Videophiled TVD: ‘The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series’

BobNewhartComplete
The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD)

“Hi, Bob!” Button-down comedian Bob Newhart plays TV’s most famous therapist, Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley. It was the comedian’s first TV show and he was perfect casting for the ever-calm (at least on the outside) in the center of the neurotic storm swirling around him, be they friends — the insecure airline pilot neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily) and overconfident orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz, who also directed many episodes) – or patients. Bob only seems like a rock of stability until he’s next to his down-to-Earth wife, elementary school teacher Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), who has the corner on normalcy in this professional couple.

It may not have seemed like it at the time, or even necessarily in retrospect, but The Bob Newhart Show was a pioneering sitcom in ways similar to Mary Tyler Moore, and it’s no coincidence that it was created by two veteran writers from Mary Tyler Moore, Lorenzo Music and David Davis, and produced by the same production entity, MTM Enterprises. Bob and Emily were a happily married childless couple in a Chicago high rise condo and in a break from age-old conventions, where every married couple slept in separate beds, they shared a king sized bed and a continuing sex life.

Marcia Wallace co-stars as his lively receptionist Carol, yet another distinctive personality in the defining mix of the series, and Jack Riley, Florida Friebus, and John Fiedler were among the regulars in the weekly group therapy sessions in Bob’s downtown office, where Bob Hartley did what Bob Newhart did best: watch, listen, react. As series co-creator Lorenzo Music observed, “Bob listens funny…” Newhart’s muted delivery and blank stares make him not only the funniest straight man on TV, but a master of the deadpan gag, the slow motion stammer, and the delayed reaction laugh.

The hit sitcom ran for six seasons, anchoring CBS’s unbeatable Saturday night comedy block from 1972 to 1978, when Saturday nights were still a major ratings bonanza for the networks. The show even spawned drinking game: knock one back every time someone says “Hi, Bob.”

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Seasons One through Four have been previously released on DVD by Fox. This set makes the entire series available for the first time: 142 episodes of the show’s six seasons on 19 discs in a box set, plus the original unaired version of the series pilot episode, the “Bob Newhart Show 19th Anniversary” reunion special from 1991, and the new interview featurette “Group Therapy” with Newhart, stars Peter Bonerz, Jack Riley, and Bill Daily, and producer / director Michael Zinberg. Carried over from the previous disc release are commentary tracks by Bob Newhart, Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Bonerz, Marcia Wallace, Jack Riley, Tom Poston, writer / co-creator David Davis, director James Burrows, and others, on 13 episodes across seasons two through four. The set’s only design flaw is failure to identify the commentary tracks on episode listings, the episode guide booklet, or the discs themselves. You have to go through the “Bonus Material” section of the disc menus to find them.

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