Judge Dennis Prince says, "I'm OK. Are you OK?"
Our reviews of The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Second Season (published March 15th, 2006), The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Third Season (published May 15th, 2006), and The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 4th, 2006) are also available.
And somewhere, a gaggle of college students toss back another drink. Ah, the wonders of modern psychology.
Before going into syndication and becoming the basis of a curious drinking game (down one whenever Howard says, "Hi Bob!"), The Bob Newhart Show had presented early 1970s television audiences with a look into the world of psychoanalysis.
Facts of the Case
Robert A. Hartley (Bob Newhart, Elf) aims to be a respectable psychologist in Chicago's upper end, but he just can't get much respect. His loving wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, Oh, God! Book II), simply adores him, even though she often flip-flops between the ad hoc role of patient and analyst to Bob…that is when she isn't busy as an elementary-school teacher. Then there's the likable but unpredictable neighbor from the apartment next door, Howard Borden (Bill Daily), a scatterbrained divorcé who often imposes on Bob for assistance and companionship when he isn't piloting planes. Over at the high-rise professional plaza, Bob engages in regular jocular jousts with office secretary Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace, The Simpsons) and the dentist down the hall, Dr. Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz, Medium Cool). Those are the normal folks in Bob's everyday life because, after he makes his way into his Suite 715 office, he navigates through the psychoanalytic jungle of group therapy, eternally optimistic that he can provide much-needed guidance and assurance to the likes of misanthrope Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley, All Grown Up), the semi-senile Lillian Bakerman (Florida Friebus), and the dangerously insecure Emile Peterson (John Fiedler, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Even though it seems Bob's work is never done—neither at the office nor within the purported refuge of his own home—this stolid professional usually winds up as much the patient himself as he is the curer.
It was the era of Psychology Today magazine and Thomas A. Harris's I'm OK, You're OK. After all the drugs of the '60s wore off, maturing American men and women realized it was time to clean up and find a career. That form of self-actualization often ushered in a frightful realization that some of us weren't adjusting as well as others. Well, while the emerging American upper-middle class attempted to harness the emotional elixir known as Transactional Analysis (each of us is responsible for what happens in our individual futures), TV writers had a field day with the endless stream of national neuroses. Let's face it: Pathetically maladjusted people are really funny.
Following the second successful season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which regularly centered on the neuroses of a cut-rate newsroom staff, the same creative team launched a new ensemble program that gathered another collection of colorful and often confrontational personalities and put them under the microscope in a new professional setting: group therapy. Show producers David Davis and Lorenzo Music, responsible for penning some of the standout MTM episodes of the time, approached Newhart with a pilot script, and, even though he had previously expressed no interest in television, the former stand-up comic answered, "Yes."
The show seemed to gel almost immediately with the first episode, "Fly the Unfriendly Skies," in which Bob decides an airplane trip will help cure his group of their fear of flying. He finds that his own wife, Emily, is also among the fearful, and she grudgingly agrees to join in this high-altitude session. This first show had quite a bit of ground to cover, needing to not only introduce Bob and the premise of his profession but also establish the cast of supporting characters. Somehow, it paced perfectly, and the parade of characters and situations never appeared hurried or half-baked. Premiering on CBS on September 16, 1972, The Bob Newhart Show proved to be the perfect Saturday night complement to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Adult audiences stayed tuned to CBS for the entire hour and gained coveted top-ten ratings for the network.
While the ensemble cast of The Bob Newhart Show was absolutely elemental to the show's success, it was the wonderfully straight-faced humor of the diminutive and dour Newhart that made the show work. Already a master of precision timing and reaction, thanks to his earlier comedy work, Newhart proved to be a perfect personality for '70s sitcoms, able to evoke genuinely hearty laughs often without ever uttering a word. While the show never cracked the top-ten Nielsen slots on its own, it quickly rose to become among the canon of truly "classic television" productions and has garnered decades of syndication popularity and earned TVLand's "The Icon" award in February 2005 for being both universally and critically embraced.
The vocal Newhart fan base has been clamoring for the release of the show to DVD for some time now, even virtually petitioning at TVShowsonDVD.com to convince 20th Century Fox (the current copyright owner) to release the 30-minute episodes in a season-by-season boxed-set format. Their efforts paid off as Fox now presents this first set, The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete First Season, which includes the first 24 episodes, originally aired between 1972 and 1973. Presented across three flipper discs, here's how the content breaks down:
The three discs are contained within two slimline keep-cases, which are housed in an outer slipcase featuring a stylish montage of tinted photos of Newhart, a la Andy Warhol—very fitting to evoke the time period. Each episode is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame format. The image quality is the best I've seen in years, superior even to the original airings I can recall. They don't appear to be "restored" or "remastered" transfers, mind you, since they exhibit a certain softness that's reminiscent of the original source material. While many others have complained about this lack of source cleanup when transferring content to the digital medium, I still maintain that it preserves the original look and feel of '70s television to the benefit of the overall experience. Hey, maybe I'm just well adjusted and accepting of life's inconsequential imperfections…you think? The audio is presented in a similar "vintage" Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix, which is as vibrant as it needs to be and, again, preserves the original broadcast experience. The sound quality, you'll find, is definitely far improved over the muffled and muddied tracks that accompany syndicated repeats.
As far as extras go, there are none, not even the well-known unaired pilot episode. This brings us to the interesting conundrum that Fox finds itself in: It is sitting on an enviable stockpile of classic television productions that are certainly in demand and worthy of "special edition" treatment, yet it has seen its previous efforts to present high-quality DVD products perform miserably in the current retail marketplace. Why? Simple: price. There's no arguing that the studio's 2002 release of The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete First Season as well as the 2004 release of Lost in Space: The Complete First Season were both fine, bonus-laden examples of stellar treatments, yet the near 50-dollar price tags proved too daunting for mass commercial appeal. As a result, Fox has clearly rethought its release strategy, electing to release the second and third seasons of Lost in Space in slimmed-down half-season volumes while delaying the hotly anticipated release of The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Second Season until July 2005 and packaging it in what seems to be a collection of three flipper discs similar to this first The Bob Newhart Show set.
So here's the rub: Is Fox to be castigated for cheapening its approach to its packaging and release strategy for its stable of TV treasures, or is it to be commended for retooling its method to ensure the material finds its way to DVD? Personally, I could schizophrenically root for either side on any given day. I'd prefer to see the material reach DVD—especially in the complete-series format—than not, but I am likewise dismayed at the lack of extras that we're finding on the lower-cost collections (see my reviews of the Lost in Space episodes here at DVD Verdict). But, in the end, I'd prefer some content to no content, with the episodes themselves being the most important elements of all. (The overall rating for this disc is low only due to the lack of extras; otherwise, this release would certainly score in the high 90s.) I would suspect that, in the case of The Bob Newhart Show, Fox is testing the waters to determine just how popular the series might be to DVD-philes. Newhart himself has already publicly stated he'd be very interested in participating in the development of extra content for future releases, so we can only hope. In the meantime, this first release is good enough for me.
I'm OK. Are you OK?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Really, with all I've just said with regard to this set's packaging and lack of extras, to complain about anything further would simply be obsessive and self-destructive. I feel better for having said it, though.
Be glad that The Bob Newhart Show is now in the DVD pipeline, and rush out to purchase this excellent collection of episodes that proves the show is just as solid and funny today as it was over 30 years ago. Newhart is a classic comedian of our day, and his humor hasn't paled one bit.
In light of the recent retail struggles that Fox has undergone with its well-intentioned but prohibitively priced boxed sets, this court is inclined to extend a measure of leniency to this very basic release. Given that Bob Newhart himself is offering his involvement in the development and delivery of additional content—a highly commendable act, incidentally—this court will expect to see some extra material in future releases. Case dismissed.
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