"The Bob Newhart Show" (1972-78, CBS) and "Newhart" (1982-90, CBS)
Newhart played psychologist Bob Hartley on "The Bob Newhart Show," then, after a brief hiatus from television, returned to CBS as inn-keeper Dick Loudon on "Newhart." The two shows share a link, since Loudon woke up in the series finale in the guise of Hartley, suggesting "Newhart" was all a dream.
Both shows were based on Newhart's sense of humor and timing, if not his comedy act.
"The first one was tailored to me, from what they knew of my stand-up work," Newhart said. "And for the second one, I had already established who I was and my personality."
Newhart was "very much involved" in the writing of the pilot episodes of both shows, but after that, he backed off and let the writers do their thing. He had good relationships with Lorenzo Music ("The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"), one of the creators of the first show, and Barry Kemp ("Taxi"), who helped launch the second show. Newhart came up with idea of an inn, while Kemp dreamed up the New England locale that gave "Newhart" much of its charm.
"I made the suggestion that maybe the locale should be this pocket Hilton in Seattle, but there were similarities between that and 'The Bob Newhart Show.' He said, 'How about an inn in Vermont?' I said, 'Great.' That gave us a lot more things to work with. The New England setting had witch hunts and town meetings and that kind of thing."
When asked which of his shows he likes the best, like many of his fans, he can't decide between the two hits.
"It's like asking which child do you love the most. There are great moments in both of them, two great casts and good writing."
... and misses
"Bob" (1992-93, CBS) and "George & Leo" (1997-98, CBS)
After the critical and popular success of "Newhart," it didn't take long before the comedian and CBS hooked up for another show. Newhart did two sitcoms on the network in the 1990s. Neither is as well-remembered as his two hits, although there are no doubt plenty of fans who would scoop them up if they were ever resurrected on DVD.
"Bob," which found Newhart as comic book writer Bob McKay, is interesting because, frankly, there aren't many shows about comic book writers. Of course, that was also part of the problem with getting people to watch it.
"(My character) created this comic book that is bought by a large corporation," Newhart said. "I was a purist and they were into whatever the latest thing was. Part of the reason it didn't work is I think it was hard to identify with as an occupation. I think that hurt us a bit. Older people didn't understand the new kind of comic book with all the mayhem. Younger people didn't understand the 'Dick Tracy' kind of comic book."
In "George & Leo," Newhart split the difference between his two previous shows. As George Stoody, he was back behind a counter in a New England setting, only this time he was selling books (not the comic variety, though). Judd Hirsch played Leo and Jason Bateman, now shining on "Arrested Development," played George's son.
Newhart explained the show's bizarre set-up: "Again, it was in New England, outside Boston. My son owned a restaurant, his fiancee's father (Hirsch) was wanted by the mob and was kind of hiding out on Cape Cod. It was just a clash of he and I."
Newhart contends the show was well-written, but he said the cast didn't have the depth that made his previous shows work.
"We never solved some of problems with the remainder of the cast. Every week we were trying something different to solve it."
-- John Hansen
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