Call it the return of Bob, or just “Hi again, Bob.” Four years after the last original episode of The Bob Newhart Show aired, the deadpan comic returned to prime time with an all-new series, Newhart. Other than the star himself, the two shows had little in common in terms of character and setting, but Bob Newhart’s gifts for comic timing and for assembling an impeccable surrounding cast carried through to the new sitcom.
This time, Newhart played New York “How-To” book writer Dick Loudon, who decided to take his wife Joanna and move to a fixer-upper colonial inn in Vermont. Dick and Joanna renovated the Stratford Inn, hired a small stable of help (and we use the term “help” loosely), and opened the doors for business.
Dick’s right-hand man at the Stratford Inn was laid-back handyman George Utley, the latest in a long string of Utleys in charge of the Inn’s upkeep. Compulsive, yet very apologetic liar Kirk Devane ran the Minuteman Cafe and Gift Shop next door, and spoiled rich girl Leslie Vanderkellen worked as the Inn’s maid—but only to find out how the other half lived. After the show’s first season, Leslie moved to England, and her equally pampered cousin Stephanie took her place, much to the dismay of her boring, soon-to-be-ex-husband.
Staying true to the formula that made The Bob Newhart Show work so well, Newhart found most of its comedy by putting the relatively-normal Dick and Joanna in near-constant contact with the sea of eccentrics around them. George, Kirk, Leslie and Stephanie offered plenty of material for low-key Dick to react to, but a trio of recurring guest stars made a big impression as well: yokels Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. Larry was the talkative one—neither Darryl spoke a word—but all three were thoroughly inept at the repair jobs they were usually assigned. At the start of the fall 1984 season, the three brothers moved into a bigger role when Kirk (who had married professional clown Cindy Parker in the spring of that year) sold them the Minuteman and left Vermont.
Around that same time, Dick decided to take on another new venture, hosting the local TV talk show Vermont Today. The new gig also brought in a new regular, Michael Harris, Dick’s producer and a died-in-the-wool uppity yuppie. Naturally, Michael and Stephanie hit it off swimmingly, and Dick and Joanna now had to deal with twice the pretentiousness back at the Inn.
Newhart was a perennial Top-25 favorite through the early-to-mid-80’s, enjoying a comfortable spot on CBS’ Monday night sitcom lineup. Things stayed relatively stable in the characters’ worlds, and the show rode along on the talents of its gifted ensemble cast. Whether it was Larry’s undying love of Stephanie, George’s attempts to shed his image as “town boob,” Dick’s misguided attempts to make himself or his show more popular, or Stephanie and Michael’s endless problems caused by competing self-absorption, the show was in top form.
At the start of 1989, the interpersonal shakeups began. Michael and Stephanie had always had their ups and downs, but when Michael lost his job at the TV station, Stephanie’s breeding kicked in. The two broke up, Michael tried a series of jobs (including a stint as a mime), had a nervous breakdown, and ended up working as a grocery store bagboy. He and Stephanie tried to find new loves (they even set up interview stations at the mall), but by the end of the season, they decided to get married.
Newhart’s ninth and final season began with the return of six-month honeymooners Michael and Stephanie, with Stephanie expecting their first child. Steph’s parents offered to buy the couple a mansion if Michael changed his last name to Vanderkellen, and when that failed (narrowly), they bought the local TV station and gave it to the baby (who was also named Stephanie). Dick’s show was promptly cancelled.
All of this led up to the show’s final episode, considered by many to be one of the great send-offs of all time (if you haven’t seen it, feel free to skip ahead a paragraph). A Japanese land developer came in to buy the town for a ridiculous sum, and everyone but Dick and Joanna gave in. Five years later, the Stratford Inn was now on the 14th fairway of a golf course, and the townsfolk all came back for a visit. Since everyone had sold out, the gang was all pretty well off, though Larry, Darryl and Darryl were none too pleased with their talky trophy wives (prompting the Darryls’ first spoken outburst). Everyone decided to move back in town, an argument broke out, and when Dick went outside for a breath of fresh air, a stray golf ball knocked him unconscious. When the lights came back on, Bob Hartley (Newhart) was waking up from a long nightmare, back on the old Bob Newhart Show bedroom set with wife Emily at his side. The live studio audience went nuts with surprised laughter.
On the strength of its finale alone, Newhart deserves a place in the hall of great 80’s sitcoms. Thankfully, the show provided enough fabulous moments over the years to justify that lofty praise. While never as dominant as the powerhouses on NBC’s Thursday night lineup (The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, etc.), Newhart had its own large share of devotees, and Bob Newhart had another long-running sitcom winner to notch onto his “King of Deadpan” belt buckle.
USA / CBS – MTM / 183×25 minute episodes 1×50 minute episode / Broadcast 25 October 1982 – 8 September 1990
Creator/Executive Producer: Barry Kemp / Producer: Sheldon Bull
Bob Newhart as Dick Loudon
Mary Frann as Joanna Loudon
Steven Kampmann as Kirk Devane (1982-84)
Tom Poston as George Utley
Jennifer Holmes as Leslie Vanderkellen (1982-83)
Julia Duffy as Stephanie Vanderkellen (1983-90)
Peter Scolari as Michael Harris (1984-90)
William Sanderson as Larry
Tony Papenfuss as First Darryl
John Voldstad as Second Darryl
Thomas Hill as Jim Dixon
William Lanteau as Chester Wanamaker
Fred Applegate as JJ (1983-88)
Rebecca York as Cindy Parker Devane (1984)
Linda Carlson as Bev Dutton (1984-88)
Jeff Doucette as Harley Estin (1984-88)
Todd Susman as Officer Shifflett (1984-89)
Lee Wilkof as Elliot Gabler (1984-85)
José Ferrer as Arthur Vanderkeller (1985-87)
Priscilla Morrill as Marian Vanderkeller (1985-87)
Ralph Manza as Bud (1985-90)
Cliff Bemis as Paul (1988-90)
Kathy Kinney as Prudence Goddard (1989-90)
David Pressman as Art Rusnak (1989-90)