I just heard today that Bob Newhart will receive an Emmy for his guest star appearance as Professor Proton on The Big Bang Theory. The taped show will air September 22,2013 at 8:00 p.m. Bob plays an aging former kids’ show host, revisiting the befuddled character that he has played so well for so many years. Bob is the deadpan straight man who can’t understand the crazy hijinks going on around him.
Born in 1929, Bob turned 84 on September 5th. Although Bob has been nominated for other Emmy’s, this is his first win. What a birthday present!
In addition to his work as a standup comedian, Bob is remembered for his show The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978) where he played a psychiatrist, and his follow-up show Newhart (1982-1990) where he played Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon. In a famous television moment, the finale of his second series linked back to his first series in a dream sequence mocking the infamous shower scene in Dallas.
We find out the entire second series was a nightmare that ends when he wakes up in bed with Emily, played by Suzanne Pleshette. The bedroom from the first series was recreated for this scene, and I remember it to this day. TV Guide chose this finale as the best finale in television history. In my opinion, nothing comes close to the way that the last scene of that show opened on a dark set with Suzanne Pleshette’s typical whine.
What makes Bob Newhart’s career so memorable is his ability to play deadpan in the middle of bedlam. He nailed it on The Big Bang Theory, proving he’s still got it. Professor Proton had as much trouble navigating Sheldon’s brand of crazy as Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon had with Larry, Darrel, and Darrel.
When I heard he won, I was surprised that he didn’t already have at least one Emmy award for one of his shows. I wondered whether the actors who won against him have stood the test of time. So I decided to do some digging.
It turns out, Bob Newhart’s arch nemesis is Michael J. Fox.
1985 – Bob was nominated in 1985 along with Ted Danson for his work on Cheers, Robert Guillaume for Benson, Harry Anderson for Night Court, and Jack Warden for Crazy Like a Fox. Of those, the only one that I have never heard of is Jack Warden in Crazy Like a Fox. Robert Guillaume won for Benson.
1986 – Bob was nominated along with Jack Warden, Ted Danson, Harry Anderson, and Michael J. Fox for his work on Family Ties. Michael J. Fox won.
1987 – The slate of nominees didn’t change much: Michael J. Fox, Harry Anderson, Ted Danson, Bob Newhart, and Branson Pinchot for his work in Perfect Strangers. Michael J. Fox won again.
Situation comedies ruled in the late eighties, and there were strong contenders each year. I remember all of those, with the exception of the Jack Warden show, and almost 25 years have passed. I absolutely loved Cheers, had a huge crush on Michael Fox in Family Ties, and loved Night Court. So I can’t complain about the field of nominees.
It’s difficult for comedians playing the “straight man” or deadpan to win Emmy awards. Andy Griffith never won an Emmy for his role of Andy Taylor, while Don Knotts won several times as Barney Fife. We often remember the joke, not the painstaking setup.
Congratulations to Bob Newhart for his long overdue win. As I watched that episode, I remember thinking he still has it. It makes me want to listen to the album where he’s a security guard at the Empire State Building who has his first night on the job when King Kong starts his climb. Classic.
What is the moral that I take from this? Make good art. The rest will come.
SI Neg. 2002-22477.08a. Date: 10/30/2002...Comedian Bob Newhart, recipient of the 2002 Kennedy Center Mark Twain Award for American Humor, speaking at the National Press Club. ..Credit: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution)