Mary Frann found being Newhart's TV wife challenging
Image credit: The Everett Collection
When Mary Frann auditioned for the role of Bob Newhart's wife on Newhart (1982), she was unaware of the pressures of working opposite a comedic star and following in the footsteps of Suzanne Pleshette.
Pleshette played Newhart's wife in The Bob Newhart Show (1972). Her onscreen relationship with Newhart was one of the many reasons The Bob Newhart Show was so successful. She was a fan favorite character for many, and in many ways, was the better half of Newhart.
"I always liked the old Bob Newhart Show and liked him tremendously," Frann said in a 1983 interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The fan-turned co-star said that despite the pressure of this audition, she treated it like every other one, which meant she just tried to do her very best.
"Had I realized that, gee, this is really incredible, it might have frozen me up," Frann said. "But I was very relaxed, and when I read for the producers and directors, I had a terrific time."
The Bob Newhart Show ran from 1972 to 1978 and was a major success. It was even self-canceled by Bob Newhart, who believed that the television landscape was changing with just enough time for Newhart to come in.
In addition to Newhart's success, the series was aided comfortably by the M*A*S*H (1972-1983) audience after the finale. Newhart's new supporting cast had undertaken the difficult task of finding a way to regain the trust of the original The Bob Newhart Show fans.
It may sound easy, but other comedy legends such as Harvey Korman, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore all struggled with it during their careers. According to the interview, executive producer Barry Kemp and producer Sheldon Bull helped set the tone for Newhart by playing variations on old themes.
In Newhart's new series, he played an innkeeper, not a psychologist, but both jobs would allow him to deal with the constant stream of odd people. Creating a new spouse for Newhart was something that Frann considered the ultimate challenge. However, according to the interview, she said she felt lucky that the producers were on the same wavelength of thinking.
"You have to see them as a loving couple," Frann said. "The reason she gives up that comfortable city life to buy the inn in Vermont is because she knows it'll make him happy. It's the producers and Bob who set the tone, and it's wonderful."
A woman writer, Emily Marshall, was added to the Newhart staff and Frann said she was excited to have a "very healthy" woman's voice present for story conferences. As for her own character, Frann said she was hoping to develop one further trait as the story progressed:
"When you get to know somebody, you get to know their little curves," Frann said. "Joanna has some funny edges, I hope in time, to be able to show more of them."
She played the role of Joanna Loudon for all eight seasons and won over fans' hearts all over the country with her onscreen love for Newhart.
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