Jun 12

“The Bob Newhart Show”: Dr. Hartley, My First TV Therapist

Who was the very first therapist you ever saw on TV? The most memorable? If you’re anywhere close to being from the same era as me, maybe it’s Dr. Hartley (Bob Newhart) of The Bob Newhart Show.

Mindy Peterman, Digital Journal, describes the series:

Newhart’s first sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show, aired from 1972 to 1978, and cast Newhart as Dr. Robert Hartley, a Chicago psychologist, whose job it was to treat a group of oddball, neurotic patients. Although Hartley was good at what he did, his charges tried his patience at times. But with the support of his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), he always muddled through. With his deadpan delivery and everyman appeal, the former standup comedian became a hugely popular television star.

Now that The Bob Newhart Show is out as a full box DVD set (142 episodes plus special features), some clips have finally been made available. For example, the opening sequence, including the iconic answering of the phone, symbolic of Dr. Bob’s career:

Interestingly, Newhart wasn’t so sure about the proposed sitcom’s premise. Bill Newcott, AARP, quotes him: “I didn’t know if people would accept me as a psychologist.” The stigma attached to therapy was, of course, even more prevalent back then than it is now.

Below, a video clip regarding this issue taken from a recent round-table discussion among cast members Newhart, Peter Bonerz (the orthodontist in Hartley’s building), Bill Daly (goofy neighbor to the Hartleys), Jack Riley (neurotic patient Elliot Carlin), and Michael Zinberg, a series director:


Justin Remer, DVD Talk, introduces Hartley and many of his patients:

Dr. Bob, much like his real-life namesake, is mild-mannered and well-equipped for listening…Though we see Bob help a number of wacky visitors over the course of six seasons, including a depressed clown and a ventriloquist whose dummy wants to leave the act, he has a core of patients who meet for group therapy and provide many of the best quips and storylines. These include stone-faced grouch Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley), bespectacled wimp Mr. Peterson (John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet), nasal-voiced overeater Michelle (Renee Lippin), and the ever-knitting Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus). Early seasons also included tough-guy fruitman Mr. Gianelli (Noam Pitlik, replaced by Daniel J. Travanti for one episode), who didn’t continue with the group after the episode ‘Death of a Fruitman’ for obvious reasons. Later, the group would cycle in new neurotics like sloppy dresser Mr. Herd (Oliver Clark) and Mr. Plager (WKRP‘s Howard Hesseman), one of TV’s first explicitly gay characters.

Todd VanDerWerff, AV Club, calls Carlin “the show’s best character” and “an almost perfect foil for Dr. Hartley, his dark, dour demeanor acting like a funhouse-mirror version of his therapist.”

The scenes between the two can feel like minimalist one-act plays at times, with Newhart and Riley bouncing off of each other in barely varying monotones that take on the vibe of complex business negotiations disguised as therapy sessions. In Carlin and Hartley, the show found two very similar men who looked at the dehumanizing state of American society of the ’70s and chose wildly different reactions. Hartley, an optimist, chose to believe people could improve themselves; Carlin, a pessimist, was pretty sure they never would.

Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times, recently asked Newhart about The Bob Newhart Show episodes he liked the best. Turns out there’s a theme in his answer that involves the minority status of certain patients:

Some of my favorite episodes include one from [1973, titled ‘Sit, Whitey!’]. We did a show with a black guy who came to see me; he was an insurance salesman. He wore African dress and had this black great dane with him named Whitey. I think it was a very important episode because it really helped diffuse some of the racial tensions of the day because America could still laugh at itself. Another favorite episode [1976, ‘Some of My Best Friends Are…’] featured Howard Hesseman [as Craig Plager] as a member of my therapy group who finally came out to the group. We were one of the first shows to have characters talk about being gay.


Bill Newcott, AARP: “…Pleshette…became so indelible as Newhart’s wife that, in the final episode of Newhart’s second series 12 years later, she returned to the role in perhaps the most famous closing sitcom scene in history.”

Todd VanDerWerff, AV Club, chooses the couple’s dynamics as the best part of The Bob Newhart Show:

…(T)he relationship between the two is the thing about the show that most feels like something no network executive would ever greenlight today. The two are deeply in love, and reading between the lines of their dialogue also reveals they’re having lots of sex…There’s nothing they love so much as ribbing each other with jokes that would be acidic in lesser hands but feel affectionate coming from the mouths of Newhart and Pleshette. What’s more, the two don’t have children and rarely discuss having them…The Hartleys are eternally childless, finding their fulfillment in their professional lives and each other, building a marriage that’s more about finding a solid partner to navigate life with than anything else.


Kyle Anderson, Nerdist: “The series has an edge to it that a lot of ’70s sitcoms didn’t, despite its overall good nature, and the writing, while very of its time, does produce a lot of really great bits. Newhart is a comic genius and watching this series, the first of his three primetime shows, is testament to that.”

Justin Remer, DVD Talk: “Though the series was clearly at its peak from season 3 to season 5 — with the actors, writers, and directors all comfortably playing into each other’s strengths — it’s hard to pinpoint a particularly weak stretch anywhere in the series.”

Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee: “The show remains one of the smartest TV comedies of all time. It was a gamble setting the show in a psychologist’s office, but the series worked because of the dry and witty brand of comedy Newhart brought to the title role.”

Sep 25

“Minding Therapy” at the Emmys

“At” the Emmys? Well, not exactly. But it sounds cooler than the title “Now That They’ve Won New Emmys, Here’s More Stuff About TV Stars and Shows I’ve Written About On This Blog Before.”

So, for instance, two of my very first posts (September 2011) were as follows:

Modern Family won for best comedy this year, and no one’s surprised. It’s far more surprising that Newhart, well known for his portrayal of a psychologist on The Bob Newhart Show (among other all the other things he’s done) had never won an Emmy (!) until now. Although his new award has nothing to do with playing a shrink, it does have to do with his guest role on The Big Bang Theory, which once wound up on this blog (“Big Bang Therapy on ‘The Big Bang Theory‘”) for its therapy-related scenes.

Meanwhile, Big Bang fan favorite Jim Parsons was again honored for his role as Sheldon, whom many viewers perceive as having OCD as well as traits somewhere along the autism spectrum.

Another repeat winner: Claire Danes for her major part in Homeland. Her Carrie is a highly skilled woman with bipolar disorder (see previous post). Courtney Reyers has written on nami.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness) about the importance of this role:

What’s crucial about this television series is its realistic portrayal of mental illness as well as real life—how in a matter of days mental illness can turn a life upside down, how peers, loved ones and coworkers can turn on you. How you start to doubt your own reality, and even how people can manipulate that reality. What’s really key, though, is that Carrie as a person, her work and her passion come first: Her mental illness is simply another hurdle she must overcome. Her illness is seen on the same playing field as countless other hurdles in her life, from political schemers to master plots of terrorism and deception to a strained family life.

Because of its therapy and mental health themes, American Horror Story has garnered several brief mentions on Minding Therapy in the past. How could I have ignored it when, at the end of the first season, psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) completely denounced his/my profession: “Therapy. Doesn’t. Work.”

Now an award has gone to James Cromwell, who in AHS‘s ensuing storyline, played an evil doctor at an institution for the criminally insane. (Until things went really bad for his character.)

Both Michael Douglas as Liberace and his film Behind the Candelabra also got Emmy honors the other night. In May I’d written this preview of the well-regarded biopic.

And Stephen Colbert‘s The Colbert Reportwhich excels in its coverage of hypocrisy, religion, politics, gay issues, and much more—finally got its due.

Then there’s Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield, who rightfully received writing kudos for the second part of the 30 Rock series finale, “Last Lunch.” For more info, see my February post “The End of ’30 Rock’ and Liz Lemon.”

Although I “caught up” with Nurse Jackie last year, it was solely about the lead character’s addiction rehab. But Nurse Jackie also has this year’s winner for supporting actress in a comedy series, Merritt Wever—whom many also note should get an award for best acceptance speech ever. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Um, I gotta go. Bye.”

What she told backstage reporters later? Winning was so unexpected. She felt scared. “I don’t know how to feel yet,” she stated, clearly nervous. “I have therapy next week!”

Well, maybe her process will be super-quick. Hopefully not à la the famous Bob Newhart therapy skit, worthy of a repeat here for sure:

Jul 10

Laughter in Therapy: Important Quotes That Support It

       “I shyly laugh, inwardly praying she won’t be one of those shrinks who would rid me of my favorite coping mechanism. Sure humor’s a defense – so what?” Daryl Stone, a therapist in therapy, on laughter in therapy, from my novel Minding Therapy

If laughter‘s so good for us, doesn’t it belong in therapy—on either side of the process? (Naturally, I’m referring only to the healthy, not-hurtful kind.) Some quotes by well-known folks who’ve appreciated laughter:

Mark Twain: When you laugh, your mind, body, and spirit change.

Madeleine L’Engle: A good laugh heals a lot of hurts. 

Lord Byron: Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine. 

Bob Hope: I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.

Victor Borge: Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

Bob Newhart: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.

Ethel Barrymore: You grow up on the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.

William James: We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.


For further details about any of the following snippets, click on the corresponding resource link.

Melanie Winderlich, Discovery, reports scientific reasons why laughter is healthy: it decreases stress, helps coping skills, and boosts your social skills, among other things.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: “Laughter is more than just a pleasurable activity…When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently.”

Psychologist Ofer ZurThe Zur Instituteasserts that laughter in therapy is cathartic.

Abigail Mellier, Newsfix: “Laughing during therapy is a sign of emotional intensity and good rapport with the therapist….”

Robert M. Gordon, Ph.D, “To Wit or Not to Wit: The Use of Humor in Psychotherapy”: “A humorless therapist robs the therapeutic relationship of playfulness, desensitization and mastery. Albert Ellis (1977) was one of the earliest advocates for humor in psychotherapy. He stated that Rational Emotive Therapy puts the locus of psychopathology at taking one’s self and life too seriously. He believed that humor could be a powerful therapeutic force.”

Aug 27

“Minding Therapy” One Year Later

This blog, Minding Therapy, launched a year ago with a brief, simple post about the tune “What Do You Hear in These Sounds?” by singer/songwriter Dar Williams. Although mainly a folkie, she calls this her “pop song about therapy.” I titled the post “But Oh How I Loved Everybody Else When I Finally Got to Talk So Much About Myself…,” taken from the lyrics.

And the winner of my second longest title, you’re dying to know? Also from the first month: “Wherein I Salute Labor Day By Being Too Lazy To Give You Much Useful Information About Therapists and Therapy Types.”

Since the beginning, I’ve posted every weekday, mainly on the following categories, all in my mind related to therapy and/or therapists and often overlapping:

  • Pop culture references—e.g., anger management in the film Analyze This, ADHD on TV’s Modern Family, and Bob Newhart’s impatient shrink in a MADtv skit.
  • Topical issues—e.g., Amy Winehouse’s untimely death related to addictions, the book Sybil Exposed, the mental health needs of soldiers returning from Iraq.
  • Clinical issues—e.g., when shrinks pathologize clients, how the brain works, and whether to detach from a dysfunctional family.

The posts receiving the most hits this past year? (Note: time is on their side. The newest of these dates back to February.)

  1. 50/50, The Movie: What’s Up With the Therapist/Patient Boundaries?
  2. 50/50 (The Movie): Therapist/Patient Boundaries (The Update)
  3. How to Stop Smoking: SNL Takes on Chantix
  4. It’s Okay to Be “Quiet”
  5. Thanksgiving: Jason Mraz, Charlie Mingroni, and Gratitude
  6. What About Bob?: Baby Steps
  7. Bob Newhart As Brief Therapist
  8. “Head Case” Ali Wentworth’s New Book
  9. Friends Don’t Diagnose Friends: How I Met Your Mother Therapist Update
  10. Sex Addiction and Shame

The profile of a typical Minding Therapy reader, then, is one who:

  • has either been in therapy or is a therapist—or both
  • is particularly concerned about iffy therapist boundaries and skills
  • has quietly struggled with smoking and/or sex
  • is thankful to know that change can occur—albeit one small step at a time
  • but is often impatient with others’ problems and longs to tell them to get over it—just “stop it”!

Or perhaps that’s an unfair conclusion.

Some of the newer topics that are drawing the most readers? Not in any particular order:

  1. Should You Detach From Your Family?
  2. Do You Have a Psychopath For a Boss?
  3. Is It Time to Outsource Your Worries?
  4. From the Fatosphere and Beyond
  5. Nora Ephron, Heroine
  6. Ballet and Mental Health: A Novel
  7. What Causes Heterosexuality?
  8. Therapy Office Design
  9. Piscatorial Therapy
  10. Positive Versus Rational Thinking

By the way, have you noticed? My titles have gotten briefer over time.

If you’re curious about any of these, please use my Search bar and take a look.

And thanks so much for reading—I look forward to continuing to find topics of interest to both me and to you!


Jul 03

“Anger Management” the TV Show: Managing My Anger About It

According to IMDB, Charlie Sheen‘s new series on FX, Anger Management, is “(a) TV sitcom-version of the 2003 feature film about a guy sentenced to anger management counseling with an aggressive instructor.” It premiered last week with the episode “Charlie Goes Back to Therapy,” and, as expected, it drew tons of viewers.

In brief, his character, Charlie Goodson, is a former baseball player with anger management issues who’s now an anger management therapist—with—guess what—continuing anger management issues.

Because there’s a group therapy focus, many reviewers have compared Sheen’s show to someone else’s from way back when.

Variety: “‘The Bob Newhart Show’ with more sex jokes…”

Washington Times: “Goodson has a 15-year-old daughter he adores, a sassy ex-wife he lets push his buttons, and, in addition to the paying members of his therapy group (shades of ‘The Bob Newhart Show’), he also volunteers at a penitentiary to work with cartoonish hardened inmates.”

Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly:

The locus of most of this show’s comedy…is the therapy sessions Charlie conducts. Watching him referee a group of recalcitrants and oddballs, you recognize the true template for this series: The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), with its bemused therapist surrounded by his wacky clientele.

But they’re not as vividly drawn as Newhart’s patients; you’ll find no equivalent to, for example, Jack Riley’s intriguingly furtive, insecure misanthrope Elliot Carlin.

Instead, the troubled souls in Anger Management are all less pleasingly complicated types, familiar to sitcoms current and past: the cranky old man (Northern Exposure’s Barry Corbin), the sarcastic gay man (Michael Arden), the sexpot (Noureen Dewulf), and a dope (Derek Richardson) who likes goading other people. Charlie also has a second group of patients – a group of prison inmates he counsels – but that’s a tonally strange, unfunny subplot that will either have to be dropped or drastically overhauled, since its humor in the first two episodes involve awkward jokes about murder, gay sex, or rape.

And it just gets worse. States a Chicago Tribune reviewer: “The funniest riffs come from perhaps the most contrived plot point. Charlie is best friends with fellow therapist Kate (Selma Blair), whom he is also having sex with. And in the pilot, they become each other’s therapists, putting off the physical relationship for about 30 seconds before getting frisky on her office chair.”

What the…?! They become each other’s therapists?! Where do I begin…???? The ethics against having sex with a client? The inability of a colleague-who’s-also-a-best-friend to be an objective-enough therapist? The no-way-can-your-client-also-be-your-shrink and no-way-can-your-shrink-also-be-your-client?

Apparently, here’s how this all develops: First, there’s Charlie’s realization that he needs his own therapy because of his still-unresolved anger stuff. The Washington Times:

‘Why do you need a therapist? You are a therapist,’ his neighbor asks.

Goodson responds this way: ‘Did you ever see a tow truck hauling a tow truck?’

Of course, Charlie being Charlie, there’s a problem.

‘There’s only one tow truck I trust,’ he sighs, ‘and unfortunately, I’m having sex with it.’

How ridiculous. A therapist actually believes he needs to have a developed and trusting relationship with his shrink before he starts therapy? !

Virginia Rohan, www.northjersey.com, adds that when Charlie’s neighbor then asks why this is problematic, he replies, “It’s unethical for a therapist to have sex with a patient. They teach that Day One. It weeds out half the class.”

Ha ha. Good riddance to them. Charlie, it’s not too late for you to weed yourself out.

David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun, who finds the show amusing, parenthetically notes:

(Memo to therapists: Save the emails about patients and therapists sleeping together. I didn’t say the series was enlightened. I wouldn’t go near Charlie or her if I wanted real-life therapy. But this is sitcom, remember?)

Yes. Yes, we do remember. But we’re sick and tired of it anyway, and we’re not gonna take it anymore! There are actually plenty other ways to make fun of therapy and therapists than to continually give the public the completely wrong impression that therapists may have sexual relationships with their clients.

“What would Dr. Melfi say?” This is asked by Mark Perigard of the Boston Herald, and it shows me that at least one critic is uncertain about Charlie’s doings. (Dr. Melfi was the shrink on The Sopranos.)

Better yet, Jace Lacob at The Daily Beast points out that Kate: “…willingly throws away her professionalism and morality to continue to have sex with Charlie, even as she ‘treats’ him. She’s said to be brilliant, but we’re shown no examples of her intelligence, just her sex drive.”

And, refreshingly, David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, also aptly sums things up: “Two things are relatively safe bets about the new sitcom Anger Management…The ratings are likely to be strong, especially for the first few episodes, and Charlie Sheen probably won’t make the American Psychological Association’s short list to keynote its next convention.”

Thank you, guys. Thank you for your support. I feel a little better already.