In addition to inspiring a college drinking game that’s never gone out of style, The Bob Newhart Show gave one of America’s greatest stand-up comedians a perfect sitcom showcase.
This wasn’t Newhart’s first TV show (following the success of his comedy albums, he hosted a short-lived variety show in 1961-62), but it was the first to transfer his wry, inimitable wit to an effective alter ego, and as mild-mannered psychologist Bob Hartley, 43-year-old Newhart found a sublime character conduit for stone-faced sarcasm that was biting but never malicious.
Living in a Chicago high-rise with Emily, his wife of three years and a third-grade schoolteacher (played with underrated smartness by Suzanne Pleshette), 40-year-old Bob divides his time equally between happy (but not too happy) domesticity and time at the office, where he employs a feisty and frequently lovelorn receptionist Carol (Marcia Wallace, who later enjoyed a thriving career providing voices for The Simpsons and other animated shows) who also works for Jerry (Peter Bonerz, who became a respected TV director), a bachelor dentist and Bob’s best friend.
The first season (of six, on CBS until August 1978) offered the same high quality as The Mary Tyler Moore Show (also produced by Moore’s MTM Enterprises) and established many of the memorable characters who contributed to the show’s enduring greatness.
Bill Daily (late of I Dream of Jeannie) would thrive as the Hartley’s divorced neighbor Howard (his uninvited “Hi Bob!” intrusions inspired that infamous drinking game), while married neighbor Margaret (Patricia Smith) would disappear by season’s end.
Among Bob’s hilarious group-therapy patients, the miserable misanthrope Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley) was a comedic goldmine as the series progressed, but it’s Newhart’s own comic genius–including his perfected phone-call routines and deadpan reactions to everyday dilemmas–that remained the show’s greatest asset.
Character to watch: Bob Newhart as Bob Newhart.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the series.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?