20 Years Ago: 'Newhart' ends with a shock

Newhart-Ends-With-a-ShockImage Credit: Everett CollectionTruly surprising moments are pretty rare on television, but the team behind Newhart cooked up a classic twist ending for the show’s risky series finale, which attracted almost 30 million viewers when it originally aired. During the last two minutes of the episode, Bob Newhart, who’d spent the previous eight seasons playing Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon, wakes up in an oddly familiar bedroom. “Honey, wake up, you won’t believe the dream I just had,” he says, right before bedmate Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife, Emily, on popular 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, rolls over. Big reveal! The eight seasons of Newhart — and thus the very existence of Dick, his charming wife, Joanna (Mary Frann), and even dimwitted woodsmen trio Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl — had been nothing but a wacky, indigestion-fueled fantasy within the more realistic world of Newhart’s earlier comedy series. “To me, it was the ultimate wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of thing,” says Newhart, who is now 80 years old. “The audience was in on the joke.”

It was Newhart’s real-life wife, Ginnie, who first came up with the idea for the crazy ending. At a holiday party during the series’ sixth season, Newhart told her that he was thinking about leaving his show after CBS moved it to a new time slot. “Without missing a beat, she said, ‘You ought to end it with a dream sequence where you wake up in bed with Suzy,'” Newhart says. Pleshette happened to be attending the party as well, and he immediately ran the concept by her. “She loved the idea. She said, ‘I’ll be there in a New York minute!'”

Most viewers loved the unprecedented ending too, and today the Newhart finale is considered a classic, joining shows like M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere, Seinfeld, and The Sopranos on the list of the most-discussed series enders ever. “People still come up to me and talk about it,” says Newhart. “It’s held up to other shows as the standard.”

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  • LisaB

    Best finale ever! It was only #27 in the Paley Center special on CBS about TV’s biggest surprises — I guess the online voters were hard-pressed to remember anything that happened before 2008. *eyeroll*

  • Ceballos

    Those final two minutes are SO good and SO iconic that…. I honestly couldn’t tell you anything else about “Newhart’s” series finale. (And neither could most people, I’d be willing to bet.)

    Same deal with the “Sopranos” finale. (To a lesser degree… I DO remember Phil Leotardo getting skull run over by an SUV.)

    • MelindaB65

      I remember that there was something about Japanese investors wanting to buy the inn…and Dick got hit on the head with a golf ball.

    • Scout

      I remember other things about the finale, including the fact that one of the sisters Larry, Darryl and Darryl married was played by Lisa Kudrow!

      • Ceballos

        Well, I suppose both of you guys have MUCH better memory than I do (which, I admit, isn’t saying much). :)

      • MelindaB65

        Ceballos, I have a Sam Beckett memory–some things I remember, and others are out of my head as if they never existed. And sadly, what I remember one day might be fuzzy the next, and vice versa. I marvel when I read autobiographies, because there’s no way that I could write one. It’s a blessing and a curse (do something embarrassing? Hey, before you know it, it’ll be like it never happened!)

      • Ceballos

        Well, the fact that you referenced “Quantum Leap” means you’re alright in my book.

      • Ceballos

        …of course, I’m assuming you were referring to the Scott Bakula character and not the Irish writer because I’m a giant dork.

      • MelindaB65

        Yes, Ceballos, it was the Quantum Leap character–I’m a nerd and a dork, myself. :-)

    • MissM

      I do remember other stuff from the finale. Mostly I remember that the whole plot was even more bizarre than normal (I think the whole town was going to be sold to the Japanese), so when it turned out to be a dream, it kind of made sense.

  • Val

    Lisa, couldn’t agree more. What a stupid program last night. Oprah giving away cars was the biggest surprise ever??

  • JLC

    You forgot the best part. As Bob and Emily rolled over to go back to sleep, he said “you should wear more sweaters.”

  • Lorie

    IMHO, the most brilliant series finale EVER!!

  • Bobby’s Robot

    I was on vacation and taped it on my VCR. Was able to watch it before I heard the ending and was blissfully surprised. That NEVER could happen now.

  • elr

    It makes me smile evertime I think about it. And isn’t that what a good series finale should do….

  • Rob

    Best ending ever, but the St. Elsewhere ending sucked.

  • Johnification

    What’s equally impressive about the final reveal was that it didn’t just seem tacked on…the storyline of the final episode was such that it gradually escalated all the absurdity of the show to such a level that when Bob FINALLY woke up, you think to yourself, “my God, of COURSE it was a dream!” Truly brilliant.

    • Chris57

      Very astute observation, Johnification. The ending didn’t just come out of nowhere. It made complete sense. And I second that: Truly brilliant.

  • Rika

    It was especially funny at the time because it had only been a few years since “Dallas” used the “it was only a dream” device to nullify an entire season with the infamous “Bobby Ewing in the shower” scene.

  • george

    People forget the other milestone from that ep: Darrell and Darrell spoke for the first and only time!

    • Johnification

      And what did they say? “QUIET!”

  • Eyeball

    The Seinfeld series finale was the most awful, condescending thing ever put on television.

    No Twin Peaks love?

  • MelindaB65

    It was truly a great finale, because it was a surprise (try doing something like that today) and it was comedic gold. Yet Dallas turning a whole season into a dream was reviled and mocked…difference in genres? Or was it just that Pam’s dream seemed like (and probably was) a desperate move to try to reverse a bad decision and woo viewers back into the fold?

    • Kvivik

      Newhart’s “dream” worked, in part, BECAUSE it was a series finale. Dallas’ “dream” was totally a desperate move to try to get Bobby back into the story loop. The viewer’s felt betrayed (they’d wasted an entire season on story that never happened). That is why Dallas is reviled for what they had done.
      As one of the earlier posters has said, in the last few episodes of the show, Newhart gently ramped up the absurdity of the situations until the dream reveal actually made total sense…and there were no more episodes, let alone 3 or 4 seasons.
      And yes, was so happy that Darryl and Darryl finally spoke. :-)

    • Flyer

      I think your second guess is correct. Dallas just tried to make the viewer help cover up its own failings. “What say we all just forget that horrible last season and pretend like it never happened?” Whereas the Newhart finale was funny, clever, unexpected and fit completely within the context of both shows (The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart).

  • Chip H

    Wait? What? 20 Years?

    Oh crap! When did I get old ;-)

  • Dave

    Newhart was no surprise for me. Unfortunately I read about the surprise ending a couple weeks before in the National Enquirer. Some insider must have been paid big bucks to spill the beans.

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