Hi Bob! We’re Always Happy to See The Bob Newhart Show

From 1972-1978 we were able to benefit from the sage advice of Dr. Robert Hartley from the comfort of our own living rooms. Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music, and produced by MTM Enterprises, The Bob Newhart Show gifted us with 142 episodes for us treat ourselves to after the show left the air.

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In an online article by Marc Freeman in April of 2018, Dave Davis discussed the evolution of the sitcom. “Lorenzo and I wrote a segment for Bob on Love American Style. Bob wasn’t available. So, we got Sid Caesar. A few years later, we did a script for Bob for the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Again, Bob wasn’t available. After we became story editors on Mary’s show, MTM Enterprises decided to branch out and asked Lorenzo and me to do a pilot. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted a show with Bob.”

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When Bob Newhart was approached about starring in the show, he required two changes from the original concept. First, he wanted his character to be a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist. This seems like a minor request, but he was very wise because he did not want anyone to think the show was making fun of mental illness. He also insisted that his character not have children. The “father doesn’t know best but thinks he does” underlying concept was not one he wanted the show to focus on. Bob was careful when creating the character of Bob Hartley. Newhart once said “the key to building a show around a stand-up is maintaining the integrity of the persona you create.” This was definitely true for the Bob Newhart Show.

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The show has a very simple premise in that we see Bob dealing with the same everyday problems the rest of us did. It was grounded in reality. Bob was the straight man. He was surrounded by all these quirky characters, but they were believable and likeable.

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The show moves back and forth between Bob’s practice and his home; we get to know his co-workers and his friends and family. At work, he shares his floor and receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) with orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) and urologist Bernie Tupperman (Larry Gelman). Carol and Jerry become two of his best friends. We also get to know some of his regular patients including Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), Emile Peterson (John Fiedler), and Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus).

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Bob is married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) who is a school teacher. Across the hall is the apartment of their friend and neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily), an airline navigator. Although Bob insisted on no children, in many ways, Howard was Bob and Emily’s child.

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In season four of the show, Howard meets and begins dating Bob’s sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and they eventually marry, making Howard a legal family member.

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Bob and Emily were the only characters to appear in all 142 episodes. Suzanne Pleshette was asked to play Emily after she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson one night. She was seated next to Bob, and the producers thought the two of them had great chemistry. In real life Bob and Suzy, as he called her, were best friends. He spoke at her funeral. When he recalled their time together, he said “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace.

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They worked so well as a couple because Emily is very bright and funny. She and Bob argued because they were both a bit stubborn, but they always found a way to compromise at the end of the day. Bob often shared his wisdom through stories. He would do a bit of a monologue that related to what was happening on the show. It was referred to as the “Emily, sit down” moment.

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The phone is also important on the show. If you are familiar with Newhart’s career, you realize some of the first skits that escalated his stand-up career were phone conversations. On this show, we often hear a one-sided conversation when he chats with friends or patients. One example of this is:

Bob:  “Yes, this is Dr. Hartley. What can I do for you?

Well, Mr. Johnson, smiling and whistling while you work doesn’t seem to be a problem you should – you should see a psychologist about.

You drive a hearse?”

Although all the major characters on the show were like family to the Hartleys, the mailman on the show was truly family. Bill Quinn who played the postman was Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.

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Bonerz who played Jerry became interested in directing. He ended up directing 29 episodes of this show and then went on to a successful career as a director. He directed episodes on a variety of shows including E/R, Alf, Wings, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Home Improvement. His view of the importance of the show was that “the most interesting thing about the show and why its successful is that it brings up things that come up in your life. That’s what art’s supposed to do. That’s what TV should be doing. When it does, people remember it and reflect how much they like it.”

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The show was on Saturday nights. For the first five seasons, it followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show airing at 9:30 EDT and its competition on NBC was Saturday Night at the Movies. For season five, the show was changed to earlier in the evening against Starsky and Hutch on ABC. For its final year, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was off the air and Bob’s show aired at 8 pm Saturday opposite Fish and The Bionic Woman. The sitcom placed in the top 20 for the first three seasons and the top 30 for season four.

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Bob had requested the network move the show to a different night. That didn’t happen, and the television executives wanted Emily to have a baby, even though Bob had specified that not be part of the plot. So, he ended the show after six years. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.”

If you read my blog on Bob Newhart recently, you know how incensed I was that this show never won an Emmy, and was only nominated once, and Newhart never received an Emmy for any of his sitcoms in the seventies and eighties. It would take his recurring role on The Big Bang Theory as Professor Proton for him to win the Emmy.

However, the show was ranked ninth and fiftieth on “TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Times in 1997.”

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In 2004, TV Land picked this show as one of the series it commemorated with a sculpture. A statue of Newhart seated in a chair facing an empty couch is located in the Navy Pier entertainment complex.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of the finale of The Bob Newhart Show. Bob closes his practice in Chicago and accepts a teaching position at a small college in Oregon. I just don’t picture Bob and Emily being happy in a small Oregon town. However, the finale for Bob Newhart’s sitcom, Newhart, more than makes up for this ending.

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Bob Newhart credits his wife Ginnie with coming up with the idea for the finale of Newhart. Newhart is set in Vermont where Bob and his wife Joanna run a historic inn. They have to deal with some wacky locals and their maid and handy man. This show ran eight years. In the finale, Bob wakes up in bed. We hear him restless and wanting to talk about his dream. Suddenly we realize he and Emily Hartley are in bed together. Part of their conversation is:

Emily:  All right, Bob? What is it?

Bob: I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.

Emily: No more Japanese food before you go to bed.

Another great television moment occurred on Murphy Brown in 1994. Bonerz was the director of the sitcom. Of course, we remember how fast Murphy went through secretaries. She found fault with all of them. In this episode, Marcia Wallace appears as Carol Kester. She is Murphy’s 66th secretary. Murphy thinks Carol is a wonderful secretary, and she is finally satisfied. However, Bob Newhart shows up as Bob Hartley, begging Carol to come back to work for him.

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One of the iconic lines from the show was “Hi Bob.” Howard Borden said it 118 times, Jerry said it 43, Carol came in at 36, and Emily at 17. Even minor characters would utter the line from time to time, and Bob said it once himself. College students turned this into a drinking game watching the reruns, taking a shot whenever the line occurred.

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The best evidence that this was one of the best sitcoms ever produced is that people still love it today, more than four decades after it went off the air. The comedy is timeless. Let’s give Bob Newhart the final word about what the show meant to him. As he reflected the show’s legacy, he said, “I’m very proud of the show, the cast and the writing. Look at how long it’s lasted and how long people have enjoyed it. I run into people more and more who come up to me and say, ‘We used to sit as a family and watch your show.’ They look upon it as a wonderful time in their life. It’s very real to them and an important part of their life. It’s nice to be remembered that you made people laugh.”

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I Don’t Have a Free Toothbrush For You, But . . .

Are you feeling comfortable?  You might want to lean back, put on a pair of plastic glasses, and say Ahhh.  Sorry, I guess I’m getting carried away by our topic today.  March 6 is National Dentists Day.  I thought it might be fun to delve into some shows that featured dentists.  Apparently, the average viewer finds nothing funny about dentists.  They are hard to spot on the small screen.  Perhaps it brings back too many pain-filled memories of the sound of drills and mouths so numb you bite your lip without realizing it. Finding dentists on television was like pulling teeth – sorry I’m getting carried away again. Let’s look at a few of them.

When we think of television dentists, most of us probably conjure up pictures of Jerry Helper (played by Jerry Paris) on The Dick Van Dyke Show or Jerry Robinson (played by Peter Bonerz) on The Bob Newhart Show. These two shows can make anything funny, even dentists.

Jerry and Millie Helper are the Petries’ next-door neighbors and best friends on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Jerry is a dentist, and Millie is a stay-at-home mom with a son the same age as Richie, Rob and Laura’s son.  Jerry is a kidder and his comments often get him in trouble.

One episode, “Punch Thy Neighbor” from the first season, shows Jerry taking his teasing too far.  Jerry and Millie are watching the Alan Brady Show with Rob and Laura, and Jerry makes comments about how bad it is. Rob isn’t happy, but the next day he gets mad when several people, including the Helpers’ son Freddie and the milkman, tell Rob Jerry mentioned how bad the show was. Rob goes to talk to Jerry and ends up punching him accidentally. When he attempts to show Laura how it happened, he hit her as well. Richie tells Millie his dad hit his mom, and she sends Jerry over to get Rob under control.  Jerry walks in seeing Rob yelling, not knowing it’s because he tripped over a toy.  Trying to calm him down, Jerry wrestles him to the floor. Jerry realizes he was out of line with his joking.  You would think he learned his lesson, but at the end of the episode, Jerry starts again, and Rob hits him in the face with a pie. Like all the Dick Van Dyke episodes, this one is true to life, well written, and funny.

I’m sure it was also well directed, although not by Jerry Paris.  However, Paris kept nagging Reiner to let him direct.  Once he did a couple of shows, Reiner realized that “he understood our show more than any of the other directors.” In 1963-64, Paris won an Emmy for directing the show.  He directed 84 of the 158 episodes. After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, he went on to direct many shows including 2 episodes of The Partridge Family, 3 episodes of Love American Style, 3 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 7 episodes of The New Dick Van Dyke Show, 18 episodes of The Odd Couple, and 237 of the 255 episodes of Happy Days.

From 1972-1978, Jerry Robinson was Bob Hartley’s best friend on The Bob Newhart Show.  Bob realizes his friends and family are not any more emotionally stable than his patients; they just get his advice for free. Jerry is an orthodontist, and he shares a receptionist with Bob. When interviewed about his character, Bonerz said “Jerry Robinson was written by 25 guys. It was my job to make those 25 different versions of Jerry the dentist credible.” Robinson was a swinging single, slow to trust others, and easily angered. Yet, his character was likeable, and he credited that to a well-balanced cast who all made each other better.  They were like a close family; you don’t always approve of your family members, but you love them.  Bonerz’s theory was that Bob Newhart was the psychologist/listener of the family, and that role made everything else fall into place. If you needed a root canal, Dr. Helper might be more proficient, but you would enjoy the conversation during the procedure more with Dr. Robinson.

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One dentist who was a critical component of a show, although most people don’t remember him, was Dr. Barry Farber.  Dr. Farber is the man Rachel Green was supposed to marry on Friends, but she left him at the altar, ending up living with Monica and meeting a new group of friends.

Several other shows, not as well-known as these three, also featured a dentist in their cast.

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Doc Corkle was on the air in 1952.  Doc, played by Eddie Mayehoff, was a neighborhood dentist.  He lived with his father (Chester Conklin) and his daughter (Connie Marshall). Poor Doc has some money problems.  The biggest financial setback was the fact that the network cancelled the show after only three episodes.

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I’m a Big Girl Now featured Diana Canova who played a divorced woman, Diana Cassidy, who goes home to live with her father Benjamin Douglass, a dentist (Danny Thomas).  His partner and his wife have run off to Spain.  Diana also has a daughter Rebecca and a neurotic brother named Walter. The show was cancelled mid-season.

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Charley Shanowski, played by Ted McGinley, is a dentist on Hope & Faith.  His wife Hope (Faith Ford) is a stay-at-home mom with three children.  Her sister Faith (Kelly Ripa) was a soap opera star whose character was killed off on the show.  She moves in with her sister but expects to be treated like the star she used to be.  Charlie does not like Faith and spends a lot of his time trying to get her to leave.  We can understand why.  It seems like every time a dentist has a show where a family member moves in, the network cancels the show.  At least this show made it three seasons instead of three episodes before it got pulled.

Probably my favorite show with a dentist was an episode of The Carol Burnett Show. Like so many of the funniest episodes, this one featured Tim Conway (the dentist) and Harvey Korman (the patient). When interviewed about the skit, Conway said that memorable sketches often create themselves.  “The novocaine portion of the dentist sketch wasn’t planned—it just happened. That’s the magic of comedy; you never know when it is going to sneak up on you and make you laugh.” The dentist skit was based on Conway’s real-life dentist who stuck the needle of novocaine into his own thumb while working on a patient. Korman didn’t know Conway was going to put that in the sketch.

Last, but not least, I wanted to mention Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe in Petticoat Junction.  Buchanan earned a DDS degree from North Pacific College of Dentistry in Oregon. His father was also a dentist. During the time he was a pre-med student, Edgar took acting classes at the University of Oregon and eventually left dental school to take a position in their drama department. His father convinced him to finish his dental degree first.  When he returned to North Pacific he met Mildred Spence, another dental student.  They graduated in 1928. After marrying, the couple moved back to Eugene, Oregon where they opened a private practice. From 1930-1937, Edgar was chief of oral surgery at the Eugene Hospital Clinic but also worked as an assistant director in the University of Oregon drama department. In 1939, the couple moved to Pasadena. When Edgar appeared in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse, he received his first film offer.  So, at the age of 36, he turned over the practice to his wife and became an actor.  He appeared in more than 100 films between 1941 and 1974. He was the only cast member of Petticoat Junction to appear in all 222 episodes.

Apparently dentists are not too popular.  There are a handful of shows about them while there are tons of shows about attorneys.  But dentists are our friends, so to celebrate their day today, take a moment and watch the following:

www.liftable.com/edwardtofil/tim-conway-made-harvey-korman-wet.

Tim Conway talks about The Dentist episode to Conan O’Brien and they play a clip from it. If you watch it enough times, you might not actually look forward to going to the dentist, but you might not dread it as much. And if you’re a hopeful television creator, write a show about dentists.  They’re due for a big hit.