Bob Newhart was putting on a brave front. But he couldn't hide his sadness. The genuinely nice guy with the button-down mind was having a hard time discussing the fact that "Newhart" would be saying goodby after eight seasons and 184 episodes. The final episode airs Monday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).
"Everyone on the show is a second family to me," Newhart said quietly. "I had spent as much time with them as my own family. I left my other show ("The Bob Newhart Show") after six years and it was tough.
"It's a real tough thing to do. You think you're prepared for it, but you really aren't. It ('Newhart') has been a sixth of my life and half of my kids' lives, and it's been three-quarters of Courtney's (his 12-year-old daughter) life."
Less than two months before, Newhart had been relaxing in his dressing room at MTM studios in Studio City and talking about the series over a tuna salad sandwich.
He had been happy with "Newhart" this season. ("I'm thrilled," he said.) Ratings had improved, and the show's star seemed confident that the series could continue for a ninth season.
But he spoke frankly about being upset with CBS for bouncing his show around the schedule. "They had us at 8, 8:30, 10:30 and 10 p.m.," he said. "It's a tribute to the fans of the show that they're loyal and stuck with us. TV is such a pattern that it flies in the face of all TV logic to move the show around."
But when CBS' new president, Jeff Sagansky, took over for Kim LeMasters late last fall, Sagansky called Newhart about doing a ninth season. "They are happy with us, and we're very happy," Newhart said that day at MTM.
Ratings didn't kill "Newhart"--it placed 51st among 126 programs in the A.C. Nielsen rankings this season. "Newhart" is leaving the airwaves because CBS and the show's production company, MTM, couldn't arrive at a financial agreement. MTM said that Newhart's representatives wanted $3 million for a ninth season. Newhart's people said, "Demands made by MTM . . . complicated the deal."
The cancellation didn't take the show's staff by surprise. Before they knew what the series' fate would be, the writing team had in the works both a regular episode that would end the season and a finale that would end the series.
The latter--what Newhart called "a blow-off show"--obviously made the final cut. Reports are that in the farewell, Japanese investors buy all of tiny Norwich, Vt.--except Dick (Newhart) and Joanna Loudon (Mary Frann) refuse to sell the Stratford Inn.
As for the future, Newhart will be doing stand-up engagements around the country. "We are talking about a movie-of-the-week with CBS and a feature," he said. "They are things that have been around, and now there is time to do them."
And he's agreed to star in a new CBS sitcom in 1991. "I have no problem with CBS, I never did," said Newhart.
"My daughter said, 'I will let you not do a ninth year if you do promise you'll have a reunion with the cast every year,' and I said, 'Courtney, you've got it.' "
What other cast members say:
Tom Poston: "My own response to the situation, and I think other people subscribed to it, is that 'I am not going to cry, and I am not going to let it spoil all the time we have been together,' " said Poston, who plays "Newhart's" sweet, befuddled handyman, George.
"I kept thinking it was all a dream, and I am going to wake up, and we are going on for the ninth and 10th and 11th season."
Poston is uncertain what he's going to do next. "I don't have anything signed," he said. "Broadway always beckons me. I would like to work with Newhart in anything, but he normally doesn't carry people over."
Julia Duffy: Duffy, who plays the spoiled maid, Stephanie, refused to admit to herself the show had been canceled. "It was too devastating," she said. "There was a great deal of humor, but as it got closer to the end, it got a little tense. People were too nervous to say, 'Goodby.' The last week it somehow became less and less funny."
Mostly, Duffy said, she'll miss the laughter. "You never have seen people laugh. We laughed daily and constantly and too much. It was quite contagious. We just couldn't control ourselves."
Peter Scolari: Scolari, who plays Stephanie's ultra-yuppie husband, Michael, was surprised but not shocked when he learned the show had been canceled.
"I play golf with Newhart and Tom Poston every Monday," he said. "We tended to know Newhart's moods and feelings, and it was obvious to Tom and me that something was going on."
Still, the last few episodes were difficult, he said. "We all felt we had our noses punched in. We were walking around with hurt feelings and feeling like nobody cared about us."
Scolari said he'll miss the rehearsals. "We would go in the green room and we would run lines, but we were more interested in talking about our lives and laughing hysterically," he said. "It was an utter joy."
"Newhart," the actor said, was the unsung hit of CBS. "We never got a lot of promotion. We weren't supported by the network. But there never developed any bitterness."
Scolari is making a feature film, "Private Offerings," and like Duffy, is under contract with MTM to develop a series. "It's at a vague stage right now," he said. "I am keeping an iron in all the fires. I am just going to do whatever feels good."