8 great Bob Newhart TV roles beyond his own sitcoms

He is brilliant at everything, from Hitchcock to talk show host.

Image: The Everett Collection

Bob Newhart's comedic credentials speak for themselves. His 1960 debut comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was the first comedy LP to top the Billboard pop charts. It also won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

This breakout success landed the former advertising copywriter a television deal with NBC. In 1961, the network premiered the variety hour The Bob Newhart Show. While the show earned Newhart an Emmy Award nomination and a Peabody Award, it ran just one season. The second time was a charm.

A decade later, in 1972, the second series titled The Bob Newhart Show debuted on CBS. Produced by MTM Enterprises, it was part of the new wave of smart, urban sitcoms of the early 1970s. Centering around a Chicago psychologist named Bob Hartley, The Bob Newhart Show was the perfect vehicle for a comedy of neuroses. It ran for six seasons.

Next, in 1982, Newhart struck gold again with Newhart, which cast him as a Vermont innkeeper. That series is perhaps best known for Larry, Darryl and Darryl, as well as a genius finale, which explained the entire show to have been a long, weird dream of Bob Hartley.

He tried to capture lightning in a bottle again with Bob in 1992, a sitcom about a comics illustrator. Elsewhere on television, Newhart appeared on everything from Saturday Night Live to Desperate Housewives. Here are our favorite other TV roles of Bob Newhart.

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1. Gerald Swinney in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour'


Yes, Newhart's first TV role involved rats, poison, a blonde bombshell and a twist ending. "How to Get Rid of Your Wife" was far from an outright comedy, but it did ooze the brand of dark, twisted humor patented by Hitchcock. Swinney devises a plan to frame his nagging wife for attempted murder. He dreams of being with a sex kitten named Rosie. Naturally, it does not go according to plan. Newhart's wry demeanor makes for one devilish character. He could have played bad more often — if he wasn't so nice.

2. Himself in 'The Entertainers'


The teaming of Newhart and Carol Burnett certainly seems like a legend in the making, yet this short-lived series goes largely overlooked. Dom DeLuise, John Davidson, and singer Caterina Valente were also players on the sketch variety show. Taped in what is now the Ed Sullivan Theater, The Entertainers premiered the same week as Gilligan's Island, Gomer Pyle and The Munsters. One episode entirely devoted itself to the Beatles. Midway through its lone season, the show jumped from Fridays to Saturday night, losing Newhart in the process. 

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Lloyd Larchmont in 'Captain Nice'


In the wake of Batman, several other camp superhero shows popped up on TV. Created by Buck Henry, Captain Nice was arguably the funniest of the bunch. In "One Rotten Apple," Newhart played a nightclub owner who must be protected from killers.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Guest host of 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson'


Stand-up came just as easily to Newhart as acting. The amiable, clean comedian was the perfect man to fill in for Johnny. Newhart guest-hosted the talk show a whopping 87 times. Years later, Newhart confessed that at one time the network considered him for the full-time job, due to salary disputes with Carson. NBC gave him a shot for three weeks. “At the end of the three weeks, I was a blithering idiot,” he admitted. “It is the toughest job in the world.” Nevertheless, he would return to occasionally fill in for his buddy, Johnny. Newhart was in the host chair for one classic Tonight Show moment. Don Rickles was the guest. While demonstrating a passport stamp, Rickles smashed the prized cigarette box Carson kept on his desk. Carson had brought the box with him from New York. The following evening, when Carson discovered the broken wooden box, he took a camera crew and confronted Rickles about the crime.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Marvin Ellison in 'Thursday's Game'


It's hard to fathom how a comedy written by James L. Brooks and starring Gene Wilder would be relegated to the small screen in 1974, but Thursday's Game is more evidence of how strong made-for-TV programming was back in that era. Wilder and Newhart play poker buddies who routinely meet up for a break from their wives. The two leads switch stereotypes, with Wilder as the straight man and Newhart more the wild one. For all its laughs, it's also an honest look at male friendship.

Image: ABC

6. Dr. Bob Hartley in 'Murphy Brown'


Though it was only one scene at the end of an episode, Newhart did reprise his role of Hartley for Murphy Brown in "Anything But Cured." His secretary, Carol Bondurant, has left to become the 66th assistant to Murphy Brown. Hartley comes to lure her back to his office. "You're a very angry woman," He tells Murphy. "You really ought to see someone. But not me."

7. Judson in 'The Librarian'


TNT's charmingly kooky Indiana Jones knock-off features Newhart as "the first Librarian," a centuries-old mentor to the heroes. He appears heavily in the TV movies starring Noah Wyle, but continued to turn up here and there in the spin-off series The Librarians. Newhart is essentially playing himself, but that's the joke. The notion of Bob Newhart as an immortal treasure hunter is inspired casting.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Arthur Jeffries in 'The Big Bang Theory'


Newhart played another "sage mentor" type on CBS's smash sitcom. As hard as it is to believe, it was this role, as Sheldon's hero, "Professor Proton," that earned Newhart his first-ever Primetime Emmy Award. Newhart returned to the show as a Yoda-like "Jedi spirit ghost."

Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution

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FloridaTopCat 5 months ago
Love his original stuff, Bob Newhart Show, Newhart, etc. Totally forever classic ending to the Newhart sitcom with Suzanne! Also loved his appearance on "The Big Bang Theory!
RedSamRackham 35 months ago
Bob did an Emmy winning 1-season-wonder sketch comedy show in early 1960's ☺
Lacey 57 months ago
I am always amazed at how little "official" recognition well-established stars get.
Does Hollywood just take them for granted because they make it look so easy?
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