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Series / The Bob Newhart Show

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A sitcom that aired for six seasons (197278) on CBS, and the forerunner to two of its star Bob Newhart's other sitcoms, Newhart and Bob. It was a top-rated success in its time, and has quietly earned classic status since.

Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music as a deliberate complement to The Mary Tyler Moore Show (an established hit produced by the same studio, MTM Enteprises, and immediately preceding it in CBS' Saturday-night lineup), this series shared much the same formula: drop an Ensemble Cast of wacky character actors into a professional setting and hire an established star as their Straight Man.

At the time Bob Newhart was one of comedy's hottest stars, renowned for his dryly understated standup persona. Who better to field the role of an uptight shrink than the guy whose biggest hit album was The Button-Down Mind?

The premise revolves around well-respected Chicago psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart) and his strong, sexy schoolteacher wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) — as one critic put it, a marriage of two people who're convinced the rest of the world is crazy, and have agreed to keep an eye on one another. It's a wise precaution: Surrounded by neurotics, depressives and other mentally unstable people both in private life and at his psychology practice, Bob has plenty of opportunity to underreact.

To further the cause, Newhart's trademark telephone routine, in which he valiantly holds down one end of an increasingly surreal conversation, is worked into virtually every episode. As is the standard closing scene, featuring Bob and Emily in bed, talking over the events of that episode and more often than not dueling for the last word.

A distinctively veteran supporting cast — including Pleshette, Bill Daily (as Howard, the friendly but somewhat addle-headed airline navigator who lived next door to the Hartleys and had a tendency to drop in on them at odd hours), Peter Bonerz (as Jerry, the swinging-single orthodontist from the clinic office next door), Marcia Wallace (as Carol, the hyper-competent secretary they share), and Jack Riley (as Bob's uber-patient Elliott Carlin) — serve as fine foils. Carol even made it onto an episode of Murphy Brown years later, as one of Murphy's few plausible secretaries-of-the-week, who leaves when Bob comes back to beg her to return to the Chicago office ("Jerry has made a mess of his appointments!").

Not surprisingly Newhart referenced it most frequently, and memorably; in an episode where Dick and his wife go to a counselor, they meet the doctor's previous patient, Jack Riley as Mr. Carlin (the doctor says that he's got a lot of work ahead of him there, "due to some quack in Chicago"). And in Newhart's final episode, one of the most famous in TV history, the entire series is revealed to be a dream of Bob Hartley's — from which he awakens in his original bedroom set, next to Emily. That finale was so popular that it resulted in an hour-long Reunion Show airing for the show's 19th — not 20th — anniversary in 1991. Mostly a Clip Show, it had a Framing Device of the show's cast analyzing Bob's dream... and ended with him encountering three very familiar elevator repairmen.

This was actually the second show Newhart did that was called The Bob Newhart Show. The first was a Variety Show that aired for one season from October 1961 to June 1962.

This show provides examples of:

  • Advertising Campaigns:
    • In one episode Howard blames his divorce from his Stewardess wife on the fact that "the skies got a little too friendly".
    • In the hostage episode Howard excitedly exclaims "The Colonel's got breasts!", a parody of a then-current Kentucky Fried Chicken ad.
  • Affluent Ascetic: Mr. Arbogast, the destitute-looking old man living in a tenement Elliot Carlin is trying to flip, turns out to be an even bigger player in the real estate market.
  • The Alcoholic: Carol, although it's played for laughs with her getting tipsy at work after lunches and making Irish coffee for the office Christmas parties.
  • Alliterative Family: More rhyming than alliteration. Howard Borden had a brother: Gordon Borden the game warden. Later, Emily told Bob about Howard's other brother: Norman Borden the Mormon doorman. (It didn't take him long to guess that she'd made that brother up.)
  • All Just a Dream: Most of the episode "You're Having My Hartley" turned out to be a dream.
  • Amicable Exes: Howard and his ex-wife.
  • Artistic License History: Howard's job as airline navigator was already an anachronism by the time the show premiered. Crosses over with Technology Marches On later in the series, when Howard's job as navigator is eliminated and he has to become a pilot to stay employed.
  • Author Appeal: The show takes place in Chicago and has frequent sports references (particularly basketball) at the behest of Bob Newhart himself, who is a Chicago native and avid sports fan.
  • Berserk Button: If Bob grills a steak for you, do NOT put ketchup on it.
  • Billed Above the Title: "BOB NEWHART in The BOB NEWHART Show". Of the rest of the cast, only Suzanne Pleshette was also credited in the opening titles ("Also Starring SUZANNE PLESHETTE"). Everyone else had to settle for billing in the end credits.
  • Black Comedy Burst: "Death of a Fruitman" has Bob's therapy group learning that one of its members, Mr. Gianelli, has been crushed to death by a truckload of zucchini.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In "Mutiny on the Hartley", Jerry shows Bob a pair of toy clacking teeth he bought for his office. A few episodes later, in "The Modernization of Emily", Jerry gives the same pair of clacking teeth to Bob and Emily as an anniversary gift.
    • The first season episode "The Man With the Golden Wrist" revolves around Emily buying Bob an expensive watch as a gift, but Bob being uncomfortable wearing it. Throughout the rest of the series, Bob continues to wear that same watch. Doubles as a Rewatch Bonus.
    • In what may end up being the longest brick joke in TV history, at the end of the series finale for Bob Newhart's subsequent series, Newhart — in an entirely different role as a New England innkeeper — is struck on the head and passes out. In a parody of the "It Was All A Dream" sequence used in Dallas, he wakes up as Bob Hartley in bed with Emily, implying the other series is just a strange dream Hartley has each night.
  • Bucket Booby-Trap: Subverted. Emily and the Peeper's wife rig up one of these for Bob and the Peeper, but it remains balanced atop the door when each of them comes inside.
  • Butt-Monkey: Elliot Carlin. Lampshaded in the beginning of "Guaranteed Not to Shrink", where he tells Bob about a psychology test he took in a magazine which assigns points for all the bad things that have happened to him throughout his life; 350 points "puts you in the snake pit", Mr. Carlin scores 1,000 points.
  • Calvinball: Whilst playing "Dealer's Choice" poker, Howard chooses "Pai Tai" or "Chinese Poker", an absurd variant of the game that appears to have been invented on the spot to favor the dealer, though Howard insists "I'm not just making this up". In revenge, Bob and Jerry choose increasingly ridiculous poker variants, such as the Polish "Klopsky" involving four packs of cards and a banana, and another game in which a card is named "the King of Snee".
  • Celebrity Paradox: in the Reunion Show, where Bob alludes to what Dick Loudon did and Howard talks about being Major Roger Healey. Bob Newhart played the former two characters, Bill Daily the latter two.
  • Christmas Episode: One each season, usually involving some version of Crappy Holidays.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • The show devoted quite a few episodes to Bob's sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and her romance with Howard, but shortly after getting engaged to Howard in season 4, she disappeared from the show and was never mentioned again.
    • Margaret Hoover, a neighbor seen in a few season 1 episodes, was introduced as a friend for Emily but soon vanished without a trace.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: the third-season episodes "Bob Hits the Ceiling", "Emily Hits the Ceiling", and "The Ceiling Hits Bob", which aired in successive weeks but have nothing in common and were all written by different people. (Only the last refers directly to the episode's plot: The ceiling in Bob's office caves in and Bob has to make do with other work spaces until it's fixed.)
  • Cute Kitten: Mimsie, the MTM Enterprises Vanity Plate.
    • In one episode Mimsie is replaced with a cat featured in that story.
  • The Cynic: Elliot Carlin in spades.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A Newhart trademark. The supporting characters (especially Emily and Mr. Carlin) often responded in kind.
  • The Ditz: Howard.
  • Drop-In Character: Howard.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first few episodes the kitchen and bedroom sets are slightly different, Carol has shoulder length hair and Emily also has longer hair than she wears for the rest of the first season.note 
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter how many breakthroughs Bob has with his regular patients, they never even come close to getting better. Lampshaded in an episode where Bob becomes frustrated at his lack of progress with Mr. Carlin.
    • Also lampshaded in a Christmas Episode in which Bob's gift to Mr Peterson was that he was cured and Bob was "letting him go free". Mr Peterson was less than thrilled.
  • Faint in Shock: Howard does this in the final episode when the Hartleys tell him they're moving away.
  • Flanderization: Howard was originally supposed to be the show's representative of divorced men, in contrast to married Bob and single Jerry. As the show went on, he became defined mostly by his stupidity and immaturity, until by the end he was Too Dumb to Live.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Jerry's post-retirement quest to locate his birth parents.
  • Freudian Couch
  • Girl Friday: Carol, who is not just competent, not just hypercompetent, but ultra-hypercompetent.
  • Happily Married: Bob and Emily. Theirs is a marriage of equals who respect and support each other (though not without some gentle ribbing) and have (what is strongly implied to be) a very active sex life.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Carol is extremely good at her job. In one episode, Bob and Jerry give her eight separate instructions on things they need done. Without taking notes, she repeats back everything perfectly. (This will be used years later in an episode of Murphy Brown where she has a guest starring episode as the only secretary Murphy doesn't fire, because she's the only one who's able to keep up with Murphy's hectic personality. Bob shows up in that episode to beg her to come back.)
  • Hypocritical Humor: During a late-night argument, Emily complains that Bob the psychologist always one-ups by claiming he knows why she says something when they argue. Bob's immediate response:
    Bob: That is not true—and I know why you said that!
  • Informed Attribute: Bob is supposed to be an excellent, well-respected psychologist, but he never seems to get anywhere with his patients any progress or breakthroughs they make are gone by the next episode. (Admittedly, this is at least partly Truth in Television; people are oftentimes never completely "helped", even after a breakthrough. A lifetime of "unhealthy" coping behaviors are not going to vanish overnight just because you know why you do them. You still have to start making changes and stick with them. Still, there should be more progress than is shown.)
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: "Home to Emily", composed by series co-producer (and future Garfield voice) Lorenzo Music with his wife Henrietta. Rearranged to a funkier-sounding version beginning in season 4.
    • Referenced in an episode of Taxi, in which Jim Ignatowski — a big Bob Newhart Show fan — finds himself set up on a date with Marcia Wallace playing herself. He insists on regaling her with the lyrics he's composed for the theme:
      Jim: Here comes Bob and Carol / His wife Emily really likes him / He has five people in his group... (repeat)
  • I Want Grandkids: Bob's mother. Expect her to bring up the subject at least once during any of her appearances.
  • Jerkass: Elliot Carlin effectively codifies this trope. Loneliness and his lack of a social life are common themes in his sessions with Bob.
  • Kavorka Man: Bob. Not only is Emily much more more physically attractive than him, but "The Way We Weren't" reveals that he started dating her while he was still dating another woman.
  • Locked in a Room: Bob and Emily spend the Bicentennial Fourth stuck in their building's storage room.
  • Manchild: Howard is this through and through, more childish than his young son. The show frequently hints that Bob and Emily see him as the child they never had.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Deliberately subverted. Newhart didn't want his character to be a Bumbling Dad,note  and as a result, Bob and Emily Hartley became one of television's first working, childless couples. (Pleshette went along with this but was privately trying to get pregnant and wasn't going to avoid carrying a child just for the sake of the show, although she never did have any children of her own.) Newhart's response when the show's producers told him that Bob and Emily were going to have a baby one season has passed into legend: "Sounds great. Now, who are you going to get to play Bob?"
  • Mega Meal Challenge: In "Sorry, Wrong Mother", Bob, his sister Ellen, Emily, Howard, and Howard's son Howie all go to a gourmet ice cream shop. One of the other patrons orders a "Whale," a giant sundae. The singing waiters (led by John Ritter) bring it to the table with much fanfare: "You caaaaan't do it... you caaaan't do it... you can't eat a whale!" Bob doesn't want all that attention, so he just orders a single scoop of ice cream. But the waiters still make a fuss: "Single scooper, single scooper, this man is a party pooper!"
  • Miniseries: In one episode Howard wants to watch a show called Sick Man, Well Man (a play on Rich Man, Poor Man).
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Bob seems mostly fine with his neighbor, Howard, being in a relationship with his sister, Ellen. But when Ellen moves to Chicago and Howard wants her to move in with him...
    Bob: Howard, take another step out the door and I'll break both your legs.
  • Newhart Phonecall: Natch.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: "Desperate Sessions" initially aired on February 26, 1977, but, according to the sign in the bank, the opening scene of the episode takes place on April 5, 1977.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The ninth episode of the first season is titled "P-I-L-O-T". This is because it was originally written as the pilot for the show, but wound up being pulled in favor of a different episode.
  • No Social Skills: A common flaw with Bob's patients, particularly Ed and Elliot.
  • Only Sane Man: Bob on occasion, though not nearly to the extent that Dick Loudon was on Newhart.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: In "Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson" Jerry mentions that he arrived at the orphanage he grew up in wearing his "favorite little blue cap" that had a little ball on top and ear flaps that tied under his chin. Subverted, though: when Carol suggests he trace the label on the cap, Jerry says that he ate the label when he was three, making that suggestion useless. Later double-subverted: when his real mother shows up, he knows she's telling the truth because she describes the cap perfectly.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jerry was raised in an orphanage, and one season 5 episode involves his efforts to locate his natural parents.
  • Peking Duck Christmas: Or rather Moo Goo Gai Pan Thanksgiving, in "Over the River and Through the Woods".
  • Phrase Catcher: "Hi, Bob!" This was so frequently uttered that it became the basis of a very popular and dirt-simple drinking game during the show's run.
  • Pie in the Face:
    • When "The Peeper" comes to visit, Bob tries to nail him with this as he comes in the door...and gets his new wife instead. Then the Peeper hits Bob with a pie of his own.
    • Featured in the final Christmas Episode, "'Twas the Pie Before Christmas", in which Mr Carlin puts a hit out on Bob ... with a professional pie thrower.
  • Post-Script Season: Newhart originally planned to stop the show after the fifth season, so the writers all took new jobs and wrote a Grand Finale where Emily and Bob would finally become parents. Then Newhart agreed to come back for one more year, so the episode became All Just a Dream and a sixth season was produced with an entirely new team of writers.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: In "The Modernization of Emily", Bob sarcastically introduces Emily in her new, "younger" attire as "the leader of the pack" to Jerry and Carol. This is a reference to The Shangri-Las, a popular and influential but now largely forgotten girl group from the mid-1960s who were well known for their tough, street-wise image. "The Leader of the Pack" was one of their most popular and enduring songs.
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: Naturally employed with Bob's phone conversations.
  • Reunion Show: A 1991 special had Bob and his friends analyzing his crazy Vermont dream.
  • Running Gag / Once per Episode: Bob and Emily would be together in bed, one of them would say something, shut off the light, then the other would turn their light on and continue the conversation. Became a Brick Joke in the final episode of Newhart.
  • Sassy Secretary: Carol
  • The Shrink: Bob
  • Shout-Out: The episode "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" pays tribute to The Sting with an "Entertainer"-ish version of the theme music and scene transitions with titles like "The Deal" and "The Fuse".
  • Shown Their Work: Subtly. Newhart insisted that his character be a psychologist (ie., therapist), not a psychiatrist, as he didn't want to poke fun at serious mental illnesses.note 
  • Sit Comic
  • Snowed-In: One Christmas episode has Bob trapped at the office by a blizzard.
  • The Stateroom Sketch: "Bum Voyage" climaxes with a huge crowd of people packed into Bob and Emily's cabin on a cruise ship. Howard even mentions the Marx Brothers.
  • Stock Sitcom Grand Finale: "Happy Trails to You", which has Bob and Emily leaving Chicago after Bob gives up his practice to accept a teaching position at a college in Oregon... a move that was conveniently ignored for the Newhart finale and subsequent reunion special.
    • Not necessarily. Maybe they came back, because the small-town college experience was too goofy for words, thus providing much of the material for Bob's subsequent dream? The later Murphy Brown cameo supports this idea too.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In "Battle of the Groups", which otherwise features all of Bob's recurring patients, his main group features an old woman similar to Mrs. Bakerman, the only recurring patient absent from the episode.
  • Talking in Bed
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "An American Family" (season 3), "Over the River and Through the Woods" (season 4)
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Mr Peterson and Doris.
  • The Tonsillitis Episode: "Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital".
  • Tranquil Fury: Bob's colleague Dr. Podbillion "cures" Howard through a personality-breaking therapy that basically turns Howard into a copy of Podbillion himself. Bob lets him know in no uncertain terms that you don't do this to one of his friends.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Played with in Universe....Robert Hartley quite possibly could be the first sitcom character to own a VCR (given to him by an ex-convict patient).
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette, a gorgeous ex-movie star, were famously mismatched in looks, though this was rarely commented on in the show itself. It was however lampshaded in a very early episode:
    Emily: Bob, I never went for tall, good-looking guys. That's why I married you.
  • Uncle Sam Wants You: Everyone (except Mr. Carlin) shows up at Howard's Bicentennial Fourth of July party as Uncle Sam. Including Carol.
  • Wake Up Make Up: A lot of scenes involved Bob and Emily getting woken up in the middle of the night by Howard or one of the other characters. Emily always had lots of eyeshadow on when she got up.
  • Waxing Lyrical: A Running Gag on the show revolves two or more of the characters quoting the lyric to a random song as part of their regular dialogue.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: When Howard sees a therapist and gets cured of his dependency on Bob and Emily, the Hartleys do everything they can to bring the old Howard back and make him helplessly dependent on them again.
    • Justified in that the therapy has given Howard an entirely new personality that's even more unhealthy than his old one.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When Carol first meets Howard in "Bob and Emily and Howard and Carol and Jerry", he's come from a dentist appointment and the drugs haven't worn off, so he's uncharacteristically serene and poetic. This makes a good impression on Carol, who decides she wants to go out with him. On the date, Howard is back to his old self, leading to a disastrous date that causes Carol to change her mind about him and start avoiding him. When Howard finally figures out what's going on and calls her on it, they briefly argue, but then both decide that they love each other after all and run off to take a trip together. No mention is ever made of this again, nor do we ever see Carol and Howard dating after this.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: In the first episode, Bob enlists Emily to accompany him on an airline flight with his fear-of-flying workshop group, only to discover that she's terrified of flying herself.
  • Written-In Absence: Part of Newhart's deal for doing one last season was that he could take some episodes off. The sixth season has five episodes where Bob is out of town and doesn't appear except for a pre-filmed sequence on the phone.
  • Your Favorite: Banana cream pie for Bob, blueberry cheesecake for Emily.


Video Example(s):


"The Last Newhart"

In which the events of the series finale of "Newhart" turn out to be a dream... but whose dream?

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / AllJustADream

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