Bob Newhart’s TV Show About a Comic Book Artist Was as Doomed as Bruce Wayne’s Parents
Today, we look at how Bob Newhart’s TV series about a comic book artist tried to revamp after the original premise was a dud.
This is “Gonna Make a Change,” a feature where I spotlight shows that underwent major revamps during their runs to avoid cancellation. Note that I mean MAJOR revamps, not, like, M*A*S*H getting more serious as it went on or Cheers becoming more of an ensemble comedy once Shelley Long left.
April is a month of Gonna Make A Change!
Few TV stars were on quite the hot streak that Bob Newhart was in the early 1990s. He had somehow had TWO long-running critically acclaimed hit TV series, The Bob Newhart Show, where he played a therapist, and Newhart, where he played the owner of an inn. The attempt to go three in a row, though, was a flop.
Original Concept: Bob starred Newhart as Bob McKay, the creator of a comic book superhero who had fallen out of print following the Comics Code Authority coming into play in the 1950s. McKay had become a greeting card artist for years, but then a corporation acquired the rights to Bob’s creation, Mad-Dog, and wanted Bob to bring the character back. However, he was forced to collaborate with the head of Ace Comics, Harlan Stone (John Cygan), who wanted the revived Mad-Dog to be grim and gritty (this was the fall of 1992, just following the launch of Image Comics). Eventually, a compromise was reached and Mad-Dog returned to print!
We would also see Bob at home with his wife and adult daughter.
Revamped Concept: The corporation owning Ace Comics was bought out at the end of Season 1, and Mad-Dog was canceled at the end of the first season. When the show returned for Season 2, all of the comic book aspects of the show were dropped, and Bob was back to working as a greeting card artist, with Betty White joining the show as his new boss.
Bob’s family stuck around, at least.
Did it get the show more than one last season?: Nope, Season 2 was worse than the first, and it was pulled after five episodes aired (three more were in the can. I think they eventually aired on TV Land or something like that).
Okay, that’s it for this installment of “Gonna Make a Change,” please send in suggestions for other good revamps to my e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org!
6 thoughts on “Bob Newhart’s TV Show About a Comic Book Artist Was as Doomed as Bruce Wayne’s Parents”
I really liked how there were some comic book people who ended up on the show during the first season. I especially remember Sergio Aragones showing up.
Aragones was in the first season episode where Bob was nominated for a comics award; for the presentation ceremony, they got several comics creators to cameo. In addition to Sergio, they had Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Jim Lee, and Marc Silvestri. Probably others, too, but that’s a pretty impressive collection for the time.
All in all, I remember kind of liking the show in season one; clearly it wasn’t of the same caliber as Newhart’s previous shows (few shows are), but it was fun, and I thought it had enough that was genuinely directed towards comics fans to be enjoyable. (Like, jokes written by people who actually know comics, not just the “ha ha, we said ‘Aquaman’, now laugh” style of jokes.) (Though at the time, that probably didn’t do it any favors with the non-comics-reading viewers.)
Season two wasn’t good, though.
The show was nothing special, but the spinoff comic was funnier than it had any right to be – IIRC each issue was a flip comic with one side being the original version and the other side the revamp.
“BOB” was one of CBS’ many attempts to take on ABC’s “TGIF” line up of sitcoms. It was originally paired in a block alongside “THE GOLDEN PALACE” (the sequel to GOLDEN GIRLS without Bea Arthur), and the final seasons of “DESIGNING WOMEN” and “MAJOR DAD.” Part of the reason why Betty White popped up on the second season of “BOB” was because “THE GOLDEN PALACE” was cancelled after 1 season. CBS really didn’t overtake ABC in the sitcom block ratings department until the late 90s or early 2000s. Now, of course, CBS is the network best known for having almost any sitcom which can survive past 2 seasons end up enduring for ten-plus.
Bob Newhart’s final stab at starring (or co-starring) in a sitcom came about 4 years after this with “GEORGE & LEO,” where he co-starred alongside Judd Hirsch. That was also on CBS and was even less successful, dying after only 1 season. From then on, Newhart would thrive as a reoccurring guest star on other shows.
As for Marvel’s licensed comic, it was a 6 issue mini series with Ty Templeton working on the “classic” Mad-Dog stories and Evan Dorkin (MILK & CHEESE) and Gordon Purcell working on the edgy 90s style stuff on the other side. Dorkin considered it the worst work of his entire career, but Templeton loved it and was still talking positively about it on his Facebook feed over the weekend. Considering Templeton just survived cancer (and it back drawing BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE), that’s pretty amazing.
I really liked the first season which did have a lot of comics in-jokes (Bob encounter the Fredric Wertham knockoff who drove him out of the industry) and was just plain funny. Second one? Generic workplace comedy.
I really loved the comic. I definitely preferred the “classic” Mad Dog to the ’90s incarnation, but it was clear that Templeton was having fun playing with the tropes of Silver Age comics. If I remember correctly, Mad Dog got a little darker during the course of the run without going full ’90s like its flip side.
I really wanted to watch the show since I was a fan of Newhart’s stand up (I was a bit young for the previous series at the time), but I had other commitments that night, and there was only one VCR and someone else had it dibbed the night Bob aired.