I have a tradition with the launch of every new streaming service, a seemingly monthly occurrence in 2020: I check it for Bob Newhart content. I already have The Bob Newhart Show on Hulu, Celebrity Bowling on Prime Video, his Big Bang Theory episodes on HBO Max, and the Rescuers films on Disney+. But the recent launch of Peacock allowed me to stream a side of Bob that you can’t glimpse in his sitcoms, a side that’s way more sinister than a cartoon mouse: I’m talking about scheming, conniving, quasi-murderous Bob Newhart. I’m talking about Bob Newhart seen through the lens of thriller icon Alfred Hitchcock. And since today is this legend’s birthday, I’m going to talk about this previously lost entry in his extensive filmography.
Seriously—I’ve seen this master of deadpan absurdism, play a lot of roles: a psychologist, an innkeeper, a comic book artist, a TV “scientist,” an elf—I’ve seen him play a comedian with a professional and personal dependance on a chimpanzee! I have never seen him play a guy bending over backwards to murder his wife—or at least make her think he’s trying to murder her—until I streamed the “How to Get Rid of Your Wife” episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The episode, which as far as I know is available to watch in America for the first time ever thanks to Peacock, originally aired way back in December 1963. This is early in Bob’s career, after his groundbreaking comedy album debut and after the unjustly quick cancellation of his Emmy-winning variety series. This is also 9 years before Bob would become a sitcom icon and one of the greatest TV husbands ever. Audiences that watched this episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had plenty of time to forget the images of mild-mannered Bob, y’know, digging a grave or smiling sinisterly with a razorblade.
Okay, okay, okay—despite having the presumed Hitchcock seal of approval, “How to Get Rid of Your Wife” isn’t exactly scary. This isn’t a version of Psycho with Bob Newhart in the slasher role (but could you imagine?). In fact, it’s more likely that the show cast Bob—easily the most popular comedian in America in 1963—in this episode because it’s kinda like a twisted sitcom. And I mean that literally: the episode uses the Leave It to Beaver house, except the kitchen was rotated!
Bob plays a husband who is beyond over his wife, a one-dimensional nag who is truly depicted as the worst. But Bob’s henpecked husband isn’t much better! He goes from “I want a divorce” to “I will leave open boxes of rat poison on the kitchen counters” way too quickly. Y’all need to see a couples’ therapist (although probably not Dr. Hartley, as he may be biased). These two make the couples on Property Brothers seem well-adjusted!
Of course this being a Hitchcock jam, the plot gets in a few swerves and curves before culminating with some comeuppance. No spoilers for this 57-year-old TV episode!
This Alfred Hitchcock episode proves Bob can do drama just as well as comedy—but viewers my age know that because we remember his tragic guest appearance on ER. It’s a peculiar little slice of TV history, one that I’m glad Peacock has available to stream. So happy birthday to Bob Newhart, a performer who really can do it all, from getting kooky with a chimp to getting creepy with Hitchcock.
Seriously though—when is a streaming service going to add The Entertainers? I mean, look at it—!