Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where was Bettymania when it could have helped Bob?

Strange as it may seem, 88-year-old Betty White is plum in the middle of a career resurgence at the time of this writing. It all started (I think) with a Snickers ad during the Super Bowl, which led to a Facebook campaign to get Betty on SNL, which resulted in the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE appearance itself. Now Betty has a new movie (YOU AGAIN) and a new sitcom (HOT IN CLEVELAND).

But why couldn't this renaissance have come during one of her previous sitcom stints, the 1993 season of BOB? Where was Bettymania when it could have helped Newhart?

Obviously, they thought Ms. White, although not yet "re-discovered" then, had some ratings cachet at that time too, as Betty was brought in as part of a second-season re-tooling effort to boost BOB's ratings. The series began with a 1992-1993 season set in a comic-book production office, and when that turned out to be a ratings flop, the series came back in fall of 1993, with Bob's character now working for a greeting-card company. (The very first episode of the very first season had Bob's character quitting an artist job at a greeting-card company after being hired as an artist on the "Mad Dog" comic book. But when he returned to the greeting-card industry at the beginning of season two, it wasn't as an artist but as the new president of Schmitt Greetings).

The first season concluded open-endedly, with Bob and colleague about to play handball with a corporate honcho in order to save their comic from discontinuation. We never saw how that handball game came out, but when the series returned in the fall, Bob was starting at Schmitt Greetings, so we basically knew the score.

The first season drew complaints from longtime Newhart fans that this was "a different Bob" -- one that was made hipper and more current (which would be to miss the point with Newhart, who brilliantly plays the timeless, non-trendy "last sane man" archetype). Honestly, I don't remember the season that way, outside of a dumb joke that had Bob listening to Pearl Jam. He was surrounded at the comic book office by a bunch of nutty Gen-Xers, and he reacted in his usual way, I thought.

But they definitely "fuddy-duddied" up the second season, with an older cast (the only two returning regulars were Kaye and Trisha -- Bob's character's wife and daughter) and a distinctly stuffier industry (give me comic books over greeting cards any day!). Maybe the network show doctors thought bringing in some sitcom veterans like Betty White (THE GOLDEN GIRLS) and Jere Burns (DEAR JOHN) would make the difference. It didn't. The second season of BOB wasn't even a half season in before it was cancelled.

Betty White played Sylvia Schmitt, Schmitt Greeting's owner, who hired Bob's character as the new president. Frankly, it wasn't a memorable role for the actress. She's not ditzy like her GOLDEN GIRLS character, not a "hip granny" like her current screen persona. She's just there. Doubtless, she would have developed into a well-rounded character if given the chance. Of course, if given a chance, this entire second-season cast (although less exciting than the previous season's) would've probably found its groove. --Mike Malloy

No comments:

Post a Comment