Thursday, July 18, 2024

Bob Newhart

This stammer got me a home in Beverly Hills, and I'm not about to screw with it now.
-Bob Newhart 

George Robert Newhart

September 5, 1929 – July 18, 2024

After the Korean war, Newhart worked for United States Gypsum as an accountant. He later said that his motto, "That's close enough", and his habit of adjusting petty cash imbalances with his own money showed he did not have the temperament to be an accountant. In 1958, Newhart became an advertising copywriter for Fred A. Niles, a major independent film and television producer in Chicago. There, he and a co-worker entertained each other with long telephone calls about absurd scenarios, which they later recorded and sent to radio stations as audition tapes. When the co-worker ended his participation by taking a job in New York, Newhart continued the recordings alone, developing this type of routine.

Dan Sorkin, a radio station disc jockey who later became the announcer-sidekick on Newhart's NBC series, introduced Newhart to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Records. The label signed him in 1959, only a year after it was formed, based solely on those recordings. Newhart expanded his material into a stand-up routine that he began to perform at nightclubs. Newhart became famous mostly on the strength of his audio releases, in which he played a solo "straight man". Newhart's routine was to portray one end of a conversation (usually a phone call), playing the comedic straight man and implying what the other person was saying. Newhart's 1960 comedy album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart was the first comedy album to make number one on the Billboard charts and peaked at number two in the UK Albums Chart. It won two Grammy AwardsAlbum of the Year and Best New Artist.

Newhart told a 2005 interviewer for PBS's American Masters that his favorite stand-up routine is "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue", which appears on this album. In the routine, a slick promoter has to deal with Lincoln's reluctance to agree to efforts to boost his image. Chicago TV director and future comedian Bill Daily, who was Newhart's castmate on The Bob Newhart Show, suggested the routine to him. Newhart became known for an intentional stammer, in service to his unique combination of politeness and disbelief at what he was supposedly hearing. Newhart has used the delivery throughout his career.

A follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back, was released six months later and won Best Comedy Performance – Spoken Word that year. Subsequent comedy albums include Behind the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (1961), The Button-Down Mind on TV (1962), Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart (1964), The Windmills Are Weakening (1965), This Is It (1967), Best of Bob Newhart (1971), and Very Funny Bob Newhart (1973). Years later, he released Bob Newhart Off the Record (1992), The Button-Down Concert (1997), and Something Like This (2001), an anthology of his 1960s Warner Bros. albums. On December 10, 2015, publicist and comedy album collector Jeff Abraham revealed that a "lost" Newhart track from 1965 about Paul Revere existed on a one-of-a-kind acetate, which he owns. The track made its world premiere on episode 163 of the Comedy on Vinyl podcast.

Newhart's success in stand-up led to his own short-lived NBC variety show in 1961, The Bob Newhart Show. The show lasted only a single season, but it earned Newhart a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and a Peabody Award. The Peabody Board cited him as, "a person whose gentle satire and wry and irreverent wit waft a breath of fresh and bracing air through the stale and stuffy electronic corridors. A merry marauder, who looks less like St. George than a choirboy, Newhart has wounded, if not slain, many of the dragons that stalk our society. In a troubled and apprehensive world, Newhart has proved once again that laughter is the best medicine." In the mid-1960s, Newhart was one of the initial three co-hosts of the variety show The Entertainers (1964), with Carol Burnett and Caterina Valente, appeared on The Dean Martin Show 24 times and on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times. He appeared in a 1963 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "How to Get Rid of Your Wife"; and on The Judy Garland Show. Newhart guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times, and hosted Saturday Night Live twice, in 1980 and 1995. In 1964, he appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in London, before Queen Elizabeth II.

Newhart starred in two long-running sitcoms. In 1972, soon after he guest-starred on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he was approached by his agent and his managers, producer Grant Tinker, and actress Mary Tyler Moore (the husband/wife team who founded MTM Enterprises), to work on a series called The Bob Newhart Show, to be written by David Davis and Lorenzo Music. He was very interested in the starring role of psychologist Bob Hartley, with Suzanne Pleshette playing his wry, loving wife, Emily, and Bill Daily as neighbor and friend Howard Borden.

The Bob Newhart Show faced heavy competition from the beginning, launching at the same time as the popular shows M*A*S*HMaudeSanford and Son, and The Waltons. Nevertheless, it was an immediate hit. The show eventually referenced what made Newhart's name in the first place; apart from the first few episodes, it used an opening-credits sequence featuring Newhart answering a telephone in his office. According to co-star Marcia Wallace, the entire cast got along well, and Newhart became close friends with both Wallace and co-star Suzanne Pleshette.

In addition to Wallace as Bob's wisecracking, man-chasing receptionist Carol Kester, the cast included Peter Bonerz as amiable orthodontist Jerry Robinson; Jack Riley as Elliot Carlin, the most misanthropic of Hartley's patients; character actor and voice artist John Fiedler as milquetoast Emil Petersen; and Pat Finley as Bob's sister, Ellen Hartley, a love interest for Howard Borden. Future Newhart regular Tom Poston had a briefly recurring role as Cliff "Peeper" Murdock, veteran stage actor Barnard Hughes appeared as Bob's father for three episodes spread over two seasons, and Martha Scott appeared in several episodes as Bob's mother.

By 1977, the show's ratings were declining and Newhart wanted to end it, but was under contract to do one more season. The show's writers tried to rework the sitcom by adding a pregnancy, but Newhart objected: "I told the creators I didn't want any children, because I didn't want it to be a show about 'How stupid Daddy is, but we love him so much, let's get him out of the trouble he's gotten himself into'." Nevertheless, the staff wrote an episode that they hoped would change Newhart's mind. Newhart read the script and he agreed it was very funny. He then asked, "Who are you going to get to play Bob?" Coincidentally, Newhart's wife gave birth to their daughter Jenny late in the year, which caused him to miss several episodes.

In the last episode of the fifth season, not only was Bob's wife, Emily, pregnant, but his receptionist, Carol, was, too. In the first show of the sixth season, Bob revealed his dream of the pregnancies and that neither Emily nor Carol was really pregnant. Marcia Wallace spoke of Newhart's amiable nature on set: "He's very low key, and he didn't want to cause trouble. I had a dog by the name of Maggie that I used to bring to the set. And whenever there was a line that Bob didn't like—he didn't want to complain too much—so, he'd go over, get down on his hands and knees, and repeat the line to the dog, which invariably yawned; and he'd say, "See, I told you it's not funny!". Wallace also commented on the show's lack of Emmy recognition: "People think we were nominated for many an Emmy, people presume we won Emmys, all of us, and certainly Bob, and certainly the show. Nope, never!" Newhart discontinued the series in 1978 after six seasons and 142 episodes. Wallace said of its ending, "It was much crying and sobbing. It was so sad. We really did get along. We really had great times together."

Of Newhart's other long-running sitcom, Newhart, Wallace said: "But some of the other great comedic talents who had a brilliant show, when they tried to do it twice, it didn't always work. And that's what... but like Bob, as far as I'm concerned, Bob is like the Fred Astaire of comics. He just makes it look so easy, and he's not as in-your-face as some might be. And so, you just kind of take it for granted, how extraordinarily funny and how he wears well." She was later reunited with Newhart twice, once in a reprise of her role as Carol on Murphy Brown in 1994, and on an episode of Newhart's short-lived sitcom, George & Leo, in 1997.

Although primarily a television star, Newhart has been in a number of popular films, beginning with the 1959 war story Hell Is for Heroes (where he does his one-sided telephone act in a bunker). In 1968, Newhart played an annoying software specialist in the film Hot Millions. His films include 1970's Alan Jay Lerner musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1971 Norman Lear comedy Cold TurkeyMike Nichols's war satire Catch 22, the 1977 Disney animated feature The Rescuers and its 1990 sequel The Rescuers Down Under as the voice of Bernard, and he played the President of the United States in the comedy First Family (1980).

By 1982, Newhart was interested in a new sitcom. After he had discussions with Barry Kemp and CBS, the show Newhart was created, in which Newhart played Vermont innkeeper and TV talk show host Dick Loudon. Mary Frann was cast as his wife, Joanna. Jennifer Holmes was originally cast as Leslie Vanderkellen, but left after former daytime soap star Julia Duffy joined the cast as Dick's inn maid and spoiled rich girl, Stephanie Vanderkellen. Peter Scolari (who had been a fan of Newhart's since he was 17) was also cast as Dick's manipulative TV producer, Michael Harris, in six of the eight seasons. Steven Kampmann was cast as Kirk Devane for 2 years, who was a neighbor for a while, at a cafe he owned. Character actor Tom Poston played the role of handyman George Utley, earning three Primetime Emmy Award nominations as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1984, 1986, and 1987. Like The Bob Newhart ShowNewhart was an immediate hit, and again, like the show before it, it was also nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards but failed to win any. During the time Newhart was working on the show, in 1985, his smoking habit finally caught up to him, and he was taken to the emergency room for secondary polycythemia. The doctors ordered him to stop smoking.

In 1987, ratings began to drop. Newhart ended in 1990 after eight seasons and 182 episodes. The last episode ended with a scene in which Newhart wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, who played Emily, his wife from The Bob Newhart Show. He realizes (in a satire of a famous plot element in the television series Dallas a few years earlier) that the entire eight-year Newhart series had been a single nightmare of Dr. Bob Hartley's, which Emily attributes to eating Japanese food before he went to bed. Recalling Mary Frann's buxom figure and proclivity for wearing sweaters, Bob closes the segment and the series by telling Emily, "You really should wear more sweaters" before the typical closing notes of the old Bob Newhart Show theme played over the fadeout. The twist ending was later chosen by TV Guide as the best finale in television history.

Newhart played a beleaguered school principal in In & Out (1997), acted in the Will Ferrell Christmas comedy film Elf (2003), and made a cameo appearance as a sadistic but appreciative CEO at the end of the comedy Horrible Bosses (2011). In addition to stand-up comedy, Newhart became a dedicated character actor. This led to other series, such as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler TheatreCaptain Nice, two episodes of Insight, and It's Garry Shandling's Show. He reprised his role as Dr. Bob Hartley on Murphy Brown, appeared as himself on The Simpsons, and played a retired forensic pathologist on NCIS. Newhart guest-starred on three episodes of ER, for which he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, as well as on Desperate Housewives and a role on NCIS as Ducky's mentor and predecessor, who was discovered to have Alzheimer's disease. In 2013, he also appeared on Committed and in an episode of the sixth season of The Big Bang Theory, for which he was awarded a Primetime Emmy Award, and which led to subsequent appearances in its seventh, ninth, and eleventh seasons.

In 1992, Newhart returned to television with a series about a cartoonist called Bob. An ensemble cast included Lisa Kudrow, but the show did not develop a strong audience and was cancelled shortly after the start of its second season, despite good critical reviews. On The Tonight Show following the cancellation, Newhart joked he had now done shows called The Bob Newhart ShowNewhart and Bob so his next show was going to be called The. In 1997, Newhart returned again with George & Leo on CBS with Judd Hirsch and Jason Bateman (Newhart's first name being George); the show was cancelled during its first season. In 1995, Newhart was approached by Showtime to make the first comedy special of his 35-year career, Off the Record, which consisted of him performing material from his first and second albums in front of an audience in Pasadena, California.

In 2003, Newhart guest-starred on three episodes of ER in a rare dramatic role that earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination, his first in nearly 20 years. In 2005, he began a recurring role in Desperate Housewives as Morty, the on-again/off-again boyfriend of Sophie (Lesley Ann Warren), Susan Mayer's (Teri Hatcher) mother. In 2009, he received another Primetime Emmy nomination for reprising his role as Judson in The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice. On August 27, 2006, at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Conan O'Brien, Newhart was placed in a supposedly airtight glass prison that contained three hours of air. If the Emmys went over the time of three hours, he would die. This gag was an acknowledgment of the common frustration that award shows usually run on past their allotted time (usually three hours). Newhart "survived" his containment to help O'Brien present the award for Outstanding Comedy Series (which went to The Office). During an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Newhart made a comedic cameo with members of the ABC show Lost lampooning an alternate ending to the series finale. In 2011, he appeared in a small but pivotal role as a doctor in Lifetime's anthology film on breast cancer, Five.

In 2013, he made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory as the aged Professor Proton (Arthur Jeffries), a former science TV show host turned children's party entertainer, for which he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. It was Newhart's first Emmy. At that year's Emmy ceremony, Newhart appeared as a presenter with The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and received a standing ovation. He continued to play the character periodically through the show's 12th and final season and on its spinoff Young Sheldon. On December 19, 2014, Newhart made a surprise appearance on the final episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, where he was revealed to be the person inside Secretariat, Ferguson's on-set pantomime horse. The show then ended with a scene parodying the Newhart series finale, with Ferguson and Drew Carey reprising their roles from The Drew Carey Show. In June 2015, Newhart appeared on another series finale, that of Hot in Cleveland, playing the father-in-law of Joy Scroggs (Jane Leeves). It marked a reunion with Betty White, who was a cast member during the second season of Bob 23 years earlier. The finale ends with their characters getting married
Good Night Bob

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Tony Figueroa





Monday, July 15, 2024

James B. Sikking

I probably would do something if it got me going.
Acting is a license to do self-investigation.
It’s a great ego trip to be an actor
-James B. Sikking

James Barrie Sikking

March 5, 1934 – July 13, 2024
James B. Sikking starred on the ABC TV series Doogie Howser, M.D. as Dr. David Howser:  and on the 1997 drama series Brooklyn South as Captain Stan Jonas. Sikking appeared as Sergeant (later promoted to Lieutenant) Howard Hunter on Hill Street Blues from 1981 to 1987. He also portrayed Geoffrey St. James on the NBC comedy Turnabout and voiced General Gordon on the short-lived 1998 cartoon series Invasion America. He was sometimes credited as James Sikking or Jim Sikking in some of his earlier roles on film and TV.

His film work includes The CompetitionOutlandUp the CreekStar Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Narrow Margin, as well as a minor (but crucial) part as a cynical hitman in the earlier Point Blank. Sikking's film career started in 1955. Sikking starred in the 1992 TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive. He has made guest appearances on many TV series including Perry MasonRawhideThe FugitiveBonanzaThe Outer LimitsGeneral HospitalHere Come the BridesMannixThe Rockford FilesThe Bob Newhart ShowHogan's HeroesRich Man, Poor Man Book IIHunter, and Batman Beyond.
Good Night Mr. Sikking

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Tony Figueroa


This Week in Television History: July 2024 PART III

   

July 15, 1964

The Universal Studio Tour opened.

The Tour is the signature attraction at the park, and goes into a working movie studio, with various film and Television sets on the lot. In recent years, guests have sat in multi-car trams for the duration of the ride. The Tour lasts about 45–50 minutes and is led by a live tour guide who can be seen throughout the tram on video screens. It travels through the Front Lot, Backlot and various attractions, passing sets and props from movies along the way.

From the beginning, Universal had offered tours of its studio. After Carl Laemmle opened Universal City on March 14, 1915, he would later invite the general public to see all the action for an admission fee of just $0.05, which also included a lunch box containing chicken inside. There was also a chance to buy fresh produce, since then-rural Universal City was still in part a working farm. This original tour was discontinued in around 1930, due to the advent of sound films coming to Universal.

Ironically, the modern Universal Studio Tour was initially reborn as a way to sell more lunches in the Studio Commissary.  The late 50’s and early 60’s were a difficult time for Hollywood studios. The arrival of television had weakened movie attendance and more and more productions were going on location to save costs. The grand old movie back lots were quickly becoming a thing of the past.  In the mid 1950’s, Universal began letting bus companies drive on to the property (the same bus companies that offered guided tours of the homes of Hollywood stars) as a way to increase revenues. The studio charged the bus companies a small fee and also benefited from the extra lunches they could sell to the tourists in the Studio Commissary. The bus drivers were given a hand-typed script to read that highlighted the studio facilities as well as hyped upcoming Universal releases like Bonzo Goes to College and Monster on the Campus.
When MCA purchased Universal in the late 1950’s, they began to look for a way to revive the old Studio Tour as part of a new image for Universal City Studios. In 1963 legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman, then president of MCA/Universal, asked Vice President Al Dorskind to look into the feasibility of creating a permanent tour. 

The modern tour was established to include a series of dressing room walk-throughs, peeks at actual production, and later, staged events. This grew over the years into a full-blown theme park.

The Universal Studio Tour at that time consisted of two trams and a handful of eager young tour guides; including John Ford III (grandson of famous western director John Ford) and Dan Milland (son of Academy Award winning actor Ray Milland). The early tour was 90 minutes and included a stop off at the studio commissary for lunch and a make-up show (presented by Mike Westmore of the famous Westmore family of make-up artists) held in the commissary basement. 38,184 guests rode the Universal Studio Tour in its first year.

July 19, 1989

Rebecca Shaeffer (age 21) is murdered at her Los Angeles home by Robert John Bardo, a mentally unstable man who had been stalking her. Schaeffer’s death helped lead to the passage in California of legislation aimed at preventing stalking.

Schaeffer was born November 6, 1967, in Eugene, Oregon. She worked as a teenage model and had a short stint on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, but was best known for co-starring with Pam Dawber in the television sitcom My Sister Sam. Bardo, born in 1970, had written Schaeffer letters and unsuccessfully tried to gain access to the set of My Sister Sam, before showing up at her apartment on July 19, 1989. The obsessed fan had reportedly obtained the actress’s home address through a detective agency, which located it through records at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. On the day of the murder, Schaeffer reportedly complied with Bardo’s request for an autograph when he appeared at her home and then asked him to leave. He returned a short time later and the actress, who reportedly was waiting for someone to deliver a script, answered the door again. Bardo then shot and killed her.

Arrested the next day in Tucson, Arizona, Bardo was later prosecuted by the Los Angeles County district attorney Marcia Clark, who later became famous as a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial. In 1991, Bardo was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 1994, California passed the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which prevented the Department of Motor Vehicles from releasing private addresses.

The 2002 film Moonlight Mile, loosely inspired by Schaeffer’s story, was written and directed by Brad Silberling, who had been dating the young actress at the time of her death.

July 20, 1969

Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the Moon. 

The first steps by humans on another planetary body were taken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The astronauts also returned to Earth the first samples from another planetary body. Apollo 11 achieved its primary mission - to perform a manned lunar landing and return the mission safely to Earth - and paved the way for the Apollo lunar landing missions to follow.


July 21, 1924

Jesse Donald "Don" Knotts is born. 

The comedic actor best known for his portrayal of Barney Fife on the 1960s television sitcom The Andy Griffith Show (a role which earned him five Emmy Awards), and as landlord Ralph Furley on the television sitcom Three’s Company in the 1980.



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Tony Figueroa