The Bob Newhart Show

Probably my personal favorite sitcom of the seventies. It would not be rated as the best by many people or critics…I just like Newhart’s dry sense of humor. Bob Newhart also was in a sitcom in the 80’s called “Newhart”  that was set in Vermont that sometimes people confuse with this show.

This show was set in Chicago with Bob playing psychologist Bob Hartley. He lived with his wife Emily Hartley in an apartment complex. He worked in an office building with a receptionist named Carol and an Orthodontist name Jerry. There is also a neighbor named Howard Borden…who sometimes can be just a little too out there (or dumb) but he is more like Bob and Emily’s child at times.

The show ran from 1972 – 1978 with 142 episodes. It was never a Nielson Rating giant despite following the Mary Tyler Moore Show but it was in the top 20 in it’s first few years.

A college drinking game originated from this show. Every time you heard “Hi Bob” you would consume alcohol…sounds like a better time than Yahtzee.

The show’s plot takes place usually in three different places. Bob at home with Emily, Bob with his patients, and Bob with Carol and Jerry. Elliot Carlin was a patient of Bob’s and the most pessimistic character I ever saw on a sitcom. He thought the worse of people and himself and often would puncture Bob’s optimism.

This show was part of CBS’s Super Saturday night lineup that featured All In The Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and then The Carol Burnett Show. All of those shows are remembered today.

It is a smartly written sitcom…the two episodes I would recommend is “Motel” in season 2 episode 2 and the classic episode “Over the River and through the Woods” season 4 episode 11.

If you like a dry sense of humor this show is for you. Some trivia about the show, the bedspread, and sheets in Bob and Emily’s bedroom were designed by Suzanne Pleshette. She designed bedding for JP Stevens Utica brand.

The cast was

Bob Newhart – Bob Hartley

Suzanne Pleshette – Emily Hartley

Bill Daily – Howard Borden

Marcia Wallace – Carol Kester

Peter Bonerz – Jerry Robinson

Jack Riley – Elliot Carlin

Below is a great description of the show

The Bob Newhart Show might be the driest American sitcom to ever attain anything like major success. While the show was buoyed by running after The Mary Tyler Moore Show for much of its run, making it more of a beneficiary of a good time slot than a breakout hit, in some ways, Bob Newhart has aged even better than that series. Mary Tyler Moore was more historically important, but the center of the show is the uneasy tension arising from the increased entry of women into the workplace in the ’60s and ’70s, which gives the series a certain quaintness in 2014. Bob Newhart—produced by MTM Enterprises, the studio behind Mary Tyler Moore—is about the perils of trying to lead a mentally sound and fulfilling life in the morass of modern society. It’s a subject that will never go out of fashion—even if the series’ ’70s trappings and outfits seem occasionally ridiculous.

The Bob Newhart Show has gotten even more modern in tone with the passage of time, an unusual trick for a TV show. The complete series, collected on DVD for the first time by Shout Factory recently, centers on the home and work lives of Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart), a Chicago psychologist whose life is rigidly defined by dealing with his patients—both individually and in the group therapy sessions that became a famous source of jokes for the show. The personalities at his office—orthodontist Jerry (Peter Bonerz) and their receptionist, Carol (Marcia Wallace)—are rarely the draw for the show, but they’re perfectly fine as foils both for Bob and his patients.

It’s on the other side of the series that the show crackles to life. When Bob goes home, he arrives to his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), and the relationship between the two is the thing about the show that most feels like something no network executive would ever greenlight today. The two are deeply in love, and reading between the lines of their dialogue also reveals they’re having lots of sex. But the show codes their conversation as their sex, taking a tip from the great screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s. There’s nothing they love so much as ribbing each other with jokes that would be acidic in lesser hands but feel affectionate coming from the mouths of Newhart and Pleshette. What’s more, the two don’t have children and rarely discuss having them. This was because Newhart didn’t want the show to turn into one where he played off of cute kids, but it played as quietly revolutionary at the time and even more so now. The Hartleys are eternally childless, finding their fulfillment in their professional lives and each other, building a marriage that’s more about finding a solid partner to navigate life with than anything else.

The Bob Newhart Show is also notable for breaking down into three rough eras of two seasons each. Where many other sitcoms of this era (the best ever for American sitcoms) were shepherded by a handful of the same producers from start to finish, Bob Newhart began life as a sort of drier, chillier riff on Mary Tyler Moore, under the tutelage of Lorenzo Music and David Davis. This version of the show, its weakest but still an enjoyable one, ran for the first two years, before spending the next two seasons with Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses working first as head writers, then as showrunners. Tarses’ darkly misanthropic streak and lack of love for the sitcom form blended well with a show about psychoanalysis, and the series became one of the darker sitcoms in TV history. By its fifth (and best) season, it was practically death-obsessed, with frequent riffs on suicide and serious psychological conditions. Yet these final two seasons (which gave some of the best TV writers in history their big break) also up an absurdist quality that was already in the show to quantities that hadn’t been seen in the sitcom since the heyday of Green Acres.

That absurdism also taught future writers who would work on shows starring Newhart a valuable lesson: Newhart, in and of himself, is not the driver of the story. He is, instead, the reactor, the modern man trapped in an absurd system and forced to remark quietly on how bizarre it is. Despite being deliberately low-concept, The Bob Newhart Show is one of the weirdest sitcoms in history, especially as it goes on. Even the characters who seem to be the most traditional sitcom types, like Bill Daily’s Howard Borden, go beyond what they initially seem to be (in Howard’s case, a generic dumb guy) and take on a specificity that other shows would avoid. Howard, for instance, is a navigator for an airline, who has terrible luck in love and a tendency to spiral blame for things he’s done wrong outward at others. What seemed like a generic riff on Mary’s Ted Baxter early in the show’s run becomes something else entirely—not a buffoon but, rather, a man limited by his own perceptions.

All of this reaches its apex in the show’s best character, Jack Riley’s Elliot Carlin, one of Bob’s patients and an almost perfect foil for Dr. Hartley, his dark, dour demeanor acting like a funhouse-mirror version of his therapist. The scenes between the two can feel like minimalist one-act plays at times, with Newhart and Riley bouncing off of each other in barely varying monotones that take on the vibe of complex business negotiations disguised as therapy sessions. In Carlin and Hartley, the show found two very similar men who looked at the dehumanizing state of American society of the ’70s and chose wildly different reactions. Hartley, an optimist, chose to believe people could improve themselves; Carlin, a pessimist, was pretty sure they never would. The genius of The Bob Newhart Show was how it knew Carlin was right but admired Bob Hartley for trying anyway.




bob and phone.jpg

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

25 thoughts on “The Bob Newhart Show”

  1. I loved The Bob Newhart Show- the original- it seems to me that the 60’s and 70’s were the days of the great sitcoms- the writing was great- compared to today [or the last 20-30 years} today whereas television drama it has totally changed- the past 20 years have had shows that blow away the dramas of the past- there was nothing like The Wire-The Sopranos- Breaking Bad- Game Of Thrones etc years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know the writing was consistent and good in the hey day of sitcoms. I can’t explain why though. You should have experienced comedians because of the comedy clubs of today but the writing is not there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems to me that today from what i see its go for the cheap laugh -that requires little creativity. Very little sophistication.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not old fashion or I would not like The Wire or other things but many of the jokes center around sex…and obvious ones. Newhart and others would hint and not go for the obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes same here- its just the cheap sex joke that has been told a million times already- in the sitcoms today. No originality.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The episode I mentioned “Motel” Bob gets stuck in a motel room with a call girl…and he gets out of it without saying something obvious…mostly talking about Emily…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. The show that always sticks out to me in recent years is the one with Charlie Sheen- Two and A Half Men- it would be in repeats around 5pm or so and I watched some of them- if you saw one episode you saw the entire series. Seinfeld was smart and funny- it has also been off the air now 20 years. I am sure there are probably some good sitcoms on now but I am not much of a current television watcher.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Everyone Loves Raymond had a feel of an old sitcom…it was more of a family show. Seinfield was smart…lol some of the most self centered characters I’ve ever seen.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. At times Seinfeld could be annoying to me- I think it was an excellent show but a little over rated- greatest sitcom of all time? No – Top 10 though.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh no not greatest at all. Smart writing… I will give them credit on that…but you don’t have sympathy for any of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I always thought the key character in Seinfeld wasn’t Kramer who everyone seemed to love- he was kind of a one trick pony- but George.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. We went down to see the Pirates play the Reds a few years ago in Cincinnati- and Charlie was there- he’s a Reds fan for some reason. It was like a leader of a foreign country was at the game. Yes good in Major League and Platoon. His dad was great in Apocalypse Now.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was just searching youtube for interviews with Pleshette and Bill Daily. My favorite sitcom of the seventies….You have great timing…
      I’ll jump over and read it. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. See, I always assumed this show was one of the ones that won a bunch of Emmys. It was a very sharp and funny show that I just assumed with the talent involved in front of and behind the camera had like 30 Emmys under its belt. Another great one that’s terribly underrated is Ted Danson’s second sitcom hit Becker which is as if Eliot Carlin was the central character of his own series lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is underrated and I STILL have a crush on Suzanne Pleshette as I did as a kid.
      It was never got high ratings and that I don’t understand…the same with Barney Miller.

      I’ve never seen Becker…I’ll have to watch a few episodes.


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