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Classic TV

‘The Bob Newhart Show’: 11 Surprising Behind-the-Scenes Facts About the Classic 1970s Series

We've lost Bob Newhart, but this iconic TV show captures him at his comedic best and will live on

In the realm of classic television sitcoms, few hold the enduring charm and timeless humor of The Bob Newhart Show. A staple of American television in the 1970s, this beloved series left a mark on audiences with its witty writing, memorable characters and the comedic genius of its lead, Bob Newhart, made even more profound by his death at the age of 94 on July 18, 2024.

The Bob Newhart Show ran from 1972-1978 and starred Bob Newhart as Dr. Robert “Bob” Hartley, a Chicago psychologist living with wife Emily in a high-rise apartment building. Bob is forced to deal with crazy patients, his wife and their sometimes problematic friends.

(The Bob Newhart Show) Intro

Behind the laughter and the seemingly effortless chemistry of the cast lies a treasure trove of fascinating behind-the-scenes facts and anecdotes that add depth to the show’s legacy. From casting quirks to on-set mishaps, and script improvisations to unexpected revelations about the characters, here are 11 surprising facts behind the The Bob Newhart Show.

1. Bob’s on-screen wife initially turned down the part

Famous phrase (The Bob Newhart Show)
Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette (1978)

While Bob Newhart was always the first choice to play the mild-mannered psychologist Robert Hartley, the casting of other pivotal roles was not as straightforward. Interestingly, Suzanne Pleshette appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and was seated, coincidentally, next to Bob Newhart.

Producers thought the two of them clicked and asked her to read for the show as Bob’s wife, Emily Hartley. However, Pleshette initially turned down the role, citing a reluctance to commit to a television series. It took persistent persuasion from the producers, as well as assurances about the quality of the writing, to convince her to reconsider — a decision for which fans remain eternally grateful.

2. Newhart insisted on changes to the show before he signed on

Newhart insisted on changes to the show before he signed on (The Bob Newhart Show)
Bob Newhart (1978)

When Bob Newhart read the premise for the proposed series, he insisted on two changes. First, he wanted his character’s occupation to go from psychiatrist to psychologist so he wouldn’t make fun of the seriously mentally ill, and he turned down the idea that the Harleys would have children, wanting to avoid the standard scenario of a goofy father.

3. There was Nepotism on the The Bob Newhart Show set

From Bob Newhart to Murphy Brown and back (The Bob Newhart Show)
Bob Newhart and Peter Bonerz (1978)

Bill Quinn, the actor who played the recurring role of the mailman for Bob Hartley’s office building, was Newhart’s father-in-law in real life.

4. From Bob Newhart to Murphy Brown and back

Peter, Marcia Wallace, Suzanne, Bob

The characters Bob Hartley and Carol Kester-Bondurant appeared outside The Bob Newhart Show, in an episode of Murphy Brown. Carol (played by Marcia Wallace) became Murphy’s 66th secretary. Unlike all of Murphy’s other secretaries, Carol does a great job. Unfortunately (for Murphy), Bob Hartley (played by Bob Newhart), shows up at the end of the Murphy Brown episode to convince her to come back to work for him.

5. From acting to directing

Bob’s age keeps changing (The Bob Newhart Show)
Bob Newhart and Peter Bonerz (1978)

Jerry, the dentist, was played by actor Peter Bonerz. He not only did a great job with acting, but he also learned how to direct on the show. He then went on to direct several episodes. After the series concluded, he continued doing so on other shows.

6. The Bob Newhart Show‘s famous phrase

Bill Daily, Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette

Over the course of the series, the phrase, “Hi, Bob” was said 256 times. Howard Borden (Bill Daily) said it a total of 118 times. Dr. Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz): 43. Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace): 36 times and Emily Hartley (Suzanne Pleshette): 17 times. Minor characters or guest stars said it 43 times, and Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) even said it once.

7. The Bob Newhart Showopening credits

For a few episodes during the show’s sixth and final season, the opening credits and theme song are not shown, but rather the show opens with the first scene being performed with the opening credits running over it. Although many sitcoms today have abandoned opening credits, this was very unique for the 70’s and ultimately unpopular. After a couple of episodes., the show’s opening sequence was brought back to the original format.

8. Theme song was sung by Garfield

The theme song for The Bob Newhart Show was written by Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield (in the ‘80’s cartoons) and a writer on the shows Rhoda and The Bob Newhart Show.

9. All-star cast

Bob and Suzanne

Bob Newhart, Peter Bonerz and Suzanne Pleshette are the only cast members to appear in all 142 episodes of the show.

10. Look closely at the set design of The Bob Newhart Show

Over the course of several episodes, Bob’s office number keeps changing. In some shows it’s 715 and others it’s 751. For example, in a season 2 episode, the door reads 715 outside the office. Later, when he and a patient leave it’s back to 751 again.

11. Bob’s age keeps changing

All-star cast (The Bob Newhart Show)
Bob Newhart (1978)

In season 3, it’s said that Bob is 45 years old. A few episodes later, Bob says his mother was 56, which would have made her 11 years old when she had him.

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