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It took 51 years and seven nominations, but comic legend Bob Newhart finally has his Emmy.
The actor, nominated for his guest role in CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, collected the statuette Sunday — marking the former Bob Newhart Show and Newhart star’s first win in the category after receiving one nom for the former and three for the latter. The former stand-up comedian resurfaced after Newhart closed up shop with a guest role in ER that earned him his fifth nomination in 2004. That was followed by a supporting actor in a mini for the TNT telepic The Librarian in 2009. His win Sunday came for playing Professor Proton, a hapless former TV scientist on the Chuck Lorre comedy about a group of lovable dorks.
“I’m amazed all the attention this is getting,” a humble Newhart told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday of his first career Emmy win — a feat that came 51 years after his first nomination. Below, Newhart talks with THR about why it took so long for the TV Academy to recognize his work, his return date to Big Bang and just how he celebrated the victory.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the first thought that went through your head when your name was called?
Bob Newhart: I was right in the front row and my first thought was, “Boy, I hope I can make it up those stairs!” I’m 84 and you worry about things like that. And then I successfully negotiated the stairs, and there was the Emmy. It suddenly dawned on me that I’m going to have one of those. Then I looked and saw the audience, and they were standing up. That really got to me. When you see 6,000 people and they’re standing up because they like your work … I kind of lost it then. The standing ovation really was the wild moment.
Where does the Emmy win rank in terms of your career highlights?
The award is from your peers, and it’s the old joke about you a charity calling and saying, “We’d like to name you man of the year because of your sensational career in comedy and you’ve entertained people for over 50 years.” You say, “I’m sorry I can’t make it.” And they ask if you have Jerry Lewis’ number. That’s one kind of award. This one’s from your peers, and it’s a very special award, and it’s them [the TV Academy] saying that they think I’m pretty good.
What does this Emmy win, 51 years after your first nomination, mean to you?
It’s kind of a haze. The whole evening, everybody kept telling me I would win, and I kept asking, “How do you know?” It’s a really tough category; Nathan Lane is brilliant at what ever he does, and you’ve got Louis C.K., who is about as hot as you can possibly get, as well as Justin Timberlake, Will Forte and Bobby Cannavale. It was a very strong group. I was all right with the fact that I wasn’t going to win it. It’s a very trite thing to say that it’s just an honor to be included but it’s true; it’s trite because it’s true.
Why do you think it took so long for the TV Academy to recognize your work?
Coming from the stand-up world, you’re not coming from the school of dramatic arts. I think there’s as tendency to think of stand-up people like Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Roseanne, Brett Butler and all the people who came from the stand-up world to think that’s “Bob being Bob,” and you can’t give an award to Bob for Bob being Bob. It’s a lot tougher than it looks. Everybody can’t act; in terms of the 300 million people who live in the U.S., there are damn few people who can act. I always hated when the studios just kind of said that anybody can act. You look at people like Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda — and I’m just talking about the male actors — there aren’t a lot who can act. It’s a very special talent, and I wish it were recognized as a very special talent. It isn’t because the people make it look so easy. It’s a blessing. I don’t think anyone is entitled to [an Emmy]. I think you earn one. I said last night that in the previous cases where I lost it’s because there was somebody better in the group. It’s the logical explanation of why I’ve never won because there was always somebody better for whatever group you were included in. Three of the nominations were for dramatic shows — ER, NICIS and The Librarian — and three were for comedy, which seemed to be the TV Academy saying, “Why don’t you just stick to drama?”
What did you do to celebrate after the ceremony was over?
My wife and I didn’t have any real plans. We went to the afterparty because we were both hungry. She and I we went to the Bel-Air hotel, and we each had a beer and piece of pizza.
How has today been for you? Has it sunk in yet?
We got some calls from people, CNN, and then I heard from my secretary that the Today Show and Al Roker apparently was very nice talking about my getting the Emmy. I really haven’t had a chance to celebrate, but that isn’t us.
Have you heard from everyone at The Big Bang Theory?
I haven’t heard from Chuck Lorre yet; I’ve gotten several emails from Kunal Nayyar (Raj), who was very nice, as well as from Kaley Cuoco (Penny) and Johnny Galecki (Leonard). Last night we only had 40 seconds, though I asked [Emmys producer] Spike Jones Jr. to give me a little more time. I’d been up seven times for this and asked him to stretch it a bit.
Have you heard from any of your former Newhart or Bob Newhart Show colleagues since you won?
I haven’t but I know I will be because we’ve remained in touch. I heard from Tim Conway and his wife and Steve Lawrence and Eddie, who were dear friends from the stand-up days and the nightclub days. Bill [Daily] is in New Mexico but Marcia [Wallace] is here and Jack Riley is here and so is Peter [Bonerz].
Do you know where you’re going to put the Emmy?
Somewhere prominently! (Laughs) I don’t know exactly. That’s up to my wife. I always kid her about it; she thinks it’s ostentatious to put your awards out there, except for my Mark Twain award; that was a statue that fit the decor of the living room, which is why it’s in a prominent place in the house. But I don’t know where she’s going to put the Emmy.
Have you already spoken to Big Bang Theory producers about when you’ll be returning about returning as Professor Proton?
We were already in talks. I’m scheduled to do the next episode in October, which means probably sweeps and it’ll probably be on in November. We were already talking about two more appearances.
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