“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, which aired from 1972 to 1978 and featured Newhart as a psychologist married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette).

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:

BOB HARTLEY AS SHRINK

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.

BOB AND EMILY

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.

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