Transcript:

Speaker No, I'm not. OK. Errol Morris, does that think that is very cool, isn't it?

Speaker It works for some special contracts.

Speaker Yeah, it's like it's like a teleprompter, except instead of the thing, his image pops up in it, if you like. Yeah, well, they are. I mean I mean, you know, makin my MacNamara's look in there and seeing or worse, which is who is in Philadelphia some time to the same place. Yeah. It's a very cool thing.

Speaker You're right. Yes. One. Yeah, it's. Over the side, huh? Yeah. Central Park. I think anybody.

Speaker He's there in an isolated black cocoon.

Speaker That is creepy. OK. So I'm wondering if you before you ever worked with Bob, if you were a fan of his album.

Speaker I why was I was I'm slightly younger than Bob. So I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was in my my school years at the time. And that album hit and I happened to be selling records at that time. But I heard the album and I sold the album by the Heartful. It was just it was amazing. People don't realize that the LP record was a was a novelty. You could play 45 minutes of material. And as a function of that, a lot of comedians were able to take advantage of. They could do their entire act on an album. And it was it was startling. So you could see someone on a variety show on The Ed Sullivan Show as a boy. That is funny stuff that at a new heart. And then the next day you saw this album. The album was amazing because he was such a low pressured comedian and the button down nine stated quite clearly, you know, I was seeing him in a way Bob was a minimalist. My my real television favorite comedian was Sid Caesar, who was a massive person. And Bob was a very small personality. And I think that that's, in my mind, the difference between certain comedians. Very many comedians are overpowering. Bob is under power. He's a minimalist. He wills. He will play a reactive character, someone who is not in control, just slightly out of control. Like most of us are most of the time. So he becomes every man to that extent.

Speaker Was that unique, you think, at that time in terms of other.

Speaker Yeah. Because you were well. Well, there were other comedians who were doing monologue. Shelley Berman was doing monologues at the same time at the same club in the same city that Mr. Kelly's. Shelley was Jewish. Bob is gentile. Shelly was working off of neuroses much the way Woody Allen worked off neuroses. But Bob also worked off of neuroses. But in a much quieter, less frenetic, more subtle fashion. Bob didn't tell jokes. Most of the comedians you'd watch The Ed Sullivan Show and a typical Shecky Green or Alan King.

Speaker Myron Cohen. Henny Youngman.

Speaker We're telling jokes. Good. You. I mean, a great joke. Well, told is still one of the great things. But I didn't do that. It's curious to know that that Bob opened his act, his nightclub act with a joke. I was talking with a comedian the other day who said they were startled when they first saw Bob at Mr. Kelly's in in Chicago. And this comedian had heard Bob's act, had heard the albums and the monologues and stuff and came in and Bob told his joke, an old joke that everybody in the audience knew and we wondered about. And we we came to the conclusion that what he was doing is he was preparing the audience to laugh.

Speaker That the the monologues that he was going into were character studies and like they were small, one act plays and they were eight and I thought he used to hearing music and joke, joke, joke, Joe joke and dancing girls and stuff. So to prepare them for their own experience of laughter, he told them a joke. That's my perception. Now you can ask him. I may be totally. That's the conclusion we came to.

Speaker And then the following night, we went to an organ recital at Disney Hall and he opened and the organist opened with a short Haydn piece.

Speaker This is my sprightliness. Here's my instrument. Here's here's here's the way it's got Google and going to work. Enjoy yourself.

Speaker So you're just saying do the same?

Speaker Yes. Bob also warmed up the audience for our television show, The Bob Newhart Show, telling a joke, not a particularly distinguished joke, but again, he was inviting the audience into the the experience of laughter and hearing themselves laugh together. Curiously, Tim Allen did the same thing. Tim Allen I also had the pleasure of working with Tim on Home Improvement, and he would come out and warm with the audience with a joke. It's a good idea. It not only does it work with the audience, but I think it warms up the comedian.

Speaker It gets in gear.

Speaker It's a little like the golfer thinking a couple of practice swings.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Tell me you did a movie together with Bob and I were cast in Catch 22. Mike Nichols directed the Joseph Heller novel Catch 22. Bob had an actual role.

Speaker I had a part of how they described it. But it's, as it stands, one of the great experiences of my life.

Speaker If you get on a cast list, there's Bob Newhart. This Tony Perkins is Alan Arkin. There's Orson Welles, Orson Pendleton. I mean, this was this was Benjamin Black Henry.

Speaker And we were on the show for it.

Speaker And so you sat there on Qantas shares with Orson Welles and Henry and Tony Perkins doing the crossword puzzle and talking about books. And that night since we were in Mexico for entertainment, it was nothing to do. When one Mexico, we would watch movies that Paramount flew in 16 millimeter films. And since I was the only one of the cast who knew how to throw a 16 millimeter film projector, I was invited every single minute to watch the films with the great guy. But sitting around with Bob and Bob and I quite quickly hit it off. We're both from the Midwest. From Chicago. I'm from Milwaukee. We both attended similar schools, Jesuit high schools, Jesuit universities. We were both family man. So there wasn't we didn't gamble. We didn't run into town to the shows or the or the the other places we waste. We sort of sat around and talked and made each other laugh at dinner. So we got to sort of know each other. And then after the movie, it was only, I think, months until they decided they wanted to do a show with Bob.

Speaker And I got the call and.

Speaker We met and there was a history before we get into that show on catch 22. Did you see, Bob have any kind of sort of learning curve in terms of, you know, here he was, a stand up.

Speaker Bob had done movies. Bob had been in a war movie and he had been in some other. I forget the name of the movie. Do remember? Yes. Bob had been in films. He was in hell is for heroes. Maybe another movie or two. So he knew his way around policy. Very quick study. Bob won't do anything unless he's sure of his of his ability to deliver.

Speaker That's true. All the stars.

Speaker They're not going to take on a gig until they know it's ready.

Speaker Have you been tasked as major, major, major? It was just when I heard it, I said, oh, my goodness, this is just fantastic. If you go back and look at the Catholics in the movie again, you'll find that almost every person in that movie is perfect.

Speaker From Alan Arkin playing Assyrian to Marty Balsan playing Colonel Cathcart.

Speaker I mean, just down the line. Orson Welles as the general holy cow. Austin Pendleton, the stuttering little worm as his son in law. Agit and I'm a minister.

Speaker But but Newhart thing was perfect because he has speeches in the movie wherein he says. To his sergeant. The sergeant says, when will you be in your office? And he says, well, I'll be in when I'm not here. So it's so when I'm when I'm not actually physically present, you can tell people that I'm here, but when I'm in my office, I'm not here.

Speaker I can get away. Things like that. Because he's so real. He's so simple, so subtle, so American that he can he can do surrealism and get away with it.

Speaker Did he have to talk about how he's more of a minimalist difference between. No. No, no.

Speaker No, none. None at all. He may think I don't think so at all. I think Bob just act he's he's a really wonderful actor. And having directed him for years and years and years, I know what a wonderful actor he is. He gets the material. He looks at it and throws it down and he goes and he does it. I don't know how much he's thought about it, but that, again, is an actor's secret. You don't you don't want to know how much an actor thinks about it. You don't want to tell an actor how to act. You just want to point to the actor. Well, this is what the script calls for you to do. And then you're supposed to come up with it. And he does it incredibly. In Bob's case, the two best examples of of having worked with him were a catch 22 and about Newhart Show. And in both cases, the characters are fairly similar.

Speaker They're they're reactive people who are reacting to a world that is slightly mad. And a world that is louder. More complicated, moving at a faster rate than they are. You know, was so Bob in the movie, had his sergeant and Bob in the television show, had Emily telling him what to do. And being very upset with him when he went, he didn't do it correctly.

Speaker Did he seem to enjoy.

Speaker While I was Butz, I think he found it more surreal than I did because he was coming from a world in which he controlled everything. When you're a star in a nightclub, believe me or it, you're in control of every single thing. Here, here. You're in a movie and you're on a list. Orson Welles and people.

Speaker And the movie wasn't shot at a particularly rapid rate. It took eight months to make the movie. At that time, it cost twenty five million dollars, which is about what it cost to shoot our television pilot now. But in those days, I was a lot of money. So it was a little extended. And I think that Bob didn't like sitting around for days in which he wasn't working. I did because I got to play tennis with Alan Arkin and sit around, talk with Orson Welles and do magic tricks.

Speaker So I ended up. Bob, Bob had better things to do. I didn't. I still don't. I still think he had insights. They just did that.

Speaker How can you just tell me briefly how the film did?

Speaker You know, I don't know whether it was successful before Bob at all. It was very successful for me. It put me on my map. It fulfilled an expectation. I had it for myself as an actor. This was a great book. Still exists in my mind as one of the great books written in America. And I desperately wanted to be in the movie version, that book, and I was in it. So, wow, great. When the movie came out, it came out around the same time as MASH.

Speaker So here are two anti-establishment, anti-war movies. Nash stole the Thunder. MASH was the hit and I don't think the culture at that time was could have stood to anti-establishment anti military movies. In retrospect, today, when I talked to students of mine, I find that Catch 22 seems to be more more interesting to them than does does matter.

Speaker Nash has a certain timeliness, a certain hipness that there's nothing hip about catch 22 to at all. It's just the the magnificent hipness of great art.

Speaker It's it's truly a good movie. And we'll get better as we get farther and farther away from the actual events.

Speaker Tell me a little bit about The Bob Newhart Show and how you became.

Speaker I I received a call from my agent. They're doing Bob and Bob Newhart Show. Would you be interested again? Well, what I'd be interested. You know, where do I sign up? Who do I have to pay?

Speaker And it was very simple.

Speaker It was one of the simpler audition experiences I think I've ever had. I think I went down and they had a script and I picked it up and Bob was there. And we sort of read together ethyl wine and a great producer. She was head of casting at CBS and Grant Tinker, the head of Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises, was their.

Speaker And they laughed at the appropriate places and I walked out thinking I had the job. And then they didn't call for a while. Subsequently, years later, I found out that they were they were interviewing other people as well. I thought, gee, I'm just the only guy they need. Peter said that, but it seemed real simple. And I was so delighted. Bob was very pleasant to me.

Speaker It made me feel welcome and wanted.

Speaker What did you know? Had you heard much about development in Bob's.

Speaker No. No.

Speaker Can you tell me about.

Speaker I, I never knew much about Bob's input.

Speaker Bob's input with the show, even when I was directing the show, when he likes something, he really liked it. And you could tell he liked it. Be easy being angry. He would immediately call the writers and say, I like this. When he didn't like something, he would just sort of retreat. He would retreat into his office and make one phone call. I suspect I knew who the phone call was to. And then things were changed. But he wasn't the kind of star that throws scripts or stomps out of the office or rails or denigrates the script in any way. There are many who do, and it's just a different way of work. But never did did that. He'd never been critical about some of the material, but never in such a way so as to undermine the work. Maybe this is maybe I would like to think that Bob and I share this. Maybe it has to do with a similar background work ethic from the Midwest and the Jesuits.

Speaker Do you think, though, that he had more input than it might have appeared, just the way they function?

Speaker Bob had a lot of input.

Speaker When the show is called The Bob Newhart Show, again, coming from the experience of his being a headliner was a headliner.

Speaker Imagine what you've seen, that the film, they didn't have videotape, they had film of Las Vegas. Let's start us. The Sands, the thing that you know, Frank Sinatra. Journalist Dean Martin. Bob Newhart. I mean, that's as close to being royalty as American entertainers had at that time. So that's where he came from. And he he seemed to have stepped into that crown overnight. You can ask him about this, but it seemed to me there wasn't a Bob Newhart. And then there was Bob Newhart, who was a huge star who could bring viewers onto The Ed Sullivan Show. So he I he had a career in show business before he was Bob Newhart. But I didn't know about it.

Speaker You'll you'll dig up some early archival footage. But there's very little of it. And it's merely archival.

Speaker Did he bring to it?

Speaker I mean, what given his stand up background, do you think he brought something to it that was different? Necessarily as an actor?

Speaker No, no. All stand ups bring to the television experience the confidence of having made people laugh long and hard in many different cities. Jerry Seinfeld.

Speaker Tim Allen.

Speaker Everybody Loves Raymond. They all bring that certainty of knowing what they're doing. So there's that. They may succeed or not succeed, but they know what's funny. They just know what's funny. It's like musicians when they play a chord. They know that's a proper chord.

Speaker They're self-critical. Very self critical when something doesn't work. The rest of us won't know. It didn't work.

Speaker There's there's an inner audience there that tells them it's working, it's not working, it's working, it's not working.

Speaker How did you see that in Bob?

Speaker Wow. We'd when we did the show, we always went out for dinner, the whole cast went out for dinner.

Speaker And in subsequent shows, that's never happened with Tim. We'd go out sometimes. But this was just the cast. This is small group of people who go to a lovely restaurant all dressed up and eat and drink until all hours. And Bob Bob would sort of talk about the thought, the show noticing things that the rest of us didn't notice. Things that really weren't. Things that didn't didn't work as well as he thought they should have. And I think as much as he was openly critical to us, he thought about that stuff a lot. A lot. Stand up. Comedians keep if not journals, you know, they're always testing out material. You call a stand up comedian on the phone. You could call Robert Klein right now and he'd do 10 minutes because he's testing is a.

Speaker One pilot changed quite a bit. Can you tell me about that?

Speaker My, my my memory of the pilot experience is that Bob was a psychiatrist, not a psychologist. And in the pilot, I was not a dentist. I was a fellow psychiatrist. And the way I remember it, Bob, was a sort of a behavioral list.

Speaker No, no, Bob. Bob, Bob was a Freudian was the way it was when he was very low keyed and I was much more volatile.

Speaker So I don't know how that breaks down. But Bob is more analytical and I think I was more hands on challenging people. It was again and again off scream therapy, I think that's it. Anyway, they went out with this concept of two psychiatrist and it didn't test test. Well, I think it just I think America or whoever they tested those twelve people in the morning didn't think that America was ready for a comedy. Psychiatrist. But a psychologist, what difference, if made, obviously made a difference, because he was very warmly accepted onto the American cultural stage.

Speaker As I understand, probably.

Speaker I didn't know about it, but I had lots of input that nobody knew.

Speaker No. That's it. That's again, it's not a secret, but something that people should and should know is Bob wasn't made by other people.

Speaker Bob is Bob Heen.

Speaker He created a world around him and where he didn't write the pilot episode, Lorenzo Music and Dave Davies did. And Pageant Tauruses wrote many of the shows. And he Wilson wrote many of the shows and we all directed many of the shows. They were at the behest of Bob Newhart.

Speaker This was this isn't this is a true magnificence.

Speaker I mean, you've got to understand that, that he coalesced around himself, all these talents. And let's face it, we had talent. We knew what we were doing. Also, if you if you look at the.

Speaker The members of the various castes he had, he had input as to those cast members. Bill Daley, Posten, Marshall Wallis, not only were they good in their own rights and really capable of doing it, but the balance that that they brought to it was quite wonderful. Bob, Bob would often say as a as a tool. To me, the director, that I'm only as good as my supporting cast. That's not, again, always true of stars.

Speaker There are stars in this world who would rather keep the supporting cast a big dollar. To sort of magnify their own radiance.

Speaker Bob, on the other hand, with like glistening, reflective people around. It's just a different way of looking at the art form. But but Bob really did did want to have extremely talented people on the show and funny people. Bobby Remsen, a really funny standup comedian, was on the show as a fast talking landlord or big mouth of one kind or another, because he likes that, because we like to be around him.

Speaker For one thing, he like to be around funny people, all funny. People like to be around other funny people. Bob's best friends are Dick Martin and Rickles.

Speaker Funny people.

Speaker Is that just jumping to bed? Is that a. Is it surprising that he and Don Rickles.

Speaker No. You know, I don't find it to be surprising at all. I do the ying and the yang of of of their world. You know, Rickles is loud and acerbity and Bob is quiet and congenial.

Speaker Going back to The Bob Newhart Show, you mentioned about him being a psychologist. That's the way the.

Speaker Responded, Do you think that show was groundbreaking in that way, that it dealt with that and did it impact the way we looked at therapy or.

Speaker Various people have had said that the new heart show eased America's fear of head shrinking.

Speaker That may be true. No one's ever done a study that I know. It would be very hard to have done that. I do know my feeling about the show is that that it didn't focus on Bob so much as a clinician, wasn't a doctor, really had a page after his name. He was a listener. That was, I think, the important thing. And I think the thing that people really do respond to when they say how much they liked that show was it was about. It's about people listening to one another and how valuable that is, how valuable it is just to sit and say, well, what do you think about what you've just said, you know, or do you ever think about how other people feel about you when you behave like that? You know, just asking questions. Not threatening. They weren't terribly. There weren't a lot of putdown jokes on the show. It wasn't we weren't doing social parody. Like many of the other shows, the show was not about the time in which it was made. The show was about just people talking and getting along in relationships. I was thinking about the show on the way down, one of my favorite elements of the show where Bob and Emily in bed.

Speaker Very often we'd waited there. Their bedroom scenes with the lights off. They would reach over this physical force of body by merely reaching to their right or left.

Speaker They could turn off all the lights in the room. It's convention that we had the years. So one of them would finish an argument and then snap the lights off.

Speaker And then the other person would start the argument, a new talk, and it would go on and on, and then it would be quiet for a second.

Speaker Then the light would go get her. It's just great. It was just two people. It was great for it. For a director, there wasn't any blocking for cameras.

Speaker Do people know? No waiting. But the brilliance was the timing. And you'll ask any comedian certainly recalls. That's that's what comedy's about. Just.

Speaker That moment when the stop went to start. How loud, how soft is true of art? Art in general could be said to be all about timing, know even painting. Where does that line come? They come in. You read left to right is a line here. Tick, tick, tick, tick. They space basically is based on another line. So it's tight. We could make that argument. His vocation is movies. It is Marty Werner, a director producer. He would be a priest. You know that about him. He still dresses very formally and speaks very formally and has that passion that religious people do.

Speaker So back to the bomb. Yes. Tell me about how we were starting to touch on this, that it seems like it wasn't about. It was different than a lot of. It wasn't looking for the joke.

Speaker Yeah, that's true. In many ways, I was talking to a young young man who was about to produce his first television pilot this year. And I said, how many scenes are there? And he said, wow, I think there's probably 20 scenes. Now, this is it. This is a 50 page show. So there's one scene every couple pages. That means each scene has to be buttoned by a joke and has to have a joke to start it. So there's at least three jokes per page. So it's filled with jokes. The old show is The Mary Tyler Moore is in the owner. Families weren't as filled with jokes.

Speaker Scenes would run on for 10, 12, 15 pages sometimes. So you had scenes. You had moments of acting that was slower today. Just you you have to do short, quick button scenes. I suspect that that even a show like Arrested Development or Larry David show Curb Your Enthusiasm are AB aberrations because they're not joke, joke, joke, joke, joke. I think that's one of the reasons that people liked them so much. Is it throwbacks about the current Vogue in sitcoms? Joke, joke, joke show. We didn't have that many jokes.

Speaker As I recall, it was funny, but there were there many jokes.

Speaker What was it, more character humor?

Speaker The shows weren't necessarily about jokes as much as they were about character relationships. You know, my dad having a discussion with Bob while I was cleaning his teeth, thus disallowing his ability to answer because I had to.

Speaker Who am I? I said, well, what do you think? And he would try to not don't do that. So that wasn't the joke. That was just a funny moment that everyone's had. Who's been to the dentist?

Speaker Did you think this reflected the time period?

Speaker They all did all shows. All art reflects the time, time period. Yeah, I will try try to be a little bit less paid for not I think in my answer. Did our show reflect the time period? Yes and no. It didn't do it as formally as the other shows did. Had all of the family reflected the time period that on because it talked about the Vietnam War and long haired hippies? Our show didn't talk about one here. Hippies. Mary Tyler Moore Show talked about the emerging power of women in the workplace. Overtly, she was the woman at the station was the workplace. Suzanne Pleshette was a very strong character. She was also in the workplace. She was a teacher. But again, she was a teacher. She wasn't an executive. And her role and she was a housewife. Let's face it. I remember a couple of times, not once I suggested to Bob is part of the staging of a scene. OK. You finished eating. Now it's time to clear the table so you can both clear the table.

Speaker And I knew Bob didn't want to help clear that.

Speaker I think I might have gotten to move a plant just so he could continue the conversation, but he didn't want to be seen as washing up.

Speaker So in that way, you know, it was it was it was America as as. We all knew it. A mom and pop and in certain roles to be played. So it wasn't part of the changes that were taking place in America in the 60s. The world was changing. 1968 changed the world. There were riots everywhere in America in 1968. Not on The Bob Newhart Show. There was no riot. And now we were doing the show from. From what, 60 to this is from 72, OK, from 72 to 78. Right. So there was political turmoil in the country, not on our show, on all the other show Mosiello shows. There was it reflected that what our show reflected, I think, was changing attitudes.

Speaker But they were internal attitudes. They weren't expressed in the headlines. They weren't expressed an overt political or social discourse. They were expressed in people just feeling a little bit uncomfortable being around a gay person.

Speaker It surprised me the other night when I found out that we had a gay character on the show. I don't remember it. But in talking to the actor, my friend, her husband, who played that gay character, I said what was a show, a show about? And he said, well, in the group, I, I outed my my self and certain people were slightly less comfortable with me than they were. And that was that that was probably the result of the show. I don't think it it entered into a big discussion about the wrongfulness or rightfulness of the behavior of a gay person. It was just how do we feel about him now that we know him? Is it like that?

Speaker Do you think that the fact that it wasn't as topical as some of the other shows was?

Speaker Did that come from Bob?

Speaker And do you think it was smart to be a little more timeless, whether or not the lack of overt topicality came directly from Bob as a mandate? I'm not sure. As I said, he was a very private person regarding what he wanted to show, to be reflecting on his act. I would say yes.

Speaker His act. He wasn't Mort Saul. He wasn't Lenny Bruce. He was a humorist.

Speaker He wasn't a satirist.

Speaker So it came from him and as I said, one of the reasons that the show worked is it's it's so amplified. Bob Newhart, the personality. And the fact that we went for six years and no more, I think was also reflective of Bob saying, you know, we've done Bob Hartley.

Speaker This is as much we've amplified my Bob partially to the extent that we can. Other members of the cast wanted the show to go on.

Speaker So it's a great, great job. And we were having a great deal of fun together. But Bob didn't want to do it. And I so much admire him for knowing when to stop. Tim Allen did the same thing. He stopped.

Speaker Do you think it's that comedian?

Speaker Exactly, it's the comedian knowing when to get off.

Speaker He does your act. You do want go out and you get off. Isn't high.

Speaker How many of us have sat in theaters or or concerts, especially concerts? I go for two hours and then they go on a couple of songs. Too many. And you say, oh boy, I was having such a good time. Comedians won't do that. Comedians won't do that. They know. They know it in the in the seat of their pants.

Speaker You were mentioning Bob's discomfort with some of the scenes where you know, where he and Emily were. Did did did you think that that they use that on the show, though, because it was a pretty modern marriage and that was part of the focus of the show? Right. Was that dynamic of Bob's character trying to kind of. We're come to terms with Emily being strong.

Speaker Right? Right. The MIF, the male female relationship, the husband wife relationship on The Newhart Show was both new and old when I talked. Talked about the bed bedroom scenes.

Speaker It was a very famous radio show called the Bickersons, Don Ameche and Alice Faye, which is very similar. Married, loving people who in moments of rest.

Speaker Have this one annoying little thing they want to talk about.

Speaker The toothpaste.

Speaker I just want to clear up the toothpaste issue.

Speaker I think that goes back to to maybe make Bath and Beyond.

Speaker I think husbands and wives have always had a bit of a bit of trouble.

Speaker The new shows simply reflected a traditional comedy genre.

Speaker So I don't think it was especially ground groundbreaking in any way. What made it work so successfully on The Newhart Show was the fact of the chemistry between Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette. They couldn't be more different in the world if they were legally married. They'd be dead. I mean, just they would they would have died on the honeymoon. It would be it would just be over. They enjoy each other's company to this day, but only knowing that, you know. Ginny and Sue Susanna are both similar and dissimilar, but they're dissimilarities. I think far outweigh their similarities.

Speaker Tell me when and why you started to direct on that show.

Speaker This is the truth. I started wanting to direct because I was getting antsy. I just didn't have that much to do as an actor. And I didn't have any hobbies at the time. I didn't crochet or bowl or I had two sons to raise. But it wasn't a hobby. It was a mandate, a heavenly mandate.

Speaker I wanted to do something else in the show always. I've always loved the show business, whether it's doing a high school player or what I do now. I just like being on a soundstage, being wears. Shows are happening. I love shows. I just love. So I wanted to be more a part of the show. And I figured I could either write or I could direct. I'm not a good writer. I know that. I always knew what I. And I know it today. But I thought I could direct. I directed some some theater. So I went to Bob first and I said, do you think you'd let me direct this show? And he said, Well, sure, because I had been sort of helpful to other cast members already. Just giving them little tips and getting little pieces of business. Let's do that. Let's do that. You come in or wouldn't it be better if this is stuff that actors do? So he said, sure, call Grant Grant. Think it was a his studio. So I went over to see Grant. Grant, Grant at the time, you see, was very open to bringing young talent, really young talent. Jim, Jim Burrows came out from New York. Boom. Did our show did Mary Tyler Moore, with very little experience directing talent in a number of directors, started likewise on the show. Michael Zinberg.

Speaker Lots of us. He was open to that experience. The reason that I was able to continue to direct, I think I was fast and fan. Bob doesn't like to rehearse. Like very many comedians, Bob doesn't like to wear out the material. He gets the material. He knows how to do it. You rehearse it once. He'll do a run-Through for the writers to just check to see if it's working. And then he'll shoot it. He'll have standards for camera blocking. But he just wants to get that show in front of an audience.

Speaker What about as an actor in terms of directing, Bob?

Speaker Do you try to just not, as John said, about actors and directing actors? So the trick is to hire the best actors and then step way back and let them act. That's essentially the gig. When you talk about. Clint Eastwood, any of those award winning directors, pretty much that's what they do. I mean, there's some minimalists who get in there and act everything out.

Speaker But, you know, generally I get really good people out of their way, not especially because his his method of work is so singular.

Speaker He wouldn't give him a line reading.

Speaker You know, there were a couple of writers on the show. People who had written jokes to be set in a certain way and would have the temerity to suggest that maybe this or that word be stressed and. You could hear the suggestion echoing also hit went no farther. I mean, it just bounced directly out of bounds for head on to the floor and died an uncomfortable death.

Speaker Would you intentionally, as a director and he's so famous for his. And that would build in time for that.

Speaker No. As actors, we all did as actors, we all knew to give Bob his space. So you didn't have to. Tell people to do that. We all understood that as part of the gig. So, no, that was just a tacit understanding amongst everyone. Bob has his timing. What? What did happen? And this is particularly true in one show called The Mugu Guy, Panjsher, the Drunk Show, where there's a very famous episode, everybody gets drunk and Bob plays a very good drunk. It's a singular drunk. The rest of us and male members of the cast, I think, started to play the same drums because he was so successful in rehearsal.

Speaker Oh, that's the way to be funny. And I think someone pointed it out. I don't know who said we can't all stay that way and talk like that and slur the same words. But if you look at the episode with that in mind, you'll see we're just all aping Bob's drunk.

Speaker Yeah, see, the thing that I understand about Bob's drug is that it comes from observation.

Speaker This, again, is true. All great comedians as they observe life with such exactitude. Most of the comedians are also good mimics.

Speaker Bob can Bob can do other Canadians. He doesn't do it in public, but he can do it. Lot of those guys can do that. Tim Allen can do a Bob Hope that would send you out of the out of the out of the room just. They're good at it because that's where they get their material. They observe life. Jocketty, the French filmmaker, you can like him or not like him, but he specifically observe life. The thing that's good about comedians is they they show you how to be your own comedian. If you listen to the comics, if you watch Jocketty film, he will show you how to look at the world and find it amusing. That's that's very important.

Speaker What do you what do you remember? Do you have a memory of what perhaps the biggest laugh?

Speaker We all have different memories of the biggest laugh. My memory is when Bob again got a little tipsy. I think we were out together and he couldn't find his car.

Speaker And he borrowed a horse. And he told Emily this or something, then he went out.

Speaker He came in with this policeman's horse, let the policeman settle on it.

Speaker And I think it was directing the show and they just laughed and they laughed and they laughed. And then it was just a horse coming out of a soundstage. Maybe it was just funny. But the guy recording the sound. So that's the longest laugh that he had occasion to record the other. My memory of the biggest laughs that I was a part of was set. Whitey.

Speaker I was I was at my dental smock. We were out at the at Marcia's reception drum there. I was standing and a very tall, very regal black man came out with a big Great Dane dog and he had a big staff. I mean, he was a very imposing black man.

Speaker And he came out and I looked and I was stunned to see this guy because he does she care help the staff of the skull make Gardy like them posing. So I'm just standing there. And he he walked out and position himself and he turned to the dog and said, sit, lady. And I sat down.

Speaker And that was a good long while.

Speaker I hope so, because it was it was a good. Laugh that was set up just not by words as fascist. Just the singularity. And again, if you think about it, it it was topical. At that time, we were going through civil rights troubles.

Speaker But this was a way to reflect the fear that white people had.

Speaker Of the emerging black class, that show was more topical, maybe just in a more subtle way.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah, clearly. Yeah, that illustrates how the show wasn't topical, passé, but topical and in a very subtle behavioral way.

Speaker I think that force episode, there is a story behind that episode, is that the one where.

Speaker They had made Emily pregnant even.

Speaker They are the Marcia Shoesmith abducted by aliens. I'm pregnant now.

Speaker Didn't they, what they had written episode.

Speaker Oh, really? I don't.

Speaker I don't know. I don't. I don't.

Speaker What about.

Speaker Recognition that God didn't, you know, the recognition of certain shows, certain movies has always mystified me, quite frankly, the fact that great directors have never been honored with Academy Awards. The fact that great actors have never been given awards.

Speaker I don't get it. I just don't understand it. I, I wonder who is determining those.

Speaker I mean, I know as a member of the Directors Guild, we vote and things, but it's it's not a function so much of what's the best here.

Speaker I'll give an example of why I think all those awards are silly. Here's an example.

Speaker Miles Davis, the famous bebop trumpet trumpeter, is on The Today Show. Brian Bryant Gumbel sitting is sitting there. And Bryant Gumbel says Miles Davis. Do you think you're the best jazz trumpet player? And Miles goes, Mazurkas a bass.

Speaker There you go. Talking about best. What is best? Is there a best? Are you wearing your best tie? Is that the best lamp up there? Have you ever seen the best cloud eating the best pastrami sandwich?

Speaker He goes on and on and on. And he takes a nice pause. Timing. And he says.

Speaker But you as dizzy, he'll tell you I'm one of the best.

Speaker So, of course, there is no you can't award this year's best comedy show.

Speaker Well, you know, they have to give it to somebody because they have to have a television show. These award shows are not about the awards. They're about the television show.

Speaker It's all about. The emerging class of. Three yet anyway, awards.

Speaker Not having won more than one a. I'm not comfortable in saying awards are silly because I only won the one. That was a great award, though, and I clearly deserved it all on that show.

Speaker We were never nominated yet. We were on the show, as I recall, wasn't not nominated. I think Suzanne was nominated one year. I don't think Bob was nominated at all. The show was it's still, you know, one of the great shows of television. TV Guide has, you know, the great shows we're always honor abide by by critics. But it didn't get the awards. But there were shows in those years that were people's favorites. And they were they were great shows. Mary Tyler Moore on the family MASH. Wow. Who could cook? Who could say that our show was better than theirs? There are some of us who wondered if their shows were better than ours.

Speaker But, you know, I as I say, I don't give much credence to. We didn't think about it much. We didn't talk about it much. It wasn't a topic of conversation. And we as I say, we went off for dinner every week after the show and the cast members had lunch every day. And I don't think we spent a lot of time grousing about the show, NSA and its lack of having won awards. That wasn't something that.

Speaker Do you think, though, that at all? I mean, is there a reason that it was made because it was this more subtle humor perhaps, or is there?

Speaker I suspect that it just wasn't high up on the on the topicality radar.

Speaker And you know, MASH, the movie was more important than Catch 22, the movie, because it was more specific to our Vietnam experience. I think all in the family was just a more topical and important show in terms of the politics of the time and politics at that time was a very important issue. If you compare it to now, people who have feelings about our involvement in Iraq aren't as as able to disrupt. Dinner conversations, as they were in those days, I mean, families split apart over Vietnam.

Speaker That doesn't happen today.

Speaker We're all just OK. We're there and we have to make the best of it. That wasn't true then and that's seeped into popular entertainment, too. I, I you had to take a position.

Speaker Do you think it's partly to do with.

Speaker I mean, if you look at all the family now versus the Bob Newhart Show with The Bob Newhart Show. In some ways is more.

Speaker Yes, I think so. Absolutely so I think the new show will have legs as as I say, will will be watchable, watchable. I think The Newhart Show will retain its watch ability for decades to come because it wasn't about. Then it was just about us. It was about our shared humanity. It wasn't about our specific case by case. Moment by moment interest.

Speaker I read somewhere something you said about why Bob worked so well on television and that it takes a very particular type of.

Speaker Work well on television because you have to sort of be edgy enough and yet familiar enough, and yet I just wondered if you can talk about that.

Speaker Yeah, I've I've thought about why people want actors, some actors work on television and and other actors work better in the theater or in motion pictures. I think that the people who work best in television are personality actors. That is, they play pretty much themselves. They aren't character actors. You know, I think someone like Sean Penn or Marlon Brando. Ah ah ah ah.

Speaker Really character actors. I mean, each time you see them, they're totally different people. And you go to the movies wanting to see those different people that they are. The reason you turn on your television set is to see the comfort of the Bob Newhart, the Mary Tyler Moore, the Raymond.

Speaker You want to see those, Mary Tyler, Tyler Moore is similar to how they were last week.

Speaker Because you're in your home. You got to go out of your house to the theater. Movie theater or the life theater? I think it's as simple as that.

Speaker Well, why do you think Bob is one of the very, very few people I can hardly think of anyone else who's had. Two hits, it comes, it stayed on four. He was born there. Twenty years, it takes a particular.

Speaker I think that Bob's ability to maintain his his his his simple presence. He's never going out of his way to be anybody other than Bob Newhart.

Speaker He hasn't changed his personality to fit the world around him.

Speaker And the world around him has, at least in America, hasn't changed that much. So as not to accommodate him. So he's he's been able to work on these various shows because there is so much of him.

Speaker There's so much of middle America.

Speaker Johnny Carson. Was from Nebraska, Bob Newhart is from Chicago.

Speaker These are comfortable humorists. We can go to them. And we can relax. They're going to be funny. They're not going to threaten us. This is this is very this is very important to a country like ours, which is so scattershot. There's so much around us, especially today. There's so much happening on television, in the newspapers, on the streets, in clubs, in restaurants, restaurant here, restaurant gonne restaurant here is just a lot of stuff. It's nice to be able to tune in. There's that guy. There she is.

Speaker What a world.

Speaker I just want to follow up briefly on that point you're making about him being not threatening, because I just want you flat.

Speaker Right. Because there's a difference.

Speaker You had me bland and be funny. You're gonna be right out there to be funny.

Speaker You've got to be the kid in class who stands up and says, I'm funny and I'm going to make you laugh. So there is that about them once having stood up and gotten their attention, though. Then you can you you can change the dynamic. You can get quieter. You can you can show them their own blandness or their own frustration. But you've got to get their excitement. So you've got to be strangely exciting.

Speaker It's hard to say. You know, Newhart is strangely exciting and I wouldn't be able to really define what is exciting. I can define maybe what is strange, but key.

Speaker He I think the Johnny Carson analogy is a good one because it seems so effortless and but so many people have tried to be effortless and not been heard from the second time. So it's it's a mystery. That's what makes it art. Great art is a mystery. How can you know? Pablo Picasso do that? Like that chicken and millions of other people do chickens. And they're not they're not as good. There's not as much chicken this there or genre road does a curvy line and you can look at that for hours. Is it a crack in the desert? Is it a wrinkle in an old man's face?

Speaker What is it?

Speaker It's a line that this famous artist did similarly a comedy. It did. It can be so simple as to just be unimaginable. Beautiful.

Speaker I wanted to ask you about that film in the last. So and what your memories were of that. That day in.

Speaker It was the first time I had done a last episode of a show. I've done it others sub subsequently. It's like high school.

Speaker It's just like leaving high school.

Speaker You've made it incredibly intimate friendships. And you've gone through things that others who weren't in that class have never gone through. I will never go through again. You know, you're gonna see these people because you're really tight and really close and you make promises you know you can't keep. It's the ying and yang, it's it's terribly wonderful and terribly sad at the same time.

Speaker It hit me when we went to a little banquet afterwards and they had six cakes about the size of a prayer rug and they had the titles of all the shows are written. One hundred and forty two episodes. And I reflected on how much work we had done. And often enough, if I had all that satisfaction and fun doing them. How much more rewarding it was to know that we were making people laugh. And one hundred and forty two increments of twenty eight minutes. I mean, it was just. I'm still astonished to know that I could have been that helpful to my fellow human beings just. Easing them into laughter is a is a tremendous thing to be able to do, it's like. I don't know, piloting an airplane is some boy. You're making it possible for someone to get to there. How good that is.

Speaker You know, Bob, we all cried.

Speaker We all hugged. But that's expected.

Speaker I, I, I, I think that Bob was both deeply saddened and very relieved. Because he had done Bob Hartley. You have to know, is it? You have to know when to get off. So he was relieved and yet. I think part of you also want to get back on the road. There's a part of a circus in in the comedian.

Speaker If you pull up the tent, the they saying, well, OK, I've done I've done Waukegan tomorrow. Sheboygan after that. Toledo. I don't think they do. They have a little, you know, booking sheets there. The name of the club in the hotel.

Speaker And they keep them from year to year. What's the best hotel? What's the maitre d name? You know what? The restaurants are where I got ptomaine. You keep those booking books. And Bob, I think, really wanted to get back in there. Bob still goes on the road. He still plays when one one nine years. He's essentially a comedian. And when you talk about, you know what? When you come when he what keeps him so alive and something he still doesn't.

Speaker It's like an ice skater who still straps skates on and goes out and does it.

Speaker You know, at some risk, a comedian is always at risk if they don't laugh. You're not doing your job. You know, you make that poundcake and they and the person says it doesn't say it tastes good. Schmick to boot. You don't hear that? Well, all so comedians are always are at risk.

Speaker And the words they use that are interesting, like bull fighting words, I killed them. You know, it's like an oil painting out there. They're dead.

Speaker Wow, what a live crowd. Their very real life and death for words. You know, I'm dying out here.

Speaker What just lastly, what do you think is his legacy? I mean, what's what's happened here is how do we see his impact on. The field of comedy, what's his contribution?

Speaker He wasn't Jewish. He excelled, you know, World War II Jews survive. I don't know. Is that a Jew Gentile?

Speaker That's curious. I say, no, you shouldn't even know that. Yeah, I know. I, I, I shouldn't say that. But it's true.

Speaker If you tell a joke.

Speaker And you want to know how to tell it? Just think what a tell it like Henny Youngman was like a Jewish person with talent.

Speaker And you'll be on the road to telling it correctly.

Speaker You'll start to have that rhythm. No, I didn't didn't do that. Now, I think his his. I don't know what his legacy. I'll tell you this. John Belushi surprised the dickens out of me when he said you weren't with Newhart. What's that like? He said, he is my idol. John Belushi. I mean, you think his idol would would would be gorgeous, George. The Wrestler or Sid Caesar or. A boxer of some some kind. Holy cow. Yeah, he was.

Speaker Bob inspired Jerry Seinfeld. He inspired people.

Speaker In ways that I don't know if they know themselves how or why they inspired him, but his legacy is not that he was the funniest.

Speaker Not that he was the most original. I think Bob was. The most he may have been the most American. He may have been the most reflective. Of what?

Speaker America is maybe in that way he's a bit like Mark Twain.

Speaker In that he said he simply looks at his fellows and says, here is who you are.

Speaker Not through the eye of a critic. Or a philosopher.

Speaker I'm just going to be you for a while. Here's the way you are.

Speaker Why, Tom? Told Peter Bennett interview. And Peter Bennett, interview Tom.

Peter Bonerz
Interview Date:
2005-04-05
Runtime:
1:06:47
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-8g8ff3mj51, cpb-aacip-504-nc5s75772k, cpb-aacip-504-pc2t43jr5r
MLA CITATIONS:
"Peter Bonerz, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 05 Apr. 2005, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/465
APA CITATIONS:
(2005, April 05). Peter Bonerz, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/465
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Peter Bonerz, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 05, 2005. Accessed May 22, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/465

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