Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Crazy Commute

For the past few weeks I've been revisiting The Bob Newhart Show on DVD. It was one of my favorite shows as a teenager (yeah, I was a weird kid), and in some ways Mr. Newhart and I are a lot alike. We both have the same dry sense of humor and even temperament (for the most part).

I always liked the opening credits, with the catchy theme song and the various shots of Dr. Bob Hartley walking through downtown Chicago on his way home from the office. But after watching the opening over and over the past few days, I began to notice that there's something not quite right about Bob's daily commute. I've only been to downtown Chicago a handful of times, but even I can tell it makes no sense.

Yep, it's time for another one of my incredibly over-analyzed pedantic pop culture posts, that only I care about! Get comfortable!

We first see Bob outside his office building, wearing his patented "70s Businessman" costume. Boy, everything certainly was brown in the 1970s, wasn't it?

We then see Bob walking left to right over an elevated walkway. This is a bit of an odd starting point, especially since it's actually a couple of blocks SOUTH of the office building where he was just standing. Apparently Bob spontaneously teleported to this location, and somewhat disoriented after rematerialization, started walking in the wrong direction, back toward his office.

Also, keep an eye on the building in the central background.

We then cut to a shot of Bob walking on what first appears to be different bridge. It's not. It's actually the exact same one he was just on, shot from a lower angle. He apparently regained his composure and realized he was walking the wrong way, so he made a U-turn and headed in the opposite direction. How do I know this? Because the building at the left is the exact same one he just passed in the previous shot.

Next we see him walking South over one of the bridges crisscrossing the Chicago River, before the camera zooms out to show downtown Chicago in all its glory.

I gotta say, these location shots aren't doing Chicago any favors. Everything looks dull, drab and lifeless. More like some Soviet-era industrial complex rather than one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in America.

So here's a map of Bob's commute so far. To recap: he inexplicably starts a couple blocks from his office, heads toward it, then turns around and walks to the train station (sorry, you'll have to zoom in to read the text).

We then see Bob board a depressingly colorless train.

Bob is then shown removing his hat and settling in with his newspaper, as if he's going to be on the train for several hours. In reality his apartment building is a scant 7 miles from his office. How long could it take to travel 7 miles by train? Maybe it makes a lot of time-consuming stops. Or maybe the locomotive engineer still believes that the human body can't withstand speeds over 15 mph and it travels very, verrrrry slowly.

Next we see Bob has departed the train and is chatting with a member of the KGB at a cheerless brown station. On the DVD commentary, Bob Newhart himself admitted that this train station was actually located in the Evanston area of Chicago, some four miles North of his apartment building.

So why would he travel so far past his stop? Doesn't he know where he lives? Does he not understand how the rail system works? Was he too engrossed in the newspaper to realize he'd passed his home? Did he become confused by all the identical, utilitarian brown buildings?

Or could it be that Bob isn't as befuddled as his senseless commute would indicate? Maybe the Hartley's marriage isn't as happy as we've been led to believe, and he's not in any hurry to get back home to his wife Emily and his annoying neighbor Howard Borden.

Next we see Bob trudging the 4 long miles back South to his grim, bleak apartment building. Hey, it's brown too.

And we finally see him welcomed home by his wife Emily (the incredibly hot Suzanne Pleshette). Wow, even their apartment is brown!

So for the record, here is Bob's entire commute. He somehow starts several blocks away from his office, walks back and forth in confusion for a while, apparently boards the wrong train which takes him 4 miles past his home (even though there appears to be a station a few blocks from his building), then begins the long march back to his apartment on foot.

Presumably he repeats these steps in reverse every morning to get to his office.

And the AMA trusts this man to psychoanalyze patients. A man who can't even figure out how to get to his home. No wonder his patient Mr. Carlin never got any better!

For the record, the Chicago locations used in the show are still there:

Here's Bob's downtown office building, then and now. It's obviously gone through quite a bit of renovation since the 1970s. Thankfully they got rid of most of the brown.

Here's Bob and Emily's apartment building, then and now. Unfortunately it hasn't changed at all. It still looks just as brown, joyless and utilitarian as it did in 1972.

Just for fun, here's a comparison of the view from Bob's apartment window versus the real world view. OK, even I'm not going to be that big a stickler for detail, to demand that the show use the real world view. Besides, it's fairly close. And it's possible that the view might have actually looked like that 40 years ago. I'm just sayin' is all.

Just for the heck of it, take a close look at the background of the scene where Bob is riding the train. Apparently the Wizard of Id comic strip was really popular in 1973.


  1. Hmmm... Somebody is spending a little too much time alone at home.

  2. What? Doesn't everyone watch 40 year old sitcoms and map out the daily commute of a fictional character in excruciating detail? What's so unusual about that? Don't judge me!

  3. just bumped into this looking for stuff about this opening since I'm shooting a recreation of it with a friend for a housewarming (he's moving into a building near that apartment building). This is a neat breakdown of it but not really acurate. if you live in Chicago you know that that commute is indeed about the farthest one most business people take north. It takes about 45 minutes and everyone does read (on ipads now) it's about 6 miles there are about 15 stops to get there, it's not a bullet train. And presumably you could walk from that building back into the loop since the redline that goes up to that neighborhood isn't very close to that area at michigan. In Film and TV to say "Chicago" visually you need to show the "L" and the Redline that he needed to take is underground there so to be on the L tracks downtown you'd need to walk south into the loop first. Also If you're sharp and want to beat the crowd at 4:45 your best bet is to go there where less people have already gotten on and you might get a seat. the rest is just shot to show the most 'big city' drama. That apt building is right on the lake and a gorgeous spot, but affordable at the time, the perfect spot for a young couple. This opening is in fact probably the best representation I've seen of a fall day in Chicago. To get perfect depiction of travel, though, is near impossible in 2 minutes if you want anyone to stay awake. No offense, I'm just saying I went through this same thought process just now and I live in Chicago; It's pretty darn close. Can't wait to try and re-shoot it.

  4. Thanks! I loved this show as a kid and I am now and watching the 1st season on the Sundance Channel. Living in Chicago I was trying to figure out his commute in this was very helpful. Thanks again! Good to know that I'm not the only one obsessed with opening titles. LOL!

  5. DNA Info visited the route yesterday. Some very wise commenter added your link. This is awesome! I've lived in Chicago since 2012 but loved Bob and the other Chicago based shows and movies since I was a kid too. And wasn't the Newhart finale the best?!?

  6. Great read! Thanks for taking the time!


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