My neighbour Doug asked me the other day if the whole world had turned to crap or was it just television. This is one of those transition weeks where, if you’re not into the Stanley Cup playoffs, or the last few new episodes of Louie or Fargo, for discerning viewers, there’s not a lot on.
So a good time, then, to delve into TV’s past. This week, Shout! Factory has released The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series. You can find the boxed set, which contains all 142 episodes plus commentary,a cast reunion vid and other goodies, here.
In order to write a feature about the release for The Canadian Press, I booked interviews with two members of Newhart‘s excellent ensemble: Bill Daily, who played apartment-crashing neighbour and airline co-pilot Howard Borden, and Peter Bonerz, who directed 29 episodes and appeared as Bob’s office mate, dentist Jerry Robinson.
It was a delight catching up with both on the phone. Daily, now 86, retains his frazzled charm and is full of stories about not only “Newhart” but also his days working opposite Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden on “I Dream of Jeannie.” Listen to Daily as he tells me three funny jokes here and read on below for a Q&A from our conversation:
Tell me about your late, great co-star, Suzanne Pleschette.
Oh, brilliant, funny, sharp, great. One story I could tell you–you can put it in the papers, not that bad–but one time, she went to go and pick up her husband, Tom Poston [who co-starred on Bob Newhart’s next sitcom, Newhart]. He was dying and we went to the hospital, and the doctor says–now she’s famous for being dirty and raunchy but clever and bright, but the filth is, it’s so bad that you can’t really take it–so the doctor said, ‘You can’t take him home, he needs more potassium.’ She said, “Well stick a banana up his ass and send him home.”
She was funny, smart and she should have won an award. She was brilliant in that part.
Hard to believe none of you won Emmys. Why was that great cast shut out?
I don’t know. None of us–none of us were up.
When you look back on that era, do you remember it as a golden age of TV comedy?
I don’t know, when we went out after every show, we always had this great place, the Tail o’ the Cock– Johnny Guamieri — great piano player – everybody’d sit around, and no one was happy. And I was the only happy one.
I only know two people in Hollywood that are happy.
Who was the other one?
It’s just not Hollywood. People–I don’t know what it is, they’re really born. They’ve proven now you’re born with the glass is half full. I’m not religious in spirit, but, I mean you’re really born with it.
But that happy spirit actually came through. When I watched you on television, that’s the impression that I had.
Yeah, it’s there. I’m not that good of an actor.
Because, but the thing I, no, no, I’m serious, I know, but I’m likeable.
And a lot of guys are funnier than I am, great, but, in fact, the first guy that was better…Newhart, what was his name? He did the telephone first, but he was such an ugly human being.
Yeah, Shelley Berman. He was brilliant. He did that telephone thing, it was beyond, but he was a nasty guy, and Bob, you know, getting a close-up of him in anger, Bob is such a sweet guy, and when he does those things, it’s just wonderful! You know, he’s sensational.
So you must have been pretty excited to land on The Bob Newhart Show.
Are you kidding? My buddy from when we were kids…and Suzanne Pleshette? Oh my God! But we didn’t make any money, Marcia Wallace and I, because – they have hold money. If you do a series they have to hold you so, so you don’t take something else, but when the show is sold already, there was no hold money, so everybody made five thousand, we made like $750 or something.
And we were grateful for it. You kidding? Oh my God. On with Newhart?
And you knew Bob Newhart from your early days in Chicago.
Oh ya. Ya, nicest guy ever. Just quiet, gentle. in fact, when I was a director at NBC, we were doing a show, the biggest show ever for an awards show, and everybody from the world was coming from L.A. – and writers, producers, and we were doing this show, and I was directing, and five minutes before that night, the engineers went on strike.And we’ve got all these stars coming in and – we said to Bob, ‘Can you do a couple of minutes?’ – He did Abraham Lincoln’s press agent–and killed everybody. Standing ovation, got Hollywood contracts – I mean it was just, and headlines in the paper, it was just a killer.
So it was just kind of a coincidence that you wound up on The Bob Newhart Show?
Well the point is, because you never allowed the star to pick the people…because he doesn’t understand the overall, where they’re going, the writing. But he was grateful that it was there ‘cause we’re good friends. They must have liked me on I Dream of Jeannie. That must have been it, ‘cause I just got out of doing that show, but no, but God, when they told me Bob and Suzanne Pleshette, – I thought, Bob, his taste in humour, oh man, but enough about him.