Wednesday, October 03, 2018

I love THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (and Bob Newhart)

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 Bruce Kane). 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.

49 comments :

Anonymous said...

Ken,

I'm curious--what did you think of Newhart (the later show set in the Vermont inn)?
The best ending for any series ever.

As always, appreciate your great blog and podcast. Thank you.

Keith

E. Yarber said...

I agree with the "subversive" description of the show. Groundbreaking as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was, I found it a bit odd that people got excited over a late episode that suggested Mary had a date stay overnight at her apartment when BOB NEWHART had earlier gone much farther. In a second-season episode, Bob and Jerry were approached at a motel by two prostitutes, and while Bob managed to stay true to Emily, it was implied that Jerry paid for his evening with no qualms. Soon after came a story where Carol had a tattoo removed from her hind end with moments in which both Jerry and Howard openly admit their familiarity with the image (and the second half of the episode involves her subsequent affair with the doctor who performs the operation).

Unlike shows like SOAP or MARRIED WITH CHILDREN that called attention to their envelope-pushing, there never seemed to be a backlash to that sort of material on BOB NEWHART, possibly because it was done much more gently. The characters didn't seem to be demanding a response from the audience for sexual behavior, which was presented in passing without judgement.

Wm. Adams said...

A true classic during a golden age. Bill Daily had some of the best moments "Norman Borman, the Mormon Doorman." Coming in during a robbery and running over to help hold up the wall. Just superb writing and acting all around.

Chris G said...

Sometimes a lack of polish can be appealing. NBC aired a show called GREAT NEWS the last two seasons before unceremoniously cancelling it, but one of the things I enjoyed was how shaggy and ramshackle the whole enterprise seemed.

Anonymous said...

The greatest series ending episode EVER! I couldn't breathe I was yelling and laughing so hard.

Pam, St. Louis

Mel Agar said...

Along with MASH, I always think of my dad when I think of this show. He absolutely loved it. As a Chicagoan transplanted to downstate Illinois, he loved the Chicago opening and references. He was a huge Bob Newhart fan in general. So thanks for sharing this and letting me spend a little time thinking of Dad and the times I spent sitting beside him on the couch watching this show, laughing uproariously, and learning to love comedy at Dad's side.

blinky said...

You left out that the stars of the Bob Newhart Show reappeared in Newhart for the best series ending scene ever.
His 1960's LP The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart was also a gem.

Christopher Lowery said...

Agree

Astroboy said...

I can't tell you how many times a year the phrase "The King of Snee" pops into my head and I start laughing thinking about playing a rousing game of of 'Pai Tai' or 'Klopsky'!

John Parrish said...

Several years ago, was working on a marketing video for The Villages – the largest retirement community in the country, if not the world.

Had the treat of being backstage at a show put on in the community featuring Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin), Ronnie Schell (Duke Slater from Gomer Pyle), and Steve Landesberg (Barney Miller). Steve actually hung out with us in the green room for a bit.

After the show, our crew went over to a nearby Applebee's for a late night dinner. Suddenly, those three guys came walking in for a late night snack themselves and we hung out drinking and eating with all three of them for awhile. Talk about surreal. Hanging out with all these famous faces of guys I grew up with watching on TV.

Dan Reese said...

Love this show too! One of my all-time favorites. I loved “Mister Emily Hartley,” the episode where Bob went with Emily to the high IQ club banquet— featuring great cameos by Patchett and Tarses.

Mork said...

"Durr Bob Hartley" gets me every single time.

Pilot Joe said...

More Moo.

B. Alton said...

Mr. Carlin is one of the great TV supporting character creations of all time, Jack Riley playing him to deadpan perfection.

Don’t recall the episode where this exchange takes place in Bob’s office (if this isn’t the quote it’s pretty close):

Carlin: I think the woman I’m seeing is interested in another man.
Bob: Why is that Mr. Carlin?
Carlin: She married him.

Also unforgettable, Tom Patchett as David Robbins, the High IQ Club member (Mister Emily Hartley) who has a gift for talking backwards.

Lemuel said...

I loved Newhart's show when it was on, and recently was enjoying noon reruns on the "Decades" antenna channel until this week, when it mysteriously turned into a home shopping network.

Janet Ybarra said...

I loved both THE BOB NEWHART SHOW as well as the later NEWHART. (I'm ambivalent about the latter's final episode. At the time of the first run, it was hilarious. As the years have worn on the "dream" gimmick to my mind maybe cheapens some of the great work that not only Newhart do on that series but the other cast members as well, including Pleshette spouse Tom Poston.)

And the great thing about Newhart is even at his age, he is working.

He, of course, was a hilarious recurring guest star on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

But he is equally great in serious dramatic roles, such as his highly poignant turn as a retired medical examiner dealing with Alzheimer's on an episode of NCIS.

What a career started by a couple of comedy record albums.

Doug in Dallas said...

Antipasto: against pasto

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Curiously enough, I recently watched the pilot episode. It revolves around the fact that Bob and Emily are childless but not by choice, and they decide to adopt a child, they are visited by a social workers as a home study, and finally are told that although they've qualified it will be some years before a child is available for them, so they settle in to wait.

wg

TimWarp said...

More Goo to go.

McAlvie said...

I remember the show as being fairly polished, actually. Bob and Emily seemed upscale in comparison to the usual sitcoms, and I realize now that this might be why they were able to get away with things that other sitcoms couldn't. They seemed so respectable! So whatever happened, it must be okay! But they were also great anchor characters, making the zaniness of the rest of the cast and the wonderful revolving guest stars that much more entertaining.

And speaking of the guest stars, that parade of character actors is something that I miss seeing these days.

John E. Williams said...

I was a kid, and I had no idea what "moo goo gai pan" even was, but I did laugh my ass off and I never forgot that episode.

Donald Benson said...

Two favorite moments:
Howard, the goofy and slightly pathetic bachelor, is decorating his Christmas tree with the dentist's help. It goes something like this:
Howard: Don't put those too close to the floor. The dog'll eat them.
Dentist: You don't have a dog.
Howard: Someone might give me a puppy.
Beautifully delivered by Bill Daily.

The other was purely visual. Emily has the place done over with modern furniture. She is instantly and elegantly comfortable. Bob not only has trouble getting comfortable; he seems to have lost the ability to sit.

Fred Vogel said...

Suzanne Pleshette. Even her name was sexy.

Pizzagod said...

Mr. Carlin was great but so were the rest of the therapy group!

As far as the episode you mentioned-nobody knows what the hell I'm talking about when I'm at a Chinese restaurant and I mention "Moo-goo-goo-goo"....

Terence Towles Canote said...

I never could understand why The Bob Newhart Show got less recognition than The Mary Tyler Moore Show or All in the Family. As a kid it was my favourite of the three shows. As an adult it's still my favourite.

Mike Bloodworth said...

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW is still one of my all time favorite sitcoms for all the reasons you mentioned. And it ties in with yesterday's blog. Bob let everyone have their moment. One of the things that I loved best, give credit to the writers, is that all of Bob's patients, coworkers, neighbors, etc., has their own quiet dignity about them. No matter how wacky or bizarre the characters, pardon the cliche, you laughed with them and not at them. The problem today is that too many sitcoms have almost a mocking distain for their characters. Its almost as if the attitude is its O.K. to make fun of these people because they're idiots. Rather ironic in the age of hyper political correctness. Plus, as I've said before, a lot of sitcoms seem to have oddball characters just for the sake of strangeness. If I ever get my act together enough that I actually write a sitcom I would definitely use T.B.N.S. as a model and inspiration. (No offense, Ken.)
M.B.

tavm said...

I believe among the regular cast, Bob Newhart and Peter Bonerz are the only ones left now. R.I.P. Suzanne Pleshette, Marcia Wallace, and Bill Daily.

benson said...

Loved the Moo Goo Goo Goo scene. "Durrr Robert Hartley".

Bill Daily holding up the wall was classic. The bicentennial episode is also a favorite. Jack Riley has some great lines. And Bob and Emily stuck in the storage closet, the dialogue so very husband and wife real.

And Tom Poston as the Schlepper...er, Creeper, no, Peeper.

VP81955 said...

To make a Chicago reference, "The Bob Newhart Show" was the Harold Baines of sitcoms: Steady, dependable and invariably overlooked. (Though I know Chicagoan Bob is a fan of those North Siders, who are suddenly out of the postseason.)

B. Alton said...

Also loved Lucien Scott as the curmudgeonly Mr. Vickers. Why he wasn’t featured in more eps I will never know. Does anyone know anything about the actor? When last I checked IMDB The Bob Newhart Show was his only series credit.

Andy Rose said...

@Wendy M. Grossman: The children idea was more or less dropped before the show even started airing. But in those days even abandoned pilots (and pilots with radically different casting and characterization) were never completely abandoned, so CBS buried this one as the 9th aired episode.

benson said...

Two more things that come to mind.

If you have Dish Network, the Bob Newhart Show is on FETV (Ch 82) mornings at 8-9 am and Mary Tyler Moore is on at 1pm.

Also, regarding the comedy albums. What so highlights the genius of Bob Newhart even more; listen to the Abe Lincoln bit where Bob is his political handler. Everything in that bit is more timely today that it was in 1960.

Unknown said...

"Maybe I'm ordering Japanese Baby food..."

Unknown said...

To anyone in Ontario Canada- CH TV runs both of Bob's series in their early morning line up as well as I DREAM OF JEANNIE for all of (I am one) of Bill Daily's fans. Another series with almost everyone (save Barbara Eden herself) now gone and much missed.

bevo said...

Button Down Mind was the first comedy album I ever listened to. I loved it.

Bob Newhart Show was wonderful comedy that I really appreciated as I grew older.

Anonymous said...

@ Doug in Dallas:
Antipasto -against pasto
But provolone- for volone

Mibbitmaker said...

Of course, the Bob Newhart Show also had its death of a familiar character episode, "Death of a Fruitman", which is a classic in its own right. Trying to get their poem about Mr. Gianelli just right (starting when he was still alive) is a definite highlight. His death was also absurd like on MTM. And the Bob Newhart one aired one full month before "Chuckles Bites the Dust", in the same season as the all-time great Thanksgiving episode.

Anonymous said...

Moo Goo Goo Goo. My Mom and I laughed our fool heads off at this episode

Pat Reeder said...

I love this show and agree that it holds up much better than shows that got all the praise and Emmy love at the time (something it had in common with "The Odd Couple.") One of my biggest bucket list items was finally getting to see Bob Newhart do stand-up live here in Dallas a year or so ago.

Too many great moments to count, but a couple of my favorites that haven't been mentioned yet are Bob trying to get Mr. Carlin to open up to relationships and realizing that he's repeating the lyrics of "People who need people," but he just can't seem to stop. Then Jack Riley's perfect deadpan reply: "I see what you're saying, Doc. It's a feeling deep in your soul. Says you were half, now you're whole."

Also loved when Bob said, "It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness," and Suzanne Pleshette's wickedly sexy read on her reply: "I'd rather curse."

Just FYI, some comments on comedy from the master himself:
https://parade.com/598801/lindsaylowe/happy-birthday-bob-newhart-9-quotes-that-reveal-the-genius-of-his-comedy/

Buttermilk Sky said...

Bob Newhart was a close friend of Don Rickles. It would be hard to think of two more different performing styles.

His albums have hardly dated at all. Whenever a new outrage is added to flying (charging for checked bags or for using the toilet) I think of the Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company. ("You folks flying coach don't have any straps [for holding on, like a bus] so don't bother looking for them.") I have a terrible feeling it's coming.

Anonymous said...

in memory of Bill Daily
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2d3N0Exg-Bc

VP81955 said...

And anyone who knew Suzanne in real life would agree she'd rather curse. She and Carole are probably swapping ribald jokes in Hollywood heaven as we speak.

Daniel said...

I really liked "The Bob Newhart Show," but I liked "Newhart" even more.

Andrew said...

Here's a favorite Newhart gem, a 6 minute MadTV video, for anyone who hasn't seen it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw

Unknown said...

Hi Bob!

Nick said...

Bob Newhart trivia: Bob has expressed dissatisfaction with his first album, THE BUTTON-DOWN MIND OF BOB NEWHART, which came out in 1960. Why? The folks at Warner Bros. Records thought Bob spoke too slowly and too haltingly, so they edited the tapes of Bob's performances, tightening up some of the little pauses in his speech, so he would appear to be talking more rapidly. For that reason, Bob said whenever he hears that album, the rhythms of the routines are a little off for him because it sounds like he's talking too fast.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

Bob Newhart came to my town for a show a few years ago - it was fun to get to see him in person, but I personally was a little disappointed: the show started late due to some kind of an auction that was being held beforehand, and Newhart kind of ended the show early - but that was mainly because he was having a charity dinner afterwards with a lucky audience member who donated to the cause.

But one of the highlights of the evening was Newhart bantering with a heckler in the audience: when he began his famous Driving Instructor bit, a woman in the audience chastised him for being sexist by making it a woman driver. "Oh, I'm sorry," he lied, "it doesn't have to be a woman driver, it could be a Chinese driver!" He then proceeds to roll out with some stereotypical-sounding Chinese gibberish, which he then offered, "I can do that for eight minutes, if you'd prefer."

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest reactions Newhart got from the audience that night was when he mentioned he's Catholic, and asked if there were any other Catholics in the house - the house errupted.

Leilani’s Dad said...

Yeah some producers are real geniuses. Just ask Billy Joel: http://ultimateclassicrock.com/billy-joel-cold-spring-harbor/

Donald said...

Would you consider writing a spec "Bob Newhart Show" script as you did for "The Dick Van Dyke Show?"