Nostalgia Time: Bob Newhart and Mental Illness

This past Sunday, I took a break from Olympics coverage to watch the excellent PBS American Masters episode on Bob Newhart.  The documentary reminded me how much I loved the original “Bob Newhart Show” (the later one, not so much, even though it was set near my home town in Vermont).  I was also struck by Newhart’s recollections on why the producers decided to make Bob Hartley a psychologist:

“Then they wondered what kind of occupation would that be and suggested psychiatrist . . I said, I think psychiatrists really deal with more disturbed patients, and I don’t think we should get our humor from schizophrenics and multiple personalities and bipolar people.  So I suggested a psychologist.”

Playing a psychologist also appealed to Newhart because “when dealing with patients, no matter how ridiculous they are, you can’t let on that they are ridiculous.”

As I recall, the series did humanize persons who sought help from psychologists, but I’m wondering just how much the weekly “parade of crazies” really improved public understanding of mental illness.  Thoughts anyone?

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2 Comments

  1. Watched that show all the time with my grandmother. The workplace scenes probably demystified the psychologist’s office a bit, for people who might otherwise have been afraid of counseling/therapy. Certainly Newhart was accessible enough as a person, but we also saw that he was in the same suite of offices with a dentist (everybody needs a dentist, no stigma there), and that his office looked pretty much like a 1970s family den–paneling and earthtones and knicknacks on the bookshelves. As for the patients–I never got the sense that they were scary or bad–maybe annoying sometimes, maybe funny sometimes, maybe misguided sometimes, just like everybody (they certainly didn’t seem any “crazier” than Bob’s neighbor, for example). So I’d guess it was on balance decent enough, for a sitcom. But then I might also be misremembering it, I haven’t seen it in so many years.

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