funny… the story was paper-thin… and the characters never felt like “Rob” and “Laura” for one moment. There was never any true poignancy or depth (half the show was done in phone calls, not exactly the best device for conveying humor or drama). Showing Laura dancing, and Rob doing computer animation of himself, felt like self-conscious nods to the actors, letting them show off their hobbies, not true character moments with any relevance to the story. For me, the only thing more depressing than this reunion was Mary Tyler Moore’s ill-considered “Mary & Rhoda” TV movie. Sometimes, it’s best to leave the past where it belongs… in the past.

  4. I agree that the recent Dick Van Dyke Show reunion was disappointing. It didn’t feel like Rob and Laura to me either. It mainly made me wonder all the more, how come this show isn’t in reruns somewhere — Nick at Nite or Comedy. Or is it and I don’t know it? This is also my favorite show of all time and I’d love to have every single episode.

  5. Tod,
    That would create a TOTALLY different kind of novel…heh.
    The Dick Van Dyke Show is on TV Land every morning, I believe.
    I have to agree. It was rather pitiful. It was good seeing Larry Mathews and the old set again, but then they drop him after 5 minutes. And we’re to believe that Rob quit The Alan Brady Show in the late 60s, and hasn’t spoken to Alan in all that time? Right. And I also didn’t buy the whole “Rob and Laura move to Manhattan” thing. I mean, the whole show was about them being the sophisticated suburbanites, and now they’re in NYC running a dance studio and playing with computers? Eh. (Don’t even get me started on giving Jerry Van Dyke such a large role this time when he was only in a few episodes…guess they needed more cast members).
    Ann Guilbert was great though. She captured the old Millie’s hyperactivity.

  6. Uh-oh, Jim likes to live dangerously.
    Bob, thanks for the tip on Dick Van Dyke TV Land. I checked and it is indeed on.
    Sorry I can’t say anything helpful about whether and how to deviate from the show, Diagnosis: Murder. I never watched the show, despite liking Dick Van Dyke. However, now I’m all interested and will have to check out one of your books.

  7. I think Stout had it right: don’t change what excists, except in the context of a single book. Wasn’t there one story when a bomb blew apart Wolfe’s greenhouse, and they had to rebuild? By the end of the book, things were back to normal.
    And Stout introduced changes, as you mentioned, by giving Wolfe a daughter, and sending him back to Montenegro. I could even accept the major change in “Family Affair” since the series was near the end of its run anyway.

  8. Bill,
    I’m not sure Stout knew FAMILY AFFAIR would be the last book…so it was a pretty daring plot twist. I suspect if Stout hadn’t dropped dead after writing it, there would have been more Nero Wolfe novels. I wonder if the twist would have emboldened him to make more changes…
    If you look at Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books, he hasn’t been afraid to have some startling revelations and big “format” changes along the way. I think that’s what has kept the series going. By the same token, the unchanging Spenser novels have become pretty dull.

  9. As a fan of the show and the two books so far…I’m really not sure what to tell you. 🙂 I actually liked the close relationship Steve and Mark had. But, as you’ve said at signings, I can see your need to change things somewhat. I would certainly say don’t do it all at once. Make small changes over the course of several books. Maybe have Steve talk about it in one book, find a place in the next, and move out in the third? Or make it a two book arc. Same with any other major changes, although if you want to have Jesse propose, I’m all for that!
    For me, the big draw of the series was always the friendships of the four leads. Five if you include Jesse’s girlfriend (why can’t I remember her name anymore?) As long as you keep those relationships strong, I don’t see a huge problem.
    As to the Dick van Dyke show reunion, here’s my take. We watched Mary Richards and Mark Sloan pretend to be Rob and Laura. Of course, I’m a bigger fan of D:M and the MTM show then I ever was of this show, so that might have something to do with it.
    And don’t get me started on “Mary and Rhoda.” I really wanted to like it. But I absolutely hated it. Didn’t feel like the characters to me. Of course, the original show was is never the same for me after Rhoda leaves for New York.


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