images 10.20.57 AM

December 21, 2016: The Dick Van Dyke Show probably made television’s first good joke about race. In “That’s My Boy??,” which aired in September of 1963, Rob tells his guests the story, shown in flashback, of how he was certain that he had brought the wrong baby home from the hospital. He was finally proved wrong when he met the couple with whom he was sure he had switched babies—and saw that they were black. This got a huge laugh from the show’s live audience: the twist was clever, unforeseen, and a little bit audacious. This is not a bad blueprint, it seems to me, for how to “do race”—then a new frontier, subject-matter-wise—on network television: with equal parts smarts, surprise, and cheek. The White Shadow, which ran on CBS from 1978 to 1981, exhibited all three attributes constantly, and guess what? It’s the subject of my latest Best Forgotten column at The Awl.