Bob Newhart’s Brief Odyssey Into Comics

Move it Sheldon. CBS’s Big Bang Bang Theory wasn’t the first comic book-centric sitcom. In fact the eyeball network tried its hand on that type of a program about nineteen years ago with Bob.

Mad-Dog #1 cover by Ty Templeton

The 1992 sitcom Bob starred Bob Newhart of Newhart and The Bob Newhart Show fame as Bob McKay, the cartoonist who created Mad-Dog, a Batman like super hero during the 1950s, which ceases to be published after the whole Wertham “Seduction of the Innocent” scare. Fast forwarding about four decades later, the American-Canadian Trans-Continental Communications Company buys the rights to the character, and Bob gets back into the comics industry.

Bob winds up feuding with his much younger writer/editor who wants to take the character into a much darker and more violent direction, setting up Bob’s workplace drama in the usual sitcom old guy versus new guy sense.

Poor Mad-Dog had to put up with a lot.

It was typical sitcom fare with Bob’s overly supportive wife Kaye and their whiny, perpetually single adult daughter Trisha. As a fun footnote and trivia question, her best friend was played by Lisa Kudrow, who went on to find fame and fortune as Phoebe on Friends.

The typical episode involved some sort of wacky situation with Bob’s family or his coworkers, who were an odd assortment themselves. A few comic book creators (mainly the Image Comics crew) made cameo appearances of themselves at a comics award dinner banquet. Longtime Jack Kirby chronicler Mark Evanier was a consultant on the show.

Unfortunately, the series went through a drastic overhaul between the first and second seasons. I guess the show’s producers decided that a comedy about the comics world was the reason for the show’s low rating, and season two had a new direction. Mad-Dog was cancelled, Bob left the comics industry and took a job at a greeting company as an art director, with Betty White as his new boss. This didn’t help much and the show was cancelled shortly after.

Mad-Dog actually did get to have a comic book; he was featured in a six issue mini-series by Marvel. The comic was a flip book, with one side featuring a classic Mad-Dog story and the other having the modern, violent/darker version.

Modern Mad-Dog is filled with angst and buckles, just like any good super hero from the 1990s.

The classic Mad-Dog stories were by Ty Templeton, and were ridiculous. You could tell that they were written and drawn by Templeton to be an absurd parody of 1950s comics, especially the weirder Batman ones.

The modern Mad-Dog stories were written by Evan Dorkin of Milk and Cheese fame and were pretty straight forward super hero stories. After recently re-reading these, Im’ not sure if Dorkin intended these stories to be written as a “through the looking glass” view of super hero comics at the time.

You’ll probably be able to track these comics down online or at your local comics shop. As for the television series, I don’t think it has ever been released for home video, either on disc or digitally. Your best luck on seeing it is if they have another Bob Newhart themed weekend on TV Land, which showed some of the second season episodes that were never aired.