The ending of the sitcom Newhart is regarded as one of the most memorable in TV history in the US – but might need a bit of explanation for younger and non-American viewers.
I’ve been a fan of Bob Newhart ever since, as a youngster, I got a few of his LPs, featuring recordings of his comedy monologues, out of the library.
These were fantastically well-written and acted routines in which Newhart would perform one side of a conversation, often on the phone, the other half unheard and revealed only through his comments and reactions.
They included Introducing Tobacco To Civilisation (in which “nutty Walt” – Sir Walter Raleigh – calls the boss of the West Indies Company in London to tell him he’d bought 80 tons of leaves that you stick in your mouth and set fire to – “You’ve bought 80 tons of leaves? This may come as a kind of a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England, we’re kinda up to our…”); Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue, in which Lincoln’s press agent tries to keep him on script for his appearance at Gettysburg; Defusing a Bomb (“You found a shell on the beach… you think that’s unusual?”); and The Driving Instructor.
But he is probably best known to British TV audiences for his 80s sitcom, called simply Newhart, which was an early US comedy hit on Channel 4. In it, Newhart played Dick Loudon, a writer who had moved with his wife (played by Mary Frann, pictured above with Newhart) from New York to run an inn in a sleepy town in Vermont, where he finds himself an island of rational sanity in a community of oddball locals. The show lasted eight seasons, though, from what I remember, Channel 4 ditched it after a couple of years and never showed the later seasons.
Going a little further back, Newhart’s biggest TV hit was The Bob Newhart Show, a sitcom that ran for six seasons between 1972 and 1978, in which he played Robert Hartley, a psychologist in Chicago. His wife in that show was played by Suzanne Pleshette (pictured right). I’m not sure if the show ever aired on British TV – if it did, I was too young to remember it.
Anyway, when the time came for Newhart to end in 1990, they decided to do it in style. I won’t spoil the surprise – the set up for the following scenes is that a Japanese firm wants to turn the town into a country club and everyone agrees to sell out to them – except Newhart, who refuses to go along with another mad scheme by the locals. So his inn remains open – but stuck in the middle of a new golf course.
The following scene is set five years later…
Have you watched it yet?
Don’t read on until you do.
Yes, they had Bob Newhart, playing Dick Loudon, get hit on a head with a golf ball, then he wakes up in bed, playing Robert Hartley, with his wife from the earlier show – having dreamt the entire eight seasons of Newhart‘s run! It also helped to explain the crazy behaviour of the bizarre supporting characters in the show. Genius. It’s also worth remembering that Dallas had aired the infamous “Bobby in the shower” episode a few years earlier, where it emerged that the previous season of the show, in which Bobby had died, had been dreamed by Pam.
Similarly, the quirky hospital drama St Elsewhere had ended its run in 1988 with a surreal final scene that suggested the entire show existed only in the imagination of an autistic child.
Whether the Newhart ending was meant to parody those shows directly, I’m not sure, but Bob Newhart did explain the origins of it in this short interview clip: