Who doesn’t love a good twist ending? In today’s video, we’re going to be discussing one of the most famous surprisr twist endings in TV history. No, this isn’t going to be a video about Lost – probably because we have some self-respect – but it is going to be about one of the best sitcoms of the 1980s, Newhart.
It’s been 32 years since Newhart sounded off for the last time. Recently, however, Bob Newhart has finally opened up and addressed the series’ sensational finale. Keep watching to learn the astonishing origin story of the show’s ending while seeing what the man himself had to say about it.
Life Is But A Dream
On the evening of May 21, 1990, Bob Newhart’s second sitcom, Newhart, came to an end. The series finale featured one of the most memorable and notorious endings in television history. For a total of eight seasons, the comedian portrayed Dick Loudon, an author from New York who left the hustle and bustle of the city to go run an inn in rural Vermont with his wife, Joanna.
While Bob’s first series, The Bob Newhart Show, featured an altogether different premise, the 80s series succeeded in drawing big laughs from essentially the same source. Newhart had an incredible delivery and a knack for comedic timing. Similar to his first foray into television sitcoms, Newhart featured Bob as the lone voice of sanity amidst a community comprised of oddballs and eccentrics. This direction has been the primary source of Newhart’s signature brand of comedy since his early stand-up days back in the 1960s.
The Bob Newhart Show featured Dr. Bob Hartley’s neurotic, urban patients as well as his meek neighbor. In Newhart, we had a spoiled chambermaid, a dim-witted Mr. fixit, a hopelessly annoying yuppie TV exec, and a trio of quirky woodmen who only one of them, Larry, would ever speak for his brothers, who mind you, were both named Daryl.
While Newhart was a commercial success, never ranking lower than number 25 in it’s first six seasons, Bob was disgruntled with CBS for continually swapping out it’s time slot in order to promote other programs.
Reportedly, while attending a Christmas party in 1987, Newhart told his beloved wife, Ginnie, that he believed that the season of the series he was working on at the time was going to be last before the network canceled it. Ginnie responded to that somewhat pessimistic assertion by suggesting that the finale episode should mock another CBS hit show, Dallas, where the 1985/86 season was explained as being just one big dream.
Similarly, when St. Elsewhere ended in 1988, it was revealed that the entire series had taken place inside the mind of one of the main character’s autistic son as he peered into a snow globe featuring a miniature of the hospital where the show was set.
Ginnie added a plot twist to her version of the ‘it was all just a dream’ ending. She suggested that when Newhart woke up, he should be Bob Hartley from The Bob Newhart Show. On top of that, he should be lying in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, who would reprise her role as Hartley’s wife, Emily. Pleshette, who happened to be at that same Christmas party, adored the idea, and when the show’s producers called her two years later to come out and do a cameo, she accepted the role before she was even offered it.
In the time between that Christmas party and the series actual finale, Newhart made peace with the network, but when the time came to film it’s final episode, he already had the perfect ending idea ready to deploy.
After handing the idea over to the show’s writers, they proceeded to flesh it out.
The Finale Took Some Big Risks
Even before filming the final scene, the aptly named episode “The Last Newhart”, took some seriously big creative risks. The episode begins with a Japanese businessman purchasing the Vermont town that Dick and Joanna called home. After taking over, he proceeds to tear it all down just to build a golf course.
While Dick and Joanna refused to sell their inn, the rest of the town’s off-kilter citizens gladly accepted the money and high-tailed it out of town. Five years later, however, their neighbors, George Utley, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, all return while expressing guilt that they ever left. With that, they pledge to stay forever by Dick and Joanna’s side.
Unable to hear himself think over all the raucous of everyone talking at once, Dick leaves the room only to be swiftly hit in the noggin with a stray golf ball.
The scene then cut to the bedroom from The Bob Newhart Show, where Bob Hartley wakes up next to his wife.
Emily asks if everything is all right as the studio audience erupts in cheers and applause. Bob goes on to explain that he had dreamed about about being an innkeeper in a crazy little town in Vermont. He then rattled off everything from the town and his dream life that didn’t make any sense.
Pleshette as Emily replies by saying that they should no longer have Japanese food before going to bed. But Bob gets the last laugh of the series when he says “Go to sleep, Emily. You Know you really should wear more sweaters’. This, of course, was an obvious reference to Joanna’s preferred outfit choice. The screen then cut to black for the last time.
Newhart Was Worried That The Ending Would Leak
Bob Newhart had the writers create a fake ending with the golf ball killing Dick. At that point, he would go to heaven and meet God, who would be played either by George C. Scott or George Burns. Newhart instructed that the writers come up with this phony ending just in case it got leaked to the tabloids.
Pleshette apparently even got a code name to use whenever she had to call the show’s producers to make arrangements and for when she showed up at the studio.
Only director Dick Martin and the show’s writers were in on the surprise ending. The rest of the cast was only told the morning of the shoot what was really planned. The crew learned that there was a different final scene planned only after they came back from a meal break. By then, the Hartley’s iconic bedroom had already made it’s way out to the set and was concealed by a curtain. The camera operators were further instructed where they should film from. On top of all of that, the actors had to nail the final scene in just one take.
Pleshette later revealed that she had to hide in her trailer for six hours without a phone. She went on to describe how nervous she was since she wasn’t able to rehearse the scene. In sheer darkness, Pleshette was covertly brought out onto set with her face covered as she got into bed.
Bob held her hand and told her to wait for the laugh. Pleshette responded by nervously asking, ‘what if there isn’t one?’.
Fortunately, there wasn’t any need for anyone to worry because as soon as Bob turned on the light, the audience immediately recognized the set. When Pleshette was introduced, it was a solid fifteen seconds of uproarious applause and laughter before she was able to speak again. As soon as she heard the gleeful screams of the elated audience, she knew she was a part of television history.
In 2020, Yahoo Entertainment spoke to Newhart about the unforgettable series finale. In that interview, he discussed how the tabloids had taken the bait with his red herring alternative interview. Apparently, several outlets had reported that George Burns was going to play God in the finale of Newhart, so when that never happened, they all ended up getting burned.
That was perfect, because when rumors began to spread that Pleshette was going to be in the final episode as well, none of the gossip rags believed it and proceeded to leave Newhart and the writers of the show alone.
Larry, Darryl, and Darryll Were Supposed To be One-Off Characters
Newhart further revealed to Yahoo that Larry and the Darryl brothers were only ever supposed to appear on the show one time in the second episode, but they got such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the audience that when the show was finished shooting, Bob told the writers that they had to have the brothers back for more. Without filming in front of a live studio audience, they would have never realized just how popular they were and probably wouldn’t have been featured in future episodes.
The brothers went on to appear in about half of the episodes, and in the finale, we got to see their wives – one of whom was portrayed by Lisa Kudrow. Just a couple of years later, she wound up on Friends.
When asked by Yahoo if he had expected the finale to have the kind of impact that it did, Bob revealed that in some markets, viewers saw an edit of the episode that was five minutes shorter and lacked the ending that everyone else saw. This was because the episode ran for 35 minutes with commercials instead of the standard 30. A few stations, particularly in New York, never got the memo about the added length and thus cut off the show’s ending right before the commercial break. That meant a significant chunk of the population only ever saw Dick get hit with the golf ball. Talking about an anticlimactic ending!
It’s crazy to think that Newhart ended more than three decades ago. It’s even crazier to see how people are still talking about it all these years later. Most of the time when films or TV shows end with the ‘it was all just a dream’ trope, it comes across as patronizing and empty, but Newhart was able to pull it off arguably better than any other show before or since. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to know how it ended – and really, that only proves just how effective of an ending it really was. To think that it all started with a joke at a Christmas party meant to take a stab at the network!
With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap things up. But before you go, let us know in the comments what you thought of Newhart’s ending. Also, let us know what some of your other favorite surprise series finale endings are.