An author and his wife own and operate an inn.
184 episodes of 30 minute duration. CBS. 1982-1990
'The Bob Newhart Show’s' breezy style was a perfect fit with the show it followed on Saturday nights, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show', and was a CBS staple (a regular in television’s top 25) until 1978, when Newhart decided to end his series.
For the next four years, Newhart continued working on stage, in films and enjoying life with wife Ginny and their four children. That is, until he decided it was time to return to television. The setting was different, but the comic wisely decided not to reinvent the wheel-and had the longest-running series of his career.
For his second sitcom, Newhart simply took the basic formula that worked so well on 'The Bob Newhart Show', including the same studio (MTM), the same network (CBS) and moved from the world of downtown Chicago to rural Vermont. In 'Newhart', Bob became Dick Loudon, an author of do-it-yourself books who buys a bed and breakfast called the Stratford Inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann).
Initially, the action was divided between the workings at the Inn, and the quirky characters of the community (much like the 1960's rural sitcom 'Green Acres'). They included Tom Poston as the inn’s handyman George Utley; Jennifer Holmes as Leslie Vanderkellen, a rich girl turned hotel maid; Steven Kampmann as chronic liar Kirk Devane, who owns the Minuteman Café next door to the Strafford Inn. Season One (which made its debut on October 25th, 1982) quickly landed among the top 15 programmes, helped in part by its Monday night lead-in, 'M*A*S*H', which was entering its 11th and final season. Yet critics loved the new programme, with Newhart himself singled out for praise. As Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik noted in their definitive book "Watching TV", the cast and setting "gave Newhart plenty of opportunities to do what he did best: React. Slowly. Cautiously. Hilariously."
For its second season, 'Newhart' was shot on film (the first season was videotaped); Kampman was dropped as a regular and Holmes’ Leslie Vanderkellen was replaced with her cousin Stephanie (Julia Duffy), an even funnier and more self-absorbed character. Also during the second season was the introduction of a new character, Michael Harris (Peter Scolari), an equally self-absorbed "yuppie" of the 1980's who produced a local talk show with Dick as the host. By Season Three, Michael and selfish soulmate Stephanie began dating, giving more headaches for poor Dick. And coming to the forefront were a strange trio of brothers who eventually took over the Minuteman Café. Larry (William Sanderson) always introduced himself, along with his "brother Darryl" (Tony Papenfuss) and his "other brother Darryl" (John Voldstad). Larry (the brothers had no last names) did all the talking while the others simply nodded or shook their heads. The three backwoodsmen were funny in their own right, and a highlight of many an episode.
As time went on, the scripts became more surreal, with Dick/Newhart still the stable oasis of sanity in an increasingly strange world. It culminated with what has become arguably the best series finale in American television history. Newhart decided the time was right to pull the plug after eight seasons, and on May 21st, 1990, 'The Last Newhart' aired on CBS. A visiting Japanese tycoon purchases the entire town for a giant golf course and recreation resort. All sell out-except Dick and Joanna. Five years later, we see Dick continue to run the Stratford Inn while golf balls hit the walls of the building. All the townspeople pay a visit to the Loudons. Michael and Stephanie (who had gotten married in the later seasons) bring their daughter, who is the spitting image of self-centered Stephanie. George opens a new theme park dedicated to handymen. Larry, Daryl and Daryl all get married to talkative wives (one of whom is played by a pre-'Friends' Lisa Kudrow). A fight soon breaks out, and Dick leaves the inn to get some peace, when he is hit by a flying golf ball.
The scene fades to black and viewers see a darkened yet strangely familiar bedroom. Newhart wakes up, and says to his wife "Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had." Then the light goes on and it becomes clear-we’re back in Chicago, and it’s Bob Hartley, not Dick Loudon, who’s speaking. And it’s not Joanna who’s sleeping next to him-but Emily Hartley (Suzanne Pleshette). She hears all about Bob’s dream of being a innkeeper in Vermont with a snobby maid, her yuppie husband, a strange handyman and three nearly silent woodsmen. He also tells Emily he was married to a beautiful blonde woman. Annoyed,. Emily tells Bob to turn off the light and go back to sleep before sitting up and exclaiming, "What do you mean, ‘beautiful blonde’?" Bob tells Emily to go back to sleep, but not before commenting that she should "wear more sweaters," a trademark outfit of Joanna’s. The theme to the old 'Bob Newhart Show' plays, and the series ends. Nearly 30 million viewers watched. In 2005, "TV Guide" magazine and the cable network TV Land named the 'Newhart' finale the most unexpected moment in television history.
Bob Newhart fans had to wait two years for his next sitcom. Unfortunately, his two ventures in the 1990's proved to be less than successful.
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