Even Bob Newhart had to wait in line to see Star Wars on his sitcom
A famous Trek actor also turns up in this episode, as well as what is perhaps the first beeper in sitcom history.
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Star Wars hit theaters 40 years ago this day, on May 25, 1977. The space opera made an immediate impact on pop culture. Tie-in novels and Marvel's Star Wars comic book series had been creating buzz in the geek community for months. It was not a total surprise then when fans lined up around the block to see the sci-fi epic, which was initially released on just a few dozen screens. The media coverage created a cultural phenomenon.
A few months later, people were still lining up to see Luke blow up the Death Star. (Spoiler alert!) Even straight-laced psychologist Bob Hartley, the central character of The Bob Newhart Show, had to wait in a queue to catch the flick. It was part of the October 22, 1977, episode called "Carlin's New Suit."
In the episode, Elliot Carlin, the neurotic real estate agent played by Jack Riley who became Hartley's most popular client, is hit with a paternity suit. A beautiful blonde woman (Loni Anderson) is looking for the father of her child. She doubts that Carlin is the dad, but he seems determined to prove his fatherhood. He likes the kid. His name is Billy. It helps that precocious little Billy dresses just like Carlin.
So, as a bonding experience, Carlin takes his supposed son to see Star Wars. Bob and Howard (Bill Daily) tag along.
"You're going to like Star Wars, Billy." Carlin boasts to the little kid. "It will give you some idea of what your father goes through every day in the real estate business."
"I hope there's not a lot of that kissin' and smoochin' in this picture," Billy declares.
There are a couple more notable things about this episode. The lawyer in the paternity case is played by Mark Lenard. Trekkies will recognize the name. Not only did he play Sarek, father of Spock, on Star Trek, he was the first actor to play a Romulan on the Original Series.
Oh, and he was a Klingon, too, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Oh, and as a bonus MeTV reference, his character on Newhart was named Erle Stanley Plummer, a nod to Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason.
The other tidbit that makes this a fascinating piece of pop culture history is the presence of a beeper. You know, those annoying things businessmen carried around on their belts in the 1980s and 1990s. Believe it or not, pagers date back much further. Howard brings one back from Japan as a gift to Bob. It's a fat red stick with a clip like a fountain pen. Bob carries it in his front pocket. Motorola's Pageboy was first introduced in 1974.
With the pager and Darth Vader, this episode truly feels like a taste of the future.