Sunday, August 5, 2007

"Hi Bob!"

Though most of my DVD library consists of movies (and mostly older ones at that), I am acquiring quite a shelfload of TV shows too. I think that's been the real benefit of DVD over VHS tapes, as one can now collect entire seasons of favourite TV shows that take up only a small fraction of space that would have been taken up by great numbers of 2-hour capacity videotapes. Besides, TV shows on VHS never did catch on for that very reason plus the significant cost factor.

DVD has certainly been a major boon to fans of older TV shows, who can now revisit their fond memories of what it was like to sit down in front of the tube back in the era of their choice. For me, my favourite era was the early 70's, when I could watch classy stuff like "All in the Family", "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "M*A*S*H" and "The Carol Burnett Show". Incidentally, all of these particular shows were on CBS, back in the days it had every right to lay claim to the nickname, "The Tiffany Network". I wouldn't bestow that honour upon any of the TV networks today, I'm afraid.

But there was another CBS sitcom back then that I'd have to rank up there at the top of my list...

"The Bob Newhart Show" was the first of several sitcoms that starred the stand-up comedian with the "button-down mind", though only this show and his second venture, "Newhart" I'd consider to be TV gold. In his first, and perhaps best, TV sitcom, Bob plays psychologist Bob Hartley, who, along with his wife Emily, lives in an upscale highrise apartment in Chicago. Their neighbour Howard is a flight navigator who's pretty clued out - just the sort of fellow you'd probably not want in that job position if you were on his flight and, as wonderfully played by Bill Daily, is responsible for most of the laughs on the homefront. At the workplace, Bob's office is adjacent to that of Jerry Robinson the dentist, who is also Bob's best friend. They also share the services of perpetually man-hunting, single gal receptionist Carol Kester.

I've always felt that the best sitcoms tend to feature an ensemble of characters where the lead is like the island of tranquility in a sea of craziness. That's certainly the case here, where the audience is seeing everything through the generally calm persona of Bob, as he reacts to the eccentricities of his friends, workmates, and patients in mostly furrowed-browed, deadpan fashion, broken only by a lot of bemused blinking and stammered verbal responses. I think this is why I really love Bob Newhart - he's one of the few entertainers that can break me up just by looking at him before he's even uttered a word. (John Cleese and Tommy Smothers also share this distinction for me.) Jack Benny was, of course, the master of the pregnant pause in his comedy stylings, and I think Bob Newhart was the guy who best carried on that comedy tradition.

I recently read Bob Newhart's autobiography entitled, "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!", the gag behind the title of which is best explained by reading the book yourself. The book gives some good background on how Bob came to leave the life of a public accountant behind to seek a career writing and performing comedy on stage. In addition to many wonderful anecdotes about his life and career, the book features several of his timeless "Telephone" routines. When you watch "The Bob Newhart Show", you'll see how he incorporated that idea of the one-sided telephone conversation into a great many of the scenes.

In tribute to this very funny and genuinely nice guy, here is my caricature of Bob Newhart and his TV wife, the very attractive Suzanne Pleshette.


Krishna M. Sadasivam said...

That's a stunning rendering of Bob Newhart and Suzanne P. - love the poses and line quality on the inks. Were they done digitally?

Bill Field said...

Awe inspiring as usual Pete! I sawthe post title- "Hi Bob" and remember years ago, in college the drinking game of the same title. The rules were simple, pick any episode of the Bob Newhart Show- taking turns, everytime someone said "Hi Bob"- you drank a shot, or a beer- by the end of the show,
everyone was feeling no pain. I had no idea how often that phrase was uttered until those crazy hazy days of colegiate glory- A sad note,Tom Poston who made appearances on this series and "BOB"(where Bob played a cartoonist!) as well as a regular role as the handyman on "Newhart"- and recent husband of Suzanne P., recently passed away. He was as great as Bob in the unique delivery dept. in my opinion.

Will Finn said...

amazing. every time i ever tried to draw bob newhart people thought i was drawing peter lorre. and suzanne pleshette in the bargain...i am humbled again...

which leads me to ask, how much prep goes into your finished drawings? do you just bat them out as effortlessly as they look or do you explore a bit before hand. (please say the second)...

i met mr. newhart when i was storyboarding on rescuers down under and even got to pitch to him and eva gabor. getting laughs from two tv stars who made me laugh often was a major rush.

Antony said...


Pete Emslie said...

Krishna - No, these were not inked digitally. Quite honestly, I've never been able to figure out how to do that. I just cannot understand a thing that Illustrator does. All of my linework is inked with a Winsor and Newton series 7 #2 sable brush, then scanned in and, in this case, coloured with the relatively more intuitive Photoshop.

Bill - Yeah, I'd often heard of that drinking game too, though I can't say I've taken part in it myself. It really is funny how many times "Hi Bob!" is said on the show. That was indeed sad when Tom Poston passed away not too long ago. I always thought it was very sweet that he and Suzanne Pleshette got married in their twilight years. Poston only made a couple or so appearences on "The Bob Newhart Show" as Bob's old college buddy, "The Peeper", so I don't know when he and Suzanne would have really known each other well, whether at that time or maybe much later. He sure was funny as George on "Newhart".

Will - How much sketching goes into the development of a caricature can vary greatly, depending on how elusive the likeness proves to be. I used to draw Bob Newhart constantly when I watched his shows originally, so I could probably draw him from memory at this point. Suzanne Pleshette took a bit longer to get, but still resulted from just persistently working on one sketch. If it makes you feel better though, It took many attempts with numerous rough sketches before I arrived at a satisfying likeness of Meg Ryan (2 versions of whom appear on my website.) Just a couple weeks ago, I had the same frustrating time in getting a good likeness of Ann-Margret, sketching her while watching both "Viva Las Vegas" and "Bye Bye Birdie" before finally coming up with a caricature that seemed to work!

By the way, I'm so envious that you got to meet Bob Newhart. He's one guy I'd really like to meet too.


Hey Pete,
You should consider putting together a CLASS on caricatures.I would take the CLASS in a split second!!
It would be very interesting to learn from your years of experience!
Awesome Bob!

CartoonSteve said...

Great caricature - instantly recognizable! I was also hooked on the show (and drinking game). So much so, I made reference to it in a cartoon I did for Highwire Magazine:
(ET plays "Hi Bob")

In our variation, everyone would take a swig upon utterance of the name "Bob" but when anyone would say "Hi Bob", you would have to immediately finish your drink and pour another. You knew you were in trouble the minute Howard walked in the room.

Anim8Ed Stuff said...

Classic Emslie! Love it!!!!!

Andreas said...

I really dig your work. Bob Newhart was a favorite growing up. I loved the Bob Newhart Show, and when you consider I was born in '74, it is a testament as to how universal his comedy is. I could enjoy it as a child, yet was even more meaningful, and funny, as an adult when I saw it again years later. The one sided phone conversations were hilarious. My favorite was when all the men were drunk and Bob is on the phone trying to order Chinese food.