Still, the 88-year-old comedic legend recently reunited with co-stars Julia Duffy and William Sanderson for The Paley Center for Media and Hulu’s A Newhart Celebration in LA. And it turns out the classic 1982–1990 sitcom was just as much fun to make as it was to watch. “I would go home at night and tell my husband not to say anything funny because my stomach muscles hurt so much from laughing all day,” recalls Julia.
Bob and his wife at The Paley Center for Media.
Bob knew he had a tall order when he set out to make a follow-up to The Bob Newhart Show (1972 to 1978), which had cast him as the befuddled Dr. Bob Hartley. He was touring as a stand-up when he got the idea to do a show about an inn in Vermont. “I realized how running a hotel was similar to being a psychologist,” he exclusively tells Closer. “The guests were like the patients — no matter how crazy they were, you had to go along with them.”
Mary Frann, who was cast as innkeeper Dick Loudon’s wife, also had big shoes to fill. “I told her she had the toughest job in television because she had to follow Suzanne Pleshette,” says Bob of his beloved first TV spouse. “But Mary did a wonderful job.”
After a creatively rocky first season, the show’s ensemble came together with the addition of Julia as spoiled housekeeper Stephanie and Peter Scolari as her fussy beau, Michael. “Their vapid life and relationship — that was a gift,” raves Bob. “In the middle of the second year, we were off and running.”
The show hit full speed when William, John Voldstad, and Tony Papenfuss became regular characters in 1984 as backwoods brothers Larry, Darryl, and Darryl. “[Creator] Barry Kemp said he wanted three guys with one brain,” notes William, whose TV siblings never spoke. Adds Bob, “They were magical. They got 10 to 15 seconds of applause every time they walked in.”
The cast was rounded out by The Bob Newhart Show vet Tom Poston as the inn’s quirky handyman, George. “Tommy was golden,” gushes Bob. “He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and he never talked about it.”
Among Bob’s greatest episodes was its acclaimed finale, when Dr. Bob Hartley woke up in bed next to wife Emily (Suzanne) and realized the Vermont Inn had all been a dream. “It was my wife Ginny’s idea,” says Bob. “She was generously compensated.”
Mary wasn’t wild about the plot twist at first. “She didn’t know if it would hurt the concept that people had devoted their Monday nights to watching,” says Bob. “But she went along with it and enjoyed the response.” Tragically, the actress died of a heart attack at 55 in 1998, and her absence makes the possibility of a reboot even more remote. “I can’t imagine it without Mary,” Julia says.
For his part, Bob misses the live crowds whose laughs fueled the weekly tapings. “Doing stand-up, you’re very aware of the audience and you don’t want to lose them,” he says. “They were our lifeblood.”
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