's second classic sitcom (following The Bob Newhart Show
), which aired on CBS
starred Newhart as Dick Loudon, a successful author of do-it-yourself and travel books who, along with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann), decided to move from New York City to a small town in Vermont, where they purchased the 200-year-old Stratford Inn. The comedy stemmed from Only Sane Man
Dick's interactions with various Eccentric Townsfolk
, including George Utley (Tom Poston), the inn's addle-headed handyman; Kirk Devane (Stephen Kampmann), a compulsive liar and the owner of the nearby Minuteman Café; and Leslie Vanderkellen (Jennifer Holmes), a wealthy heiress and Dartmouth honor student who worked as a maid for the inn.
After the first season met with lukewarm reviews and ratings, the show was ReTooled
somewhat: the show switched from videotape to film production; Leslie was replaced as maid with her bitchy, self-absorbed cousin Stephanie (Julia Duffy); and, toward the end of Season 2, Dick was persuaded to host a local TV talk show, Vermont Today
. Dick's involvement with the show and its producer, the vapid but manic Michael Harris (Peter Scolari), became a whole new source of humor, as did Michael's budding romance with Stephanie. Adding to the fun was a trio of backwoodsmen who purchased the Minuteman Café from Kirk: Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad), of whom only Larry ever spoke.
While never a huge ratings success, Newhart
earned plenty of critical acclaim and a number of Emmy Awards (including three straight awards for Newhart as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and five
straight for Julia Duffy as Outstanding Supporting Actress). And the show will be forever remembered for the end of its final episode, which revealed the entire series to have been an extended nightmare dreamt by Dr. Bob Hartley of The Bob Newhart Show
This show provides examples of:
- Aesop Amnesia: In "This Probably is Condemned", Kirk learns to feel good about telling the truth. He goes back to lying in the next scene.
- All Just a Dream: Played with; after the completely out-there finale, having that episode revealed to be a dream wasn't unexpected. Finding out whose dream was the fun part. According to Newhart's memoir, it was simply a good idea by his real life wife Ginnie.
- As Himself: Johnny Carson, Tim Conway, Edwin Newman.
- Away In A Manger: Used in the season 1 Christmas Episode "No Room at the Inn".
- Big "Shut Up!": The Darryls to their wives in the finale (also their only line in the entire series; see The Voiceless, below).
- Birthday Suit Surprise Party: Season 1's "Shall We Gather at the River?" has Joanna surprised in this manner while clad in a negligee.
- Book Burning: Spoofed in an episode where the town thought one of Dick's DIY books helped a man escape from prison. Joanna convinced them to actually read his books, and they found them so boring, they were considering burning them just for that (fortunately they changed their minds).
- Breakout Characters: Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, to the point where their first appearance in a given episode would provoke a near-Fonzie-like reaction from the Studio Audience.
- Larry, Darryl and Darryl were locally very popular in real-world Vermont, culminating in the actors appearing in character for an all-lard Food Fight staged in Burlington as part of a local festival in the late 1980s. Sort of a live, in-person Big Lipped Alligator Moment.
- Both Stephanie and Michael were also originally introduced as one-shot guest stars, and were popular enough to become regulars.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Dick, in at least one episode.
- Cant Get Away With Nothing: In "Send Her Ella", Stephanie agrees to watch after the inn so that the others can attend a local event she's not interested in, but when she learns there's a beauty contest she changes her mind but Dick and Joanna won't let her go back on her agreement. A guest offers to watch the inn so that Stephanie can participate in the beauty contest, wearing a disguise so that Dick won't recognize her. Dick immediately figures out that it's Stephanie and although Stephanie does win, the prize isn't something she's interested in. And to top it all off, when they get back to the inn, the place had been robbed.
- Catch Phrase: "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother, Darryl. This is my other brother, Darryl."
- Closer to Earth
- Comedy Series
- Consummate Liar: Kirk.
- Deadpan Snarker: Dick, frequently.
- Drop-In Character: Larry and the Darryls.
- Early Installment Weirdness: See Re Tool below.
- Eccentric Townsfolk: The show runs on this trope.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Larry Darryl and Darryl's first business - "Anything For a Buck". They'll do anything for a buck. If it's something cool like digging up an old witch, er old woman's body from the cellar, they might even pay YOU the buck.
- Flanderization: This show was never exactly realistic, but by the end it was basically a live action cartoon. The later seasons are far more acclaimed than the earlier ones, making this a rare example of a show improved by flanderization.
- Foreshadowing: In a last-season episode, Jack Riley, aka The Bob Newhart Show's Eliot Carlin, shows up as an unnamed man seeking psychiatric help for his deep neuroses. Could another reality have been invading, trying to wake Bob Hartley up?
- Grand Finale: "The Last Newhart," one of the most memorable sitcom finales among fans and critics, where we learn that the entire scenario of a mild-mannered, humble and genial innkeeper and TV show host driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by crazy, loony caricatures of the town's residents was but a nightmare of Dr. Robert Hartley (of The Bob Newhart Show). The plot of this final show magnifies what the show had been doing progressively over its eight years: A Japanese tycoon buys the (unnamed) town where the Stratford Inn (which protagonists Dick and Joanna Loudon owned) was located, and after a farewell party (with Dick pretty much saying good-riddance), the main characters — handyman George Uttley, yuppies Michael and Stephanie Harris, and Larry and his brothers Darryl and Darryl — leave. In the five years that pass, Dick has now been dealing with crazier loons than what populated the inn years earlier, and his wife (as a geisha girl) has even gotten nuts; he's also unable to get over a golf course being built around the inn without his permission. Then, the old folks all come back and drive Dick to the brink of a nervous breakdown. The Darryls speak for the only time in the series' history ("QUIET!!!" to shut their annoying girlfriends up). Finally, things become chaotic as the new Japanese folks become friends with their old counterparts, and Dick can take it no longer; he says he's going to leave, and just as he walks out the door is knocked out by a wayward golf ball. The screen goes black ... and when a light comes back on, the scene shifts to Dr. Hartley's bedroom from The Bob Newhart Show, and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette in a cameo of her famous role) scolds him for eating too much Japanese food before bed! (Unlike Bob on The Bob Newhart Show, Dick was psychologically unable to deal with the eccentric folks in his town.) Whew!
- They went to great pains to make sure that the studio audience didn't see the bedroom set until they had started filming.
- They even wrote a fake ending in case the plot were to get leaked to the tabloids (which is exactly what happened).
- Possibly a crowning moment of awesome as well is the musical sting from The Bob Newhart Show that plays when Dr. Hartley and wife turn out the lights to go back to bed!
- Halloween Episode: "Take Me to Your Loudon"
- Hollywood New England
- I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine
- Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Henry Mancini.
- Ivy League For Everyone: In season 1, Leslie is attending Dartmouth while working at the Stratford.
- Johnny Carson: Pays Larry and the Darryls' gas bill.
Larry: Hi, I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl. And heeeeeeere's Johnny!
- Last of His Kind: When Newhart premiered in 1982, it was pretty much the only remaining MTM Enterprises production that still aired on former stronghold CBS, as the company shifted most of its product to NBC due to company co-founder and president Grant Tinker becoming chairman and CEO there. In addition, it was also pretty much MTM's last major sitcom, as by this time the company had pretty much shifted its focus to cranking out dramas instead.
- Let There Be Snow: But Larry, Darryl, and Darryl did a rush job in whatever ritual they did, so some of the snowflakes looked alike.
- Logo Joke: "Meow."
- Missing the Good Stuff
- Mistaken for Dying: Subversion.
- Motor Mouth: Michael.
- Mr Fix It: George.
- Newhart Phonecall: A common gag on the show, given Newhart used it in his stand-up.
- Interestingly in one episode Dick has a phone conversation with one of the Darryls before it was established that they never spoke, even off screen.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with Larry's brothers.
- Only Sane Man: Dick.
- Pretty in Mink: Stephanie had a couple mink jackets.
- Put on a Bus: Leslie (after season 1), Kirk (after season 2).
- Quirky Town
- Re Tool: One of the most successful examples. During the second season, the show switched from videotape to film, added Stephanie as a regular, and opened up the show beyond the inn by giving Dick a job hosting a local TV show (which also brought Michael in as a new character). Weak first-season characters Kirk and Leslie were Put on a Bus. All these changes helped make the show more popular.
- Reunion Show: Subversion.
- Rich Bitch: Stephanie, with a little Servile Snarker thrown in.
- Running Gag: "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl. And this is my other brother Darryl."
- Series Continuity Error: One famous running gag was that Daryl and Daryl never spoke, leading to everyone, including Dick, being shocked when they both spoke during the finale. Dick even says to Larry "your brothers can speak, how come they haven't said anything up til' now?" But in S1:E16, "Ricky Nelson, Up My Nose," Dick gets a call from Larry, only for the call to be interrupted by the Daryls, leading Dick to respond with "I'm fine" and "could you put Larry back on please?" Although the audience does not hear them, nonetheless Dick had previously heard the Daryls speak long before the finale.
- Show Within a Show: "Vermont Today".
- The Smart Guy: Dick, somewhat.
- Spiritual Successor / Stealth Sequel: To The Bob Newhart Show.
- Some have also seen the show as an '80s answer to Green Acres.
- Spoiled Sweet: Leslie comes from a wealthy family but decides to get a job as a maid in Vermont to see what it's like to be average (though she still has big goals), and unlike Stephanie is never disappointed or horrified by the results.
- Strange Syntax Speaker: Michael Harris typically speaks in rapid-fire alliteration.
- Stylistic Suck: Michael develops a truly awful sitcom called Seein' Double, best described as The Patty Duke Show meets Three's Company. We get to see footage from the "pilot", and it is atrocious. Stephanie plays twin sisters Jody and Judy, achieved by having one sister with her back to the camera in every scene (except for one, which instead features mismatched split-screen effects). The acting is universally over the top except for Dick, who is contractually obligated to play Jody and Judy's father, and doesn't even try to hide how little he wants to be there. The plot revolves around contrived misunderstandings that make even the worst Three's Company episode look like a masterpiece of farce. Fortunately for all involved, the pilot does not make it to series.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Stephanie, for Leslie.
- Or inverted, depending on how you look at it. Stephanie and Leslie were not very alike, as Leslie was too bland to even exist as a sitcom character and Stephanie was actually funny.
- Sweater Girl: Joanna. Lampshaded in the All Just a Dream finale noted above, when Bob says to his "real" wife Emily, "You know, you really should wear more sweaters."
- Telethon: In one episode Michael convinces Dick into hosting a 72 hour telethon for the station ... even though it's a commercial station.
- Thanksgiving Episode: "Don't Rain on My Parade" (season 2), "Thanksgiving for the Memories" (season 5)
- They Do: Stephanie and Michael marry and have a kid.
- Time Skip / "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue / Distant Finale: Employed, subverted, and inverted in the final episode.
- Twist Ending: Parodied, in one of the all-time great TV moments.
- The Voiceless: Larry's brothers Darryl and Darryl, at least until the grand finale.
- Who's Watching the Store?: There were a number of times when everybody who worked at the Stratford Inn were away from the inn, and many times when Minuteman Cafe owners Kirk or Larry, Darryl, and Darryl were away from the cafe, with no additional staff. Subverted a bit in that before Larry, Darryl, and Darryl bought the cafe Kirk had them look after the cafe on two occasions.
- In one episode Kirk ends his business with Dick then shouts out to customers screaming in his restaurant "Oh, settle down, people...it's just a little smoke!"
- In "Send Her Ella", Stephanie agrees to watch the inn while the rest attend a local event she's initially not interested in attending until she learns there's a beauty pageant included, but by then Dick and Joanna won't let her go because she already promised to watch the inn. A guest eventually decides to watch the place for her. The inn ends up getting robbed as a result.
- Work Com: With the twist that the Loudons' place of business also happened to be their home.
- Once Dick started hosting "Vermont Today," much of the show took place behind the scenes at the TV station.
- Ye Goode Olde Days: Dick is a great history buff and bought the Inn for nostalgia's sake. The Inn is a very tastefully done building with antiques and paintings on display.
Dick (Checking in their very first guests.) Just sign your John Hancock right there (looks at the guestbook) .. er .. right there under John Hancock.
- You Look Familiar: Dr. Hartley apparently never noticed that his best friend from college, "The Peeper", was the handyman in his dream.