The Bob Newhart Show: The Characters That Just Won’t Go Away

The Bob Newhart Show cast reunitedWhen TV series say their final goodbyes, it’s often a sad affair for many viewers. Unless the characters are moved to another series (Lou Grant for example), the last episode is usually the last time we see the show’s characters. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case for the characters from The Bob Newhart Show.

The Bob Newhart Show (BNS) ran for six seasons on CBS, from 1972 until 1978. The series primarily centers around psychologist Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) and his beautiful wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). Their dim-witted neighbor is airline navigator Howard Borden (Bill Daily) who is like a surrogate child to the Hartleys. At the office, Bob shares the services of witty receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) with swinging-single orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) and other medical professionals. Bob’s patients are a crazy bunch of characters that include mean-spirited Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), milquetoast ex-Marine Emil Peterson (John Fiedler), whiny Michelle Nardo (Renee Lippin), insecure Ed Herd (Oliver Clark), and elderly supermarket checker Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus).

When the show signed off on April 1, 1978, Bob has taken a job as a professor at a small college in Oregon and he and Emily move away. It seemed like we’d seen the last of the Hartleys and friends but, ever so slowly, they began to slip back to the airwaves.

St. Elsewhere – “Close Encounters” episode from November 20, 1985.
Psychiatric patient “John Doe #6″ (Oliver Clark) comes to believe he is “Mary Richards” from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (MTM). Could he actually be Ed Herd from the BNS? Mr. Carlin (Riley) is another patient in the same ward and constantly denigrates Clark’s character, just like old times. MTM, BNS, and Elsewhere were all produced by MTM Enterprises.

ALF – “Going Out of My Head Over You” episode from March 16, 1987.
Daily plays a psychologist that tries to help Willie (Max Wright) cope with the irritating alien. Nasty Mr. Carlin sits in the waiting room and insists that he be seen next.

Newhart – “I Married Dick” episode from November 16, 1988.
Dick (Newhart) and Joanna Loudon (Mary Frann) go to see a marriage counselor. Dick encounters surly Mr. Carlin in the waiting room, does a double-take and asks if he knows Carlin from somewhere. When Mr. Carlin leaves, the therapist tells the Loudons that she’s trying to undo the damage done to him by some quack in Chicago.

Newhart – “The Last Newhart” episode from May 21, 1990.
On the series finale, it’s revealed that the entire sitcom has been a bad dream of Bob Hartley. He tries to tell Emily about it but she’s more interested in going back to sleep — until he mentions that he was married to a beautiful blonde. The scene ends with Emily turning out the light as the BNS theme plays. This unexpected series twist was named as the most unexpected moment in TV history by TV Guide in 2005.

The Bob Newhart Show cast reunited The Bob Newhart Show 19th Anniversary Special – Aired on November 23, 1991.
Bonerz, Daily, Newhart, Pleshette, Riley, and Wallace reunited and reprised their roles in a new episode of the sitcom. The special begins with the final scene of Newhart, as Bob wakes up from his dream. For the rest of the hour, Bob is upset about the dream and talks to his wife and friends about it at his Chicago office (apparently Oregon didn’t work out and the Hartleys moved back to Chicago). They all recall past events (via series clips) and end up not giving him much comfort. By the end though, Bob feels better — it was only a dream after all– and the group decide to go out to lunch together. Everyone but Bob fits into the crowded elevator so he waits for another. When the next elevator arrives, it’s being fixed by Larry, Darryl and Darryl from Newhart (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad). Bob screams for Emily and quickly takes the stairs.

Bob – “Better to Have Loved and Flossed” episode from March 23, 1997.
In 1992, Newhart returned to series television in Bob and played a cartoonist. The series wasn’t a success and was cancelled before the end of its second season. CBS pulled the series before running the final three episodes. TV Land briefly aired the complete series in a 1997 marathon. In the series finale, Bob’s boss, Sylvia (Betty White), confronts the female dental hygienist who ran off with her husband. Along the way, Bob has a brief encounter with Bonerz as orthodontist Jerry Robinson.

Murphy Brown – “Anything But Cured” episode from March 14, 1994.
A regular joke of the sitcom is that the title character (played by Candice Bergen) had to endure a long line of incompetent and strange secretaries. In one episode, her secretary turns out to be Carol and she’s the perfect aide. Unfortunately for Murphy, Bob appears at the end of the episode and begs Carol to come back. He says that the office is a mess; Jerry’s got his files all messed up and Mr. Carlin thinks the temp is out to kill him. After getting into a bidding war and trading barbs with Murphy, Bob wins out. As Bob and Carol leave in the elevator, Bob is cornered by insecure Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) who is looking for some free psychological advice. Bonerz was a frequent director on Murphy Brown but didn’t direct this particular episode. Wallace was nominated for an Emmy Award for her appearance.

1996 MTV Movie Awards – September 4, 1996.
Newhart appeared in a spoof of the Braveheart movie. Dressed to look like Mel Gibson and while atop a horse, he tries to rally his troops, which include Bonerz and Riley. Daily rides on asking to borrow a cup of mutton. Though the setting is quite bizarre, the actors all refer to each other as their Bob Newhart Show characters. As Daily leaves the scene, he refers to his horse as “Emily.”

George & Leo – “The Cameo Episode” from November 3, 1997.
In the fall of 1997, Newhart co-starred with Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Dear John) in the CBS comedy series. The eighth installment features cameos by 18 former castmates of Newhart and Hirsch and six from the BNS took part. Daily plays an airline pilot who is looking for an “How to Fly an Airplane” book. Bonerz and Wallace play dentist Dr. Robins and his receptionist wife. Fiedler, Riley and Clark play psychologist patients who believe that Newhart’s character can help them and won’t leave him alone.

Bob Newhart Show statueCBS at 75 – November 2, 2003.
Bob and Emily were last seen together on stage for this anniversary special. As the BNS theme plays, we see Bob and Emily in bed once again. Bob wakes up from yet another nightmare. He’s dreamt that the Governor of California has a thick accent and keeps mispronouncing the state’s name. Emily tells him that it wasn’t a dream and asks about the cute handyman from his Vermont dream (Pleshette was married to Tom Poston in real life). They’re there to introduce a montage of classic CBS comedy legends. Newhart’s upset they haven’t been included until she tells him that, to be included, you have to be dead. He doesn’t mind so much then. The two kiss, go back to sleep, and that’s the last time we see the Hartleys together.

On July 26, 2004, TV Land unveiled a statue of Dr. Bob Hartley that currently sits on the streets of Chicago. Newhart attended and spoke at the dedication.

With the recent passing of Pleshette, it looks unlikely that we’ll be seeing another reunion of the characters any time soon. Still, it could happen. Who would have thought that characters from a series that never won a single Emmy Award could have lived on this long? Stay tuned! TV Series Finale home page

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1 Comment · Read it below or add one

  1. Roger says

    There was at least one other reference to BNS (as a TV show, not as “real life” characters) on NEWHART — Newhart and Michael are discussing old TV shows and Newhart rattles off the shows from CBS’ 1973 Saturday night lineup (ALL IN THE FAMILY, M*A*S*H, MARY TYLER MOORE, CAROL BURNETT).

    Michael: What about that shrink who stuttered?
    Newhart: S-stammered.

    Editor: You’re absolutely correct. The reference is particularly strange when you consider how Newhart ended. In your reference, Michael and Newhart talk about BNS as a show yet they’re actually part of a dream of one of the characters from that show. It makes my head hurt!

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