Bob Newhart Show, The (1972-1978)
The monologues of acclaimed stand-up comic Bob Newhart usually involved him playing straight man to an unheard voice on an imaginary telephone. He’d be the perfectly sane, calm guy trying to make sense out of what someone was telling him. That’s why it was a brilliant idea on the part of series creators Lorenzo Music and David Davis to make him a psychologist in a situation comedy, surrounded him with eccentric characters. The joke, of course, was that Dr. Robert Hartley (his role) had just as much trouble managing his life as his patients did handling theirs. In fact, Dr. Hartley often had to seek advice from his wife Emily (played by Suzanne Pleshette) or an orthodontist friend (played by Peter Bonerz).
The Bob Newhart Show wasn’t Newhart’s first series. He’d previously starred in two variety shows — The Bob Newhart Show (1961) and The Entertainers (1964), neither of which succeeded, though the first did have the dubious honor of winning an Emmy after its cancellation. Both were quickly forgotten, not only by the public but by Newhart, who later spoke of his 1972 series as if it was his first series. (In his 2006 autobiography, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This, he mentioned The Entertainers in passing and didn’t mention the first series at all.)
This was understandable since the ’72 show was a monster hit, and not just because of its great time slot. It followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show (from the same production company) on Saturday nights but quickly developed its own loyal following. It fared particularly well in reruns, attesting to its strength.
The series was on for six years. Newhart has explained that he wanted to end it after Year Five but was politely informed by CBS that if he walked out on his contract, they would sue him for their expected profit for Year Six. As this amount was tens of millions of dollars, Bob decided that a sixth season wasn’t such as bad idea, after all.