WATCH Magazine: October 2022: Ghosts

FOCUS | BOB NEWHART

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I almost started by saying, “Hi, Bob”—but then I would have had to take a shot, and this interview would have gone off the rails right away. What does it mean to you to have been a catchphrase in a drinking game? I heard that it started at Southern Methodist University, and then someone picked up on it and it reached thousands of college stu- dents. Probably now they’re drinking to something on Friends . I always thought it was a compliment to the show and to the level of sophistication we went for. And whenever anyone would ask me, I would just make sure to say that, after you play “Hi, Bob,” don’t drive anywhere. That was the ’90s, and those college kids had been babies when the show was originally on. The great thing about television, as opposed to movies, is you become part of the family. I’ve had people on planes say to me that they watched The Bob Newhart Show with their parents when they were young. They didn’t get the jokes then, but they do now. It’s a great feeling to know that you were part of people’s lives. There has been a long tradition now of stand-up comics headlining sitcoms. You were at the forefront of that trend. What made you want to do a sitcom? My manager was one of the founders, along with Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore, of her production company, MTM. He asked if I’d like to do a situation comedy, and at that point I’d been doing stand-up for 12 years with a growing family but spending a lot of time on the road. I hated hotel rooms and I hated getting on planes. And on a multicamera sitcom, in front of a live audience, you led a normal life, came home at a reasonable time, and had dinner with the family. That appealed to me, so even though I didn’t know if it was going to work, I wanted to take a chance—and what better place than MTM to do that? Speaking of your stand-up, it has gotten renewed attention lately, courtesy of being mentioned on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel . What did you think of that storyline, of one of the show’s characters try- ing to pass off your act as his own? I loved it. In the late ’50s, there was a sea change in comedy with people who weren’t just telling jokes. Comedy had been Henny Youngman and “Take my wife … please,” and then along came Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, me, and Lenny Bruce, who really had feet in both eras. It was a new kind of comedy that I think really started with Tom Lehrer and his musical routines. So I liked watching Mrs. Maisel ’s depiction of that time and place because that’s my era, where I grew up. And of course, they used my Abe Lincoln routine—and it was painful for me to watch her husband do it, because he was terrible! How did you come up with the specific idea for The Bob Newhart Show ? I worked with two writers, David Davis and Lorenzo Music. I had worked with Lorenzo on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour , and

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SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER • 2022

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