One thing I always liked about 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' when it came to pop cultural references was that it was probably the most literary of sitcoms. Mentions are made regarding many of the plays by Shakespeare, that most famous of sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, novels by Jack London, Hemingway, and . It's also very cinematic, especially when it comes to the great film classics from the 1940's. And since they're in the New York City area, there are plenty of Broadway mentions to boot.
But when it comes to possible Zonks about other TV shows, there are very few to worry about - mostly to 'Gunsmoke', 'The Defenders', 'The Untouchables', 'The Twilight Zone', and 'What's My Line?'. Easiest of all to de-Zonk would be the mention of Sebastian Cabot, which at the time referred to the series 'Checkmate', but which can be about almost anything now.
It's not so much that these Zonks would then require me to splain them away. What I hate is that they're writing crutches which could date a series so many decades later (as that 'Checkmate' reference shows.)
The reference to 'What's My Line?' (and another one mentioning the show's host, John Daly) is the easiest to splain away. The game shows we watch in the real world exist as well in Toobworld. And as we've seen in the past with shows like 'Jeopardy', 'Password', and 'Wheel Of Fortune', TV characters have appeared in the televersions of those shows.
I thought that the mention of 'The Twilight Zone' in "It May Look Like A Walnut" could be just taken at face value - Rob was having a nightmare about a horror sci-fi movie he saw about aline invaders from the planet Twilo. At one point he wonders if he's in "the Twilo zone". That didn't have to mean Rob knew about the Rod Serling TV show; it could have been just a straight-up reference to the situation in which he found himself.
But then in "Young Man With A Shoehorn", Sally mentions the show by name so there goes that opportunity.
Over the years, 'The Twilight Zone' has been cited in many different TV shows so there's no sense in trying to splain this reference away. We just have to accept that there's a televersion which may or may not feature the same stories at the show did here in the real world.
'Gunsmoke' and 'The Untouchables' can be looked upon as being in the same category - historical recreations. 'The Untouchables' really was based on the crime-fighting team led by Eliot Ness (very loosely, though) while 'Gunsmoke' would be the adaptation of the events in the life of "historical" lawman Matt Dillon. The main reason James Arness would have been hired to play the role is because he looked so much like the "real-life" marshal.
It's 'The Defenders' which might be harder to argue. It's because of a scene from that ground-breaking law drama which was presented in an episode of 'Mad Men' (with mention of EG Marshall by name and image), that I was willing to just toss 'Mad Men' out of Earth Prime-Time and into some alternate TV dimension, no matter how good the series is.
But once again, Sally brought up a real TV show: "This is like watching 'The Defenders' but without a TV set!" she said in one episode; and by calling Rob EG Marshall at one point. And there was no way I was going to toss 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' out in the cold as well.
So after years of trying to come up with ways of de-Zonking the mentions of other TV series by shows that should have been sharing the same dimension, I finally accepted a blanket splainin: while all TV shows from the real world are "real life" within Toobworld, some of them would see their real events adapted for TV within TV.
And that would have been the case for 'The Defenders'. Some enterprising TV producer within Toobworld saw the potential in the cases handled by the Prestons and decided to buy the rights to their story for a TV drama. And since EG Marshall was mentioned in both 'Mad Men' and 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', O'Bviously he was hired to play Lawrence Preston because of his - ahem! - remarkable resemblance to the lawyer.
You know what else would need to be de-Zonked? 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' itself. It's been mentioned in such shows as 'The Nanny', 'The Jackie Thomas Show', 'Pushing Daisies', and even 'The X-Files'.
(One type of show that we don't have to worry about in this case would be cartoon series, like the three times it was spoofed in 'Family Guy'. Shows like that take place in an alternate TV dimension called the Tooniverse and have no connection to the "real world" of Earth Prime-Time. The characters from that world can cross over into ours, however.)
The splainin I came up with is a case of art imitating life. In the last episode of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', "The Last Chapter", the rights to Rob's autobiography are sold to Alan Brady. His plan was to make a sitcom for himself once 'The Alan Brady Show' variety program was canceled. But it's my supposition that - like Carl Reiner before him - Alan Brady crafted a program that mirrored his own life, and the network rejected him for the role of Rob Petrie, even though there was probably nobody out there with more expertise in the back-stage world of entertainment to play the role.
Hoping to save the project, I think Alan Brady would have scrambled to find an actor to replace him in the role of Rob Petrie. And just like in the Trueniverse some five years before, he settled on the choice of Dick Van Dyke to play Petrie. Maybe Mary Tyler Moore was also hired to play Laura, or that could have stayed with Barbara Britton. (Although she was almost a decade older than Van Dyke and that would have altered some of the "true-life" events in the Petrie family - like Laura being only 17 when she married Rob.)
So this only-on-TV version of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', which began over six years after the original one aired in the real world, would be the show mentioned and watched by other TV characters. The faux 'Van Dyke' would be the one watched by 'Friends' Joey and Chandler from their leather comfy chairs, not the real show.
The people on this Toob-only 'Dick Van Dyke Show' and the people who inspired them would become famous, which is why Buddy and Sally would appear in 'Herman's Head' when Herman Brooks' id needed inspiration for witty repartee. And that's why FBI agent Mulder would use the names "Rob and Laura Petrie" as their alias while investigating the supernatural occurrences at a gated community.
When thought-killer Modell first saw FBI Assistant Director Skinner in the episode "Kitsunegari", he exclaimed, "It's Mel Cooley!" It could be that he knew of the actual Mel Cooley - maybe Mel stepped out from the shadows behind his brother-in-law. But it's more likely that he was more familiar with whomever was the actor who played Mel Cooley in the Toobworld version of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'.
And it inspired Jerry Harper to become a TV writer and work in sitcoms. (It's just a shame he wound up behind the scenes at the show-within-a-show " 'Jackie Thomas Show'.)