I am a HUGE fan of Bob Newhart. I think he is just simply one of the funniest human beings on the planet. And I’ve been in a kind of binge thing lately where I put a Newhart sitcom on while I’m writing. (I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m one of those writers who can’t write in silence.) Anyway, I started by binging through the first season of “Bob” the show where he’s a comic book artist and which I personally think was the best first season of any of his shows. Then I went through a bunch of Newhart episodes on YouTube before Roku recently added a new channel that shows all the episodes from the old “Bob Newhart Show.” Three different shows, three different decades and three different production companies. And then yesterday I noticed something that I sincerely hope is just a coincidence because if not—if there were something more sinister at work—it would just kill off a little part of me.
There are no minorities in Newhart’s worlds.
Seriously. None of his three sitcoms features a non-white character as a regular or semi-regular or even occasionally recurring cast member. None of Dr. Hartley’s recurring patients are black. None of the insane people populating the Vermont town where Dick Loudon owns an inn is Hispanic. Not a single artist working to bring Mad Dog comic books to life is Asian.
What’s REALLY disturbing is that even the one-offs are minority-free. For instance, there is an episode where Dr. Hartley treats a member of the Chicago Bulls who is a narcissistic hotshot who hogs the ball and never shares the spotlight. The implication is that this guys is one of the ultimate superstars in the NBA. And he’s played by a white guy. Which is not to suggest that white guys can’t jump, but it is worth noting that during the entire run of “The Bob Newhart Show” the Chicago Bulls only sent three players to the NBA All-Star Game and they were all black. (In fairness, Dr. Hartley treats a black pitcher on the Chicago Cubs in an earlier episode, though that treatment turns out to be merely the set-up for a plot actually centered on a light-hitting pinch hitter who is white.) Admittedly, the second episode of season six does feature not just a Hispanic character, but no less than two–count them, two–African-American guest stars. All three minorities show up in the episode titled “Ex-Con Job” in which Dr. Hartley does some pro bono group therapy for inmates in a nearby prison as well as a sequel later in the season, “Son of Ex-Con Job.” Worth noting is that both black prisoners are indistinguishable from the two “jive talking” passengers on board the ill-fated flight in the big screen comedy Airplane!
Then there is the case of the one-shot guests who came to stay at the Stratford Inn owned by Dick and Joanna Loudon. Off the top of my head—and I’ve seen every episode at least three or four times—I can’t immediately recall a single guest who was a minority. I’m sure there must have been some that I simply don’t remember, but…it seems particularly telling that I don’t remember right off the top of my head. Nor, for that matter, can I recall any minorities who were guests on Dick Loudon’s TV show show “Vermont Today.”
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Bob Newhart is a racist in any way and let me reiterate that to discover that he was some sort of secret Trumpist proto-fascist racist xenophobe would be devastating because I am such a huge fan. But it just seems odd. I mean, I can recall seeing black people in Mayberry than in any of the cities in which Newhart’s sitcoms are based and throughout the entire run of The Andy Griffith Show there was one episode in which a black character ever spoke. I’ll grant you that maybe there weren’t a lot of blacks or Hispanics or Asian or even Native Americans either living in or passing through the quaint little village in Vermont where Dick Loudon wrote, ran his inn and hosted a TV show.
The idea that Chicago, Illinois and Mayberry, North Carolina both share the same percentage of African-American population, however.
Kinda hard to swallow that one.