Tuesday, March 03, 2015

All hail THE BOB NEWHART SHOW

It never got Emmy recognition. In the Golden Age of TV Comedy in the ‘70s, it was always considered second tier behind ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and MASH. And I could never see why. I loved THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. And still do.

Dave Davis & Lorenzo Music created the show, but the real creative voice belonged to showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was centered on a married couple played by Bob Newhart and the radiant Suzanne Pleshette. Somewhat unique for TV sitcom marriages, they had no children nor did they want them. There’s a story that heading into the final season the Charles Brothers took over as showrunners and told their star they planned on having Emily (his wife) get pregnant. Newhart nodded and said, “Great. Who’s going to play Bob?”
The series balanced his home life with his work – as a psychologist. His patients were a collection of hilariously neurotic eccentrics. Who will ever forget Mr. Carlin?

The show was produced by MTM Enterprise, the same comedy factory that produced THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Mary’s show was always the crown gem of the company, and the Newhart producers did something very smart – instead of trying to emulate THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW style they veered off in their own direction.

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW quite simply, was nuttier. There was a goofy whimsy, a higher degree of absurdity to Bob’s show. And it fit perfectly with Bob’s personality. NO ONE has better comic timing than Bob Newhart, and the show allowed him ample opportunity to react in his signature deadpan delivery to all the utter craziness around him.

As great as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was, for my money THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was funnier. And for that reason it holds up better for me. It’s less polished than it’s “big sister” and those wide lapels are ridiculous (what were we thinking fashionwise in the ‘70s? Jesus!), but it still makes me laugh out loud.

The stories were also more subversive than MTM’s. If THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW’S classic episode dealt with the death of a co-worker (written by David Lloyd), the most memorable episode of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was when he, his co-worker, and neighbor got together for Thanksgiving, get hammered, and Bob ordered Chinese food (written by Sy Rosen). Moo Goo Gai Pan.  If you remember that episode it's because you laughed your ass off. 

I never got to write for THE BOB NEWHART SHOW but always wanted to. I still watch it on MeTV. You can keep the Emmys. Give me the laughs.

55 comments:

Scott Cason said...

You can keep the Emmys. Give me the laughs.
Ken, stop what you are doing and change your will to have that put on your headstone. That's a great line!

sC

unkystan said...

Moo Goo Goo Goo: Chinese baby baby food.

Jim S said...

My favorite "Bob Newhart Show" gag was the one where he was treating a black man with anger issues. From the session we find out the guy isn't evil or anything, but has a legitimate issue. He also has his dog, who was white and named Whitey.

As the patient comes out of the office, the dog starts barking. Jerry the Orthodontist was standing by the secreatary's desk and the patient says in a very stern voice "sit whitey." Jerry sits so fast my head is still spinning.

Very funny.

Doug said...

Funny, as soon as you started on how nutty the show could be; "Moo Goo Gai Pan" popped into my head.

Oat Willie said...

The black-tie Mensa dinner: "Will the man in the suit move.."

Pizzagod said...

What a loving dissection of one of the best shows ever.

I always enjoyed Newhart-but compared to the Bob Newhart show? Not even close. Mr. Carlin, Carol, and of course the ever delightful Mr. Peterson (the archetype for all wimps ever-surely modeled after Mr. Postman on Fibber McGee and Molly....)

But for my money-as great as Howard was as the neighbor, the best and I mean the BEST was....The Peeper!

I never fully appreciated Tom Poston until seeing him just own that role. Sure, he was great as the handyman in the later series, but as the Peeper? That's comedy gold!

Jeannie said...

The comment about Bill Daily (as Howard the neighbor) reminded me of when I was a promo director at a TV station in Boston. We ran "The Bob Newhart Show" and held a contest -- a riff on the drinking game by having viewers count the "Hi, Bobs!" uttered by Emily, Jerry, etc in each show for a week. We sent the winner to L.A. for a set visit on "Newhart," which was still shooting at the time, and she said he was great.

VincentS said...

Ditto, Ken. I also liked t he fact that (I think) every episode featured Bob talking on the phone, channeling his brilliant original act. I might also be the first and only sitcom structured around some one who is essentially a straight man.

Stuart Best said...

When I was a kid, about 8 years old, I begged my parents to put me in therapy because Bob Newhart made it look so fun. Between him and Woody Allen, it was the pop-culture thing to do. Well, my parents did end up getting me a therapist, then the therapist wanted the whole family involved. I can't remember if I stirred up any s**t. But whatever. I bragged to my classmates that I had a therapist, thinking it made me cool and intellectual. I can't imagine how those kids and my teachers must remember me.

Pete Sutcliffe said...

Friday Question here:

The way The Good Wife is scheduled every season drives me batty. For instance, this year it disappeared for about 6 weeks between November and January. A pretty long Christmas break, but I get it, writers and staff need extra time to recharge. Then it came back -- but only for TWO episodes before taking ANOTHER 6 weeks off.

This has given me ample time to forget about the show and I'm not so inclined to put in the effort to watch anymore. I've forgotten half the things that happened last year. All this makes a case for not even airing shows until the entire production is finished, if producers really need such long breaks mid-season.

Just wondering your thoughts. Why do networks risk losing their viewers with such haphazard scheduling? Don't they care about their product and want to work toward keeping the audience hooked?

Mike Barer said...

Like the writers of Seinfeld, they were able to highlight Bob's comedic strengths.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

His routine "Sir Walter Raleigh Explains Tobacco" helped this 12 year-old appreciate comedy and stay away from the ciggies.

Ken said...

You said nuttier: and right away I think of my favorite episode: "The King of Snee;" that crazy card game!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Pete Sutcliffe: I think part of the reason was the amount of conflicting stuff happening on Sundays in February - Oscars, Golden Globes, football...and I guess they felt a four-month break would have been pushing it.

I think Newhart holds up so well compared to a lot of other 1970s shows because of something that was a weakness at the time: it *didn't* engage with the politics of the day. The MTM show was not political in the ALL IN THE FAMILY was, but it was the first to allow its single female professional woman to have sex - and that in itself was a political statement for the time, as was her career trajectory and her focus on that rather than finding a husband particularly. I was startled to realize on a rewatch of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW how much of the time Rose Marie's character was either regretting not having, looking for, or being pitied for not having a husband. All I saw as a child was that she had a cool job with really interesting people.

wg

Anonymous said...

Watch MTM and Bob Newhart today.
The Newhart characters are less caricatures, the writing is funnier, and the absurdist nature of the show still holds up better than MTM which looks too formulaic.
It is hard to see why, looking back today, Bob Newhart is not the superior show.
Ken is right - forget the Emmys.
Also Newhart, the supporting cast and the occasional characters are all great -including Tom Poston, Henry Winkler, Chuck McCann, John Ritter- but the most underrated and least appreciated character in TV comedy has to be Suzanne Pleshette.
Her timing with Newhart was pitch perfect - and their on screen husband and wife relationship was every bit the equal of Lucy and Ricky or Rob and Laura.

benson said...

I am also a big Bob Newhart show fan, and I second what everyone here is saying.

If you listen to his comedy albums, one thing that jumps out at me, in the Abe Lincoln's pr guy routine, is even more true today that it was in 1960.

But both BNS and Newhart are under appreciated classic. Nice to see Newhart on Antenna every night. Can't wait for seasons 7- 8 to cycle through and Kathy Kinney as Miss Goddard, the horny librarian.

Johnny Walker said...

I'm still waiting to get around to watching THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. I started on MARY TYLER MOORE, but I didn't get very far -- as I understand it, it gets better as it continues, but I've never actively hated the set design of a show before. I find myself disliking every scene in Mary's apartment -- I hope it changes in season two.

It's a shame that neither shows are available on Netflix, and that the DVD boxsets are so pricey, but I'll eventually watch them all.

McAlvie said...

And now I'm feeling very nostalgic for TBNS. Someone up thread mentioned that they especially enjoyed it because it had characters, not caricatures. I think that's very true. So many shows today fail because they try to outdo each other in silliness, leaving the viewer with no character they feel sympathetic to. The best sitcoms, if you look back, always have at least one anchor character, usually the lead, around whom everything happens. That character represents the audience' perspective. And, as I said, that's sorely lacking these days. With TBNS, Bob and Emily were both anchors, and the hilarity came as much from their reactions as it did the nuttiness of the other characters, with Newhart's absolutely brilliant deadpan timing driving the laughs to even greater heights. I don't know if a talent like that even exists today.

blinky said...

I bet Bob's neighbor, Howard, is the inspiration for Seinfeld's Kramer.

Dixon Steele said...

No, Blinky, it's this guy...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Kramer

Jason said...

"You can keep the Emmys. Give me the laughs."

You get both!

Richard J. Marcej said...

"More goo to go!"

Bob: I love coffee.
Dr. Jerry Robinson: I love tea.
Elliot Carlin: I love the Java Jive and it loves me.

Warden Gordon Borden said...

Season 6, Episode 4:
Bob out on a window ledge, dressed as Zorro (for a costume party), talking down a suicidal man. He succeeds, and the man climbs back into the window. Bob, following the man, stops, looks down at the crowd below, and strikes a heroic pose.

Rich said...

Great blogpost. The key to Newhart's success, methinks, is his generosity. Like the Jack Benny radio show, the success of The Bob Newhart Show was Bob's generous 'giving focus' to a succession of really funny people. I don't get the impression he was one of those comics who got the script and counted his lines to make sure he had more than anybody else. Like Benny, he reacted to his patients and whoever came through the door.

Anonymous said...

I can't stop watching Bob Newhart shows. He was a natural. I will never be dog DONE watching this show. I hope one day I get a DEAL on the old shows on DVD.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Despite the ever increasing nuttiness of the story lines, I think the thing loved best about the show was the gentleness of Bob's approach to life. Comedy is usually aggressive, but Bob, like Jack Benny, brought a gentle sweetness to the loony bin

Powerhouse Salter said...

For me, the biggest laugh comes in the episode when Howard tries to impress a woman by having himself paged at the airport. The voice over the loudspeaker says something like "Howard Borden, report to Control. We have a problem and only YOU can help."

Diane D. said...

Another hilarious Howard moment--he comes into Bob and Emily's apartment, sees a couple people leaning on the wall, immediately thinks the wall is falling and rushes over to help hold it up. As the main scene continues, different characters (as an aside) try to tell him the wall isn't falling. It's written so Howard can misinterpret it each time and continue to try to hold the wall up (all by himself at this point). Finally Bob says, "Howard, the wall is not falling!" Howard says, "No thanks to you!"

thomas tucker said...

I LOVED Suzanne Pleshette and thought she was the hottest woman ever. My favorite episode was the one when Bob had to get up early in the morning and do a morning talk show on local TV. He is energetic and greeets the 4AM morning by pulling back the drapes looking out over CHicago and saying ( I am paraphrasing from memory): "There it is Emily. It may be a sleeping giant now, but soon it will awaken to become the crossraods of America." Emily's repsonse with perfect timing: "Can it, Bob."

CarolMR said...

"Emily's repsonse with perfect timing: 'Can it, Bob.'"

Suzanne Pleshette was an incredible talent. She and Bob Newhart had crazy chemistry. And I loved the poems she wrote and then read on Johnny Carson's show.

Oat Willie said...

The silky tone of voice she had while explaining to a guest that the couch was fine for sleeping on: "ISN'T it, Bob."

Ficta said...

TBNS followed the MTM show when it was first broadcast. It was only years later that I realized that the MTM credits end with Mary throwing her hat in the air in an excess of high spirits. The opening image of the Bob Newhart Show credits is Bob, holding his hat on tightly against the Chicago wind.

John Hammes said...

Bob Newhart had the following influence on the show, not as famous as the "no children" storyline, but very important and speaking volumes on the man...

The original concept for the series actually had Bob Hartley's occupation as that of psychiatrist.

Newhart had the writers change that occupation on day one from psychiatrist to psychologist.
He did NOT want the series - or himself for that matter - to make fun of those in serious mental, physical, or emotional trouble.

Class act.

Hi, Bob!

Kathleen said...

That show is on my Top 10 Favorite Sitcom List for all of the reasons cited by Ken and commenters here. I grew up on Jack Benny, Bob and Ray and Bob Newhart (among other comedians).

Ross Brown said...

Biggest laugh I ever had - Bob had an angry black man as a patient. The man had a huge Great Dane. He and the dog get into the elevator with Jerry the Dentist, the man barks, "Sit, Whitey!" Jerry immediately sits in the elevator.

BW said...

Yes. Best show ever.

Canda said...

Rich said...
Great blogpost. The key to Newhart's success, methinks, is his generosity. Like the Jack Benny radio show, the success of The Bob Newhart Show was Bob's generous 'giving focus' to a succession of really funny people. I don't get the impression he was one of those comics who got the script and counted his lines...

Nor was Jack Benny. Both comedians got their laughs by reacting to the insults of others, or simply being able with their "look" at someone to convey all that they were thinking...and us, as well.

Pat Reeder said...

I loved TBNS, too, and still watch the reruns. One of my biggest disappointments was that last year, I finally had tickets to see Bob live. I bought seats up front, six months in advance. Then on show day, we had an ice storm, and the tickets were refunded. Now, I have tickets to see him in July in a theater right across the highway from my house. I will make it to that show even if I have to walk there through a rain of fire, which is entirely possible in Texas in July.

BTW, there's a good 2-CD compilation of Newhart's stand-up bits, for anyone who isn't familiar with what originally made him famous.

I second the love for Suzanne Pleshette. One of my favorite lines was hers, delivered in her best sexy/naughty delivery. Bob lectures her, "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." Emily purrs, "I'd rather curse."

RCP said...

Also a big fan of Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette.

Johnny Walker said...

I started on MARY TYLER MOORE, but I didn't get very far -- as I understand it, it gets better as it continues, but I've never actively hated the set design of a show before. I find myself disliking every scene in Mary's apartment -- I hope it changes in season two.

It's subjective, of course, but how can you hate that great funky apartment! I much preferred it to her second, 'grown-up' place. At any rate, you'll have to wait until the fourth or fifth season before Mary moves. I think many fans would agree that the show improved after the first season and continued to do so - though a certain number (myself included) prefer the 'Rhoda years' overall. Hopefully you'll get hooked at some point, because it really is one of the all-time great shows.

Anonymous said...

I will never understand the appeal of Bob Newhart. No matter the situation, he was always the dullest, least funny person in the room. I guess that's why Ken feels such a connection to the man.

norm said...

3:49 am and ANNY. comes up with that!

Bob wasn't the point, his reaction to the others was the point, u, ur... Nimrod!

Ken K. in NJ said...

And of course there was the very last "Bob Newhart Show" scene, which was of course, the final scene of his other sitcom, "Newhart". Never watched Newhart much, but that was the Best Final Scene Ever.

kent said...

More Goo.

Tim Dunleavy said...

Pat Reeder said...
One of my biggest disappointments was that last year, I finally had tickets to see Bob live. I bought seats up front, six months in advance. Then on show day, we had an ice storm, and the tickets were refunded. Now, I have tickets to see him in July in a theater right across the highway from my house. I will make it to that show even if I have to walk there through a rain of fire, which is entirely possible in Texas in July.

Interesting that you mention this - I had a ticket to see Newhart last August, but the show was postponed because the Emmys were that night, and he was nominated and didn't want to miss the show. Can't blame him, although the rescheduled show is this May, on a day of the week that's much less convenient for me. But hey, it's is only two months away now. And since he's touring much less these days, I'll see him any chance I can.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the last episode of TBNS was pretty awful. Spending too much time with a character we had never seen before and the OKLAHOMA gag just didn't come off. Weak last season of a great show.

diane D. said...

It was a great show, and Bob could say more with the expression on his face than anyone. In one show a hotel room has been reserved for somebody, but then it isn't needed. Bob and Emily are there after all others have left. They don't have luggage or anything. You all know how men are about hotel rooms, and shy, conservative Bob manages to convey with facial expressions that he and Emily could stay in the room. When Emily pulls a sexy nighty out of her purse, Bob manages to convey (again with facial expression only) that his knees are about to buckle.

mmryan314 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cadavra said...

I loved the last episode. Bobby Ramsen as the landlord? "Hartley, was this carpet ever one color?" Comedy platinum.

But I think my favorite was the one where he goes on a one-on-one talk show and gets shredded by the host (a plot previously used on the Van Dyke show). Best gag was when the other guest, a nun, inquired afterwards if he'd like to go 50/50 on a hit man.

Barry Traylor said...

I have loved the comedy of Bob Newhart ever since I first heard him. I bought The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart when I was in high school and played that record so many times I wore it out. I especially liked track 2."The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish"

sunday said...

I adore Bob Newhart, and loved both of his programmes, I definitely prefer the classic. I just love it, it's honestly a crime that it was never officially recognised, but even now (especially now) with all the rubbish on television and the recycled jokes, I'd rather just watch Bob Newhart.

CarolMR said...

Bob Newhart was a guest on Dean Martin's variety show. I'll never forget the skit where Dean was supposed to be the straight man to Bob. It was in a department store and Bob played a customer who wanted to return an item and Dean played the salesman. Dean was obviously (at least to me) tipsy and couldn't stop laughing throughout. When he asked Bob what he wanted in exchange for his returned item, Bob turned to the audience and said, "I'd like a straight man who didn't laugh." Dean doubled over in laughter and Bob asked him, "And you worked with Jerry?"

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Ger Apeldoorn said...

I liked the Betty White Show, too.

Sami said...

I watch it on MeTV, too. (And Dvd.)

JayEll3 said...

I've been rewatching the Bob Newhart Show - my all time favorite show! I am looking for the episode with Howard's Landing Gear poem. We quoted it in all our birthday cards for years. Does anyone know which episode this is in???