Track record proves Newhart durability

TELEVISION

November 23, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

It was the most sublime series-ending episode in sitcom VTC memory: Vermont innkeeper Dick Louden (Bob Newhart) took a golf ball in the head, fell unconscious and woke up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette.

Presto! Mr. Newhart's 1982-90 hit series, "Newhart," was just a dream and he was psychologist Bob Hartley, once again back with wife Emily in the comfortable setting of his 1972-78 hit series, "The Bob Newhart Show."

At 8 tonight on CBS (Channel 11), "The Bob Newhart Show Anniversary Special" plops us right back in that Chicago bedroom.

Although the special is a clip show with highlights from the

series, it is structured as simply a new episode. Not only are Mr. Newhart and Ms. Pleshette back; we also see Peter Bonerz (dentist Jerry Robinson), Marcia Wallace (secretary Carol), Bill Daily (neighbor Howard Borden) and Jack Riley (patient Eliot Carlin).

To some viewers, this may be the most welcome return of the CBS nostalgia fest that is coming up in the coming days. (It also includes "The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show -- II" at 9 p.m. Sunday and "Memories of M*A*S*H" at 9 p.m. Monday.)

Mr. Newhart ranks as one of TV's most durably popular figures. He's a rarity on the tube, squeaking in as a five-decade man.

Here's a check of the Newhart file (with sources including Alex McNeil's "Total Television"):

* Dubbed as one of a group of "new wave" young comedians, Mr. Newhart first appeared on TV in the late 1950s, as a guest on variety shows such as the Sullivan Sunday night series.

* Originally an accountant, his shtick was simply talking on the telephone, with one-sided monologues. His first hit record, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," drew its name from his conservative, CPA-look button down shirts.

* Few may remember, but the first "Bob Newhart Show" was on NBC for one season in 1961-62. It was a half-hour variety series that won Emmy and Peabody awards, but suffered low ratings.

* In another unsuccessful variety effort, Mr. Newhart joined Carol Burnett and singer Caterina Valente as rotating co-host of "The Entertainers" on CBS in 1964-65.

* He hit the sitcom success stride, of course, with the second "Bob Newhart Show" set in Chicago. But did you know there was a behind-the-camera Baltimore angle to that show? Co-executive producer (with Tom Patchett) was Baltimore native Jay Tarses, whose most recent series was "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" (in which he occasionally appeared as a garbage collector).

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