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13 Fun Facts About Newhart

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After six seasons of The Bob Newhart Show, the series’ titular, buttoned-down star wasn’t anxious to commit to another TV series. But once inspiration for an interesting premise struck him, and the right co-creator and team of writers came on board, Bob Newhart signed on to play Dick Loudon, a former New York City advertising exec who chucked it all and moved to Vermont with his wife to run a bed and breakfast while writing a series of how-to books on the side.

Newhart's ratings were strong enough after the second season for a third to be ordered, but the show's star and his staff knew some serious changes were needed if there was to be a fourth season. Luckily the network gave the series the necessary time to find its footing, and it continued on for a total of eight seasons, which culminated in one of the most memorable series finales in the history of the medium.


Bob Newhart got the idea for Newhart while dining in the restaurant of a Hilton hotel in Seattle. After observing the various visitors for a while, he concluded that hotel guests are just as nonsensical as the patients Bob Hartley used to treat on The Bob Newhart Show. “I function well with a bunch of crazies around me I can react to,” Newhart told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. He pitched the idea to Barry Kemp, who’d previously worked as a writer on Taxi, and the two worked together on a pilot script. Kemp eventually suggested setting the show in Vermont; Newhart agreed, as “after you’ve done three or four rain jokes, you’ve kind of run out of material as far as Seattle is concerned.”


The Waybury Inn/Facebook

The exterior shots of the Stratford Inn are actually the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury, Vermont. It was built by John Foote in 1810 as a boarding house and tavern for local workers and stagecoach travelers passing through the Green Mountains. It’s still in business, complete with an autographed photo of Bob Newhart in the lobby and a few assorted props from the show on display.


When Mary Frann was hired to play Joanna Loudon, Bob Newhart immediately took her aside and warned her, “You’re going to have a tough job because Suzy (Suzanne Pleshette, Newhart’s previous sitcom wife) and I, we had this wonderful rapport, and they’re going to compare you to it, and it’s going to be tough on you.” After a few seasons, Frann rebelled a bit against her restrictive “straight man” role by relentlessly mugging whenever she was on-camera. Sadly, her efforts had the opposite effect; Newhart would subtly distance himself from her and the camera would follow him.


Tom Poston was a longtime personal friend of Bob Newhart’s who would occasionally pop up on The Bob Newhart Show as Bob’s old college roommate and partner-in-juvenile-pranks, “The Peeper.” Poston landed a regular co-starring role on Newhart as George Utley, the seemingly bumbling handyman who also exhibited unexpected moments of brilliant insight. Barry Kemp originally had Jerry Van Dyke in mind for the role of George, but in the end Newhart convinced Kemp that Poston, whose trademark was subtly underplaying a character, was a better overall fit for the character than Van Dyke’s broad style of comedy.


The trio of backwoodsmen known as Larry, Darryl, and Darryl actually made their first appearance in the series’ second episode. Dick hired their “company,” Anything for a Buck, to unearth the 300-year-old body of a woman buried in the Stratford Inn’s basement. The audience’s reaction to the brothers did not go unnoticed by Newhart and co-creator Kemp, and they were one of the first additions to the regular cast when Newhart underwent a makeover after season two.


Newhart was one of the rare shows that actually improved after a major retooling and the addition of several new characters. Newhart himself has said that, in hindsight, part of the problem with the first two seasons was that there were two characters that weren’t really working: Kirk Devane (the owner of the Minuteman Café, played by Steven Kampmann) and Leslie Vanderkellen (the Stratford’s original maid, played by Jennifer Holmes). Holmes was the first casualty; her Leslie was a student at Dartmouth who was also an Olympic-caliber skier, and was frankly just too nice to be funny, so she was let go at the end of season one. Kirk’s shtick as a pathological liar became a little too one-note, and his lustful pursuit of Leslie had nowhere to go after her character was axed. The writers tried a few different story lines for Kirk, but nothing seemed to click and Kampmann’s contract was not renewed for season three.

The characters weren’t the only thing to change on Newhart. At the beginning of season two, they began recording the show on film rather than videotape (at Newhart’s request). Season three brought several more major changes, including the addition of brothers Larry, Darryl, and Darryl as the new owners of the Minuteman Café, and Leslie’s vain, spoiled cousin Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) as the hotel’s reluctant new maid.

The writers also decided that there weren’t unlimited laughs to be found in the publishing world, so in addition to writing how-to books, Dick Loudon began hosting a local talk show, Vermont Today. The producer of that show was uppity yuppie Michael Harris, played by Peter Scolari. The quirky new characters combined with the oddball talk show guests gave Newhart an element of surrealism reminiscent of Green Acres, and the previously middling ratings steadily improved.


Unlike most sitcom stars, Newhart preferred to go out and do his own audience warm-up before each episode was filmed. It helped him keep in touch with his stand-up roots and relieved any pre-show jitters. Tom Poston had his own crowd-bonding ritual: he would purposely blow a line in his first scene and then utter an expletive. The studio audience would roar with laughter, and he would consider them sufficiently “loose” enough to appreciate the rest of the show.


William Sanderson, who played Larry, graduated from Memphis State University with a BBA and JD, but the acting bug bit him before he sat for the bar exam. Despite this educational pedigree, Sanderson remained very much a good ol’ Memphis boy at heart. While working on Newhart he sipped Jack Daniels and read the Bible in his dressing room between takes, and he constantly chewed tobacco. He had a habit of leaving his spittle cups all over the set, to the disgust of his co-workers.

The part of Larry was actually written with veteran character actor Tracey Walter in mind, but Walter was asked to audition for the role and in the end Sanderson (who had worked with Walter in Coal Miner’s Daughter) managed to steal the part away from him. Sanderson partially attributed his success to the lucky coin he’d worn in his ear at the audition (and which he continued to wear while in character), because he’d done the same when he had auditioned for Coal Miner’s Daughter.


Tony Papenfuss (First Darryl) and John Voldstad (Second Darryl) are both classically trained actors who had years of stage experience on their resumes when they landed their Newhart parts. Both actors’ agents actually advised them against accepting the roles, since they were non-speaking parts. (Did they mind never getting to talk? “They never said anything to me about it,” Sanderson told in 2015.) One aspect the duo was less enthusiastic about was the fact that MTM Enterprises, who owned the characters, would not let the actors appear in public in character, nor were they allowed to talk to the press.


Steven Kampmann lived in Vermont for several years after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. While still working on Newhart, he talked to the writers about an article he’d read in the Burlington Free Press about recent UFO sightings in Richford, Vermont. That news story was the basis for the season one episode entitled “Heaven Knows Mr. Utley.” Interestingly enough, that area of Vermont is still reportedly being visited by extra-terrestrials.


Bob Newhart was reportedly as laid back in real life as his character appeared to be on the show. Watch carefully and you’ll notice that in most scenes he remains fairly stationary, either standing behind the check-in desk or sitting down on the sofa. He preferred to let the other cast members do all the walking around; the less he had to do, other than delivering his lines, the better. He also didn’t waste time once the final “Cut!” was called; he traditionally left the set once filming wrapped and headed straight for home while still wearing his stage wardrobe. Someone from the wardrobe department would stop by the Newhart home later and collect “Dick’s” clothes and return them to the studio.


Newhart writer Dan O’Shannon has gone on record disputing the story, but both Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette have explained the genesis for the final episode as follows: At the end of season six, Bob Newhart was seriously considering calling it quits with the series. He was unhappy with CBS over several issues and felt that he and his crew weren’t being treated fairly. He and his wife, Ginny, were at a Christmas party when he finally voiced his intention to quit aloud. Ginny quickly suggested that he should end the show on a dream sequence, since there were so many inexplicable things about the show: “You should wake up in bed with Suzy and explain that you’d had a dream about owning an inn.”

As luck would have it, Suzanne Pleshette was at the same party and Bob was able to discuss the idea with her later that evening. She immediately agreed, but ended up waiting two more years to do it since Newhart settled his issues with CBS and stayed with the show for two more seasons.


The filming of that classic scene in the series finale was conducted with the utmost secrecy. A fake final act was written and included in the script given to the rest of the cast. The Hartleys’ Chicago bedroom set was built on a separate stage and Suzanne Pleshette was confined to a dressing room for six hours so that no one would see her. There was no rehearsal for scene, and the rest of the cast wasn’t let in on the secret until 20 minutes before it was actually filmed. After that slice of television history was in the can, Suzanne slipped out quietly without attending the wrap party, even though she had been invited. She later stated that she would have felt uncomfortable, particularly around Mary Frann, since that concluding scene basically negated every previous episode of the series.

Additional sources:
Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1985
Orange Coast Magazine, February 1987
Emmy TV Legends interview
with Suzanne Pleshette

Telephone interview with Terry Bolo, Julia Duffy's stand-in for six seasons

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.