Debuting in 1972 and running for six seasons, the sitcom starred the inimitable Bob Newhart as Robert Hartley, a psychologist in the Windy City — Chicago. (Younger generations may know the comedian best for his portrayal as Papa Elf in the movie Elf.)
Right from the get-go, the show made waves with its unique comedic style. Bob Newhart’s dry, subtle humor, matched with his character’s sometimes bizarre clientele, was a breath of fresh air in the sitcom world.
The show also gave audiences a glimpse into Robert’s personal life, introducing us to his schoolteacher wife Emily, played by the charming Suzanne Pleshette, and their eccentric yet endearing neighbor, Howard Borden, a perpetually confused airline navigator portrayed by Bill Daily. Both of these characters, with their own unique quirks and personalities, added depth and complexity to the show’s humor.
Bob Newhart’s interaction with his colleagues was another highlight of the series. His best friend, Jerry Robinson, played by Peter Bonerz, was an orthodontist who shared an office suite with Hartley. Their receptionist, Carol Kester, played by Marcia Wallace, was another unforgettable character who brought her own touch of humor to the show.
What made “The Bob Newhart Show” special wasn’t just its clever writing and stellar cast. It was its ability to derive humor from mundane, everyday situations and turn them into comedic gold.
The show was also among the first to delve into the world of psychology, giving audiences an unprecedented look into the world of therapy, albeit through a comedic lens.
With its combination of witty writing, memorable characters, and a pioneering premise, “The Bob Newhart Show” remains a beloved part of television history, offering a nostalgic trip back to a time when comedy was more than just about slapstick and laugh tracks.
In short, “The Bob Newhart Show” was, and remains, a paragon of sitcom television. It broke the mold of the typical sitcom structure, and used dry wit and subtlety to create a show that was both funny and relatable. So, let’s raise a glass to Bob Newhart and his amazing cast of characters — they truly gave us a sitcom that was, and is, a class apart.
The Bob Newhart show theme song & opening credits
“The Bob Newhart Show” — Special to The Miami News (1974)
From The Miami News (Miami, Florida) November 9, 1974
Is “The Bob Newhart Show” getting funnier in its third season, or are fans just becoming used to the underplayed Newhart brand of comedy?
The humor comes easier this fall, characters display an added sharpness and appear to be taking more potshots at psychologist Hartley (Newhart) to provoke that pained expression. The psychologist’s sister Ellen (Pat Finley) started the ball rolling in September, moving in with Hartley’s neighbor, Howard Borden (Bill Daily), the divorced airline’s navigator.
The open-minded psychologist winced at Sister’s disregard for convention he couldn’t help it. His sister settling in with Howard across the hall was too close for comfort. Ellen will be hovering throughout the year to apply needles when needed.
Fellow medics and two group therapy classes keep the pace up and down at Bob’s Chicago office. In the beginning, medical problems were bypassed, since no one wanted to poke fun at the truly sick. This roadblock has been rather skillfully avoided by Hartley group therapy sessions, composed of patients with minor troubles. Therapy shows worked so well, the psychologist conducts two units, one for the unemployed.
But Hartley patients must prove their mettle with fans. According to Newhart, all the characters were originally one-shot performances, including Jack Riley’s troubled Mr Carlin.
A smallish man, Carlin takes in every group meeting, and he improved to the extent of being bold enough to date tall Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), the secretary, wearing lifts on the big occasion. Naturally, Carlin blew it, taking Carol to a Japanese restaurant where he had to remove his shoes.
The shoe bit fits Bob Newhart’s feelings worried about the lack of action and the amount of chitchat going on. Too much time was being spent in the Hartley apartment with husband-wife discussions. “It looked like ‘Father Knows Best,'” Bob said. ‘I felt we needed more sight gags. Now the writers are looking for more spots like Carlin’s shoe bit.”
Newhart is careful only to suggest ideas like Mr Herd (Oliver Clark), who came into the office, and analyzed his problems, while psychologist Hartley just sat there and listened to the patient give his solutions. It was a nice commentary without the need for sight gags or a laugh track.
“I’ve always contended that laugh tracks kept comedy writing down a level,” the deadpan comedian noted. “To me, writing is the toughest job on a series. In comparison, I have a soft touch; so I only make suggestions. If I wrote a show and it flopped, I wouldn’t be able to criticize anymore.”
Newhart, however, is constantly filing away material in the back of his head for use in his nightclub act or on the show. Years of training and watching people’s foibles keep the brain humming, despite the fact the comic is now an established television star.
“It can’t turn it off,” Newhart said. “I would like a vacation, but I’m afraid would lose my touch. There was a time when I thought I had lost my sense of humor; I hadn’t written anything in months. I don’t want to go through that again.” Bob contends a comedian will never run out of material as long as there are people to observe.