WATCH Magazine: October 2022: Ghosts


1. Ed Sullivan pretends to grab Bob Newhart around the neck on the set of The Ed Sullivan Show . 2. Newhart at the 11th annual Primetime Emmy Awards. 3. Actor Norman Fell (left) and Newhart in a scene from Catch- 22 . 4. Suzanne Pleshette (left) and Newhart as Emily and Bob Hartley. 5. Newhart performs on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour .


we had written stuff together, so he knew my style. We were knocking around ideas, and he said, “You’re a good listener, even though in the phone conversations in your stand-up you react to some- body on the other end of the phone who we don’t hear. So how about you play a psychiatrist?” I liked it but said, “Maybe not a psychiatrist, because he deals in some cases with really disturbed people. You don’t want to get laughter from that.” So we made him a psychologist, and the people in his group had more comic problems, like they were too fat or afraid of flying.

and I had this special chemistry. I can’t describe it, but you’re going to be compared to that.”

The show featured such a strong ensemble of

comedic actors around you. How did you find them? In the show’s original pilot, it was focused more on Bob’s condo- minium building. I was still a psychologist, but Emily and I would be involved more in the goings-on of the building and meetings. Then we decided to do another pilot, focusing more on Bob’s work- place, and as I understand the story, [CBS founder] Bill Paley’s wife had seen Marcia Wallace on The Merv Griffin Show and said to Bill, “She’d be good in that ‘Newhart’ thing you’re doing.” And of course, what Bill Paley’s wife wants, William “Bill” Paley’s wife gets. We wanted actors who were familiar with working in front of live audiences, so I recommended Bill Daily, whom I knew from Chicago, and Peter Bonerz because we were in the movie Catch-22 together, and I knew he had been in the improv group The Com- mittee in San Francisco. And then, of course, there’s Suzanne Pleshette, who was a find. I’ve heard various versions of a story that say Suzy and I were on The Tonight Show together, but that’s not true; I had been on the show and then she was on a few days later. It was Arthur Price, one of the founders of MTM, who asked me, “What do you think about Suzanne Pleshette?” She had done movies and The Miracle Worker on Broadway, which is not a funny play. I thought she’d be great but asked, “Do you think she wants to do television?” As it turns out, at the time, Suzy was pregnant, and that’s exactly what she wanted to do—to be at home and not travel to do a film or anything. We were lucky to get her. In fact, later, when I did [the 1982–90 sitcom] Newhart , I had to explain to [new TV wife] Mary Frann, “You’ve got a really tough job, because Suzy

How did you first know that The Bob Newhart Show was a hit? We were following The Mary Tyler Moore Show , and we were getting ratings numbers like the Super Bowl, like 41 or 42. Later on, when I did another show for CBS, Bob , I asked what the ratings were, and when they said, “8.” I said, “No, there must be some mistake.” By then ratings were more like hat sizes: 8 7/8. TV has changed so much. Today there are so many choices, if your immediate family is watching, you’re a hit.

One thing that was noteworthy and kind of revolutionary about The Bob Newhart Show is that it was about a couple without kids and their adult friends. That happened because, when I was talking with Lorenzo and Dave, I told them I didn’t want

to be the dolt of a father who keeps getting in these scrapes, and then the wife huddles with the kids and says, “How do we get Daddy out of this fix?”




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