Itzhak Perlman: American Masters

Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned

Season 18, Episode 6 of 10

In the late 1950s, a shy Chicago accountant who was trying to pick up some extra cash began doing local radio sketches. By 1960, The Button- Down Mind - recorded before he even stepped onto the stand-up circuit - hit gold as Album of the Year and won a Grammy for Best New Artist. Engaging the average guy in all of us, Bland Bob's deadpan and mildly nervous humor, exemplified in "The Driving Instructor," helped spearhead the explosion in American comedy - at clubs, on records and television variety shows - and by permanently pushing the boundaries of the sitcom genre. "The Bob Newhart Show" and, later, "Newhart," portraying the quintessential sane man caught in a world of zany characters gone mad, were among the most popular viewing staples throughout the 70s and 80s. Newhart still performs up to 40 stand-up dates a year and was recognized with a 2004 Emmy nomination for his first dramatic role on "ER." With a legacy particularly familiar today in the routines of Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres, his appeal was always seminal: Richard Pryor once bragged, "The first album I ever stole was Bob Newhart's!"

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