It is great to finally see the television show BOB being issued on DVD. In the early 1990's, I belonged to the PRODIGY computer network, an earlier version of AOL, that was co-owned by IBM and Sears. On Prodigy, there were television discussion groups, or "boards," that discussed the various television shows. One I participated in discussed BOB, the third television series, well, really the fourth, but that's another story, that featured Bob Newhart. After each show, other viewers and myself would write about the show: what bits we liked best, how we thought it could have played even better if they had done something. At the time, Prodigy was the top dog of the computer services, and often times, a television show would have someone reading the posts, lurkers we called them, to gauge how the show was going. Well, imagine my surprise one day, when I noticed a posting by "Bob Newhart." I e-mailed him and discovered it was the "real" Bob Newhart. Knowing how folks sometimes are on the boards, I suggested he delete his note, and told him that if he really wanted to post something, he might do this under another name with a secondary account number. Quite frankly, I was glad to know he was looking in on what we were discussing, but I did not want him inundated with hundreds of e-mails. He followed my suggestion, and afterwards, we e-mailed each other from time-to-time as long as the show was on the air.
From our e-mails, I remember him remarking how one of his sons had been reading the posts about our group talking about the show, and the feedback was helpful. None of our plot ideas were ever used, but our comments were considered, similar to those of the "lobby group" in an episode. One thing in particular, though, that I remember him mentioning is they picked-up on how much we were talking about the cat named "Otto" on the show (I believe it was actually a female cat and her real name was "Samantha"). After seeing all of our comments about Otto, they decided to have more interactions with the cat. The cat, a grey and white one that looked like it could have been a Maine Coon Cat in size and structure, usually had a comedic bit every other show. Bob told me that no matter what they came-up with, Samantha would do it.
In the past many have said that Bob Newhart essentially plays the same character in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, NEWHART and BOB, but I disagree. While he tended to play Dr. Bob Hartley (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) and Dick Loudon (NEWHART) with a rather milquetoast personality, in BOB, while often still playing a quiet, reserved character, he also possessed a harder edge sometimes, and there were instances of a physical comedy which were nonexistent in the two earlier series. With regards to this, I remember seeing a two hour episode of "Biography" on A&E channel featuring Bob Newhart, and I remember it showed some home movies which had him running around playing physical gags on other stars. If you've ever seen Bob Newhart perform in person, as we did last year, you will notice that he is very active on the stage, too.
An example of this physical comedy occurs in BOB in the second episode when Bob, playing Bob McKay, and Harlan, Bob's comic writing partner played by John Cygan, are having a tough time with writer's block. Bob starts talking about the agony of dealing with it, the despair, etc., and we see Harlan open a window to the outside of the high rise building and go out on a ledge to spend time "with the pigeons." Bob talks Harlan back inside, but the writer's block still continues and near the end of the episode, as someone else talks about the tragedy artists face with writer's block we see both Bob and Harlan climbing out the window to be with the pigeons.
As for Otto's exploits, there is one episode where the viewer sees the half-darkened living room of the McKay house, empty, but with the television set turned on and pictures from it lighting-up the opposite wall of the room. From up the stairs, we hear the voice of Kaye McKay, played by Charlene Watkins, saying, "Be Careful, Bob," and asking "What's making that noise?" as Bob appears on the steps, carrying a large baseball bat that is shaking, more from fear than anticipation. "It's just the TV, I must have left it on," Bob replies, as he turns off the set and goes back up the stairs. Then, just as soon as he disappears from view, we see the cat run from the kitchen, jump on the sofa, walk over to the TV remote, step on the remote and the TV come back on, again. From upstairs, we hear Kaye saying, "There it goes, again." Bob reappears, his eyes larger than before, the look of fear on his face.
I really enjoyed the show, but like many new shows on television, the network, CBS, just didn't seem to be willing to let it build an audience. It began on Mondays, airing before or after MURPHY BROWN and before NORTHERN EXPOSURE. After a third of the season had passed, which included some preemptions for the World Series or other special events, CBS began moving the show around to several other nights, usually only showing it there for two or three weeks before moving it to another night. The original premise of Bob and Harlan teamed together to rejuvenate the comic book series "Mad Dog" was replaced in the second year with Bob now creating greeting cards, again, and Jere Burns playing Pete Schmidt, a narcissistic-type fellow who seemed to rub everyone the wrong way, working with Bob. Betty White plays Sylvia Schmidt, the new owner of the greeting card company who is equally narcissistic, and she is a jewel. If you think she was great in movie "The Proposal," she has twice as many lines here and all are zingers. In BOB, she brings Bob McKay back to the greeting card as the new President of the Schmidt Greeting Card Company after her husband runs off with a dental hygienist.
Besides those already mentioned, the cast included Cynthia Stevenson as Bob and Kaye's daughter Trisha, a sweet, slightly neurotic 20-something. During the first year, Timothy Fall and Andrew Bilgore were two of the office workers at Mad Dog, and during the second year Megan Cavanagh (Marla Hooch in "A League of Their Own") and Eric Allen Kramer were workers at the greeting card company. Guests tended to appear in multiple episodes with my favorite ones being Dick Martin playing Buzz Loudermilk, Lisa Kudrow as Kathy Fleshier, and George Wendt played himself in the episode, "Da Game" from the first season.
With all the scheduling changes made by CBS, it was destined that BOB would be cancelled because there was no way it could have built an audience when the audience didn't know what night BOB was going to be shown. Five months after it was cancelled, I received an e-mail from Bob thanking my wife and I for our comments about the show and for supporting the show. It was the first of many "class" acts I have witnessed from Bob Newhart. Over the 18 years since then, Bob and I have kept in touch via e-mail despite both of us changing service providers, and my moving four times. My wife, whom Bob thanked in the note, passed away from cancer in the late 1990's, and I appreciated the kind words he shared with me after that happened. One funny thing that, to me, showed his "good taste," was how, when he found out I was living in Yuma, Arizona, Bob would end his notes with "I spent three days in Yuma in the '50's." He did this all the time I lived there. Then, after we moved back east, the first note I received from him ended with, "I spent three days in Yuma. They were the worse three days of my life. I was in the Army, and we were on an un-airconditioned railroad car, and it was in July." Bob's statement had nothing to do with Yuma as a town, just his having to be on the train those three days. Having lived through some 125+ degree July days in Yuma, I cannot imagine how he survived three days in one of those metal railroad cars without air conditioning, in JULY! He must have been like the Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) character in the "hot box" from the movie "Bridge over the River Kwai."
The show BOB, to me, seemed to reflect more of the exuberance of his comedic style. He always said, and he said this, also, in his autobiography I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny that he did not think the public was ready for the way he acted in BOB. Having, finally, gotten the chance last year to see Bob perform in person, I can truthfully say the comedic style he used in BOB was more like he was on stage. I am so glad that this show is being issued on DVD. I found it to be laugh-out-loud, don't-eat-potato-chips-while-watching funny (I actually did choke on a potato chip while watching it. Luckily my wife knew the Heimlich maneuver).
The DVD's are packaged in a four-DVD set with an episode guide and a short description of each one on the back of the cover. Two discs have extras which include three interviews from "Entertainment Tonight," and two versions of the comic book "Mad Dog # 1. The first one has plot lines discussed in the television show by the shows characters, and the second one is the actual comic book that was published.
In conclusion, I have found-out two things from watching BOB and knowing him as little as I do: 1) Bob Newhart is an original, and 2) If laughter is the cure for what ails you, then, watching BOB just might cure the common cold! Buy this set ASAP, as one never knows if CBS might pull the plug on the DVDs, too.
I have posted a scan of the back of the DVD case and scans of the episodes (the single sheets are easier to read) so you can see more of what is on the DVDs.