Bob Newhart is returning to one of TV’s top shows with an even bigger bang.
Soon after scoring his first-ever Emmy Award for his appearance last season on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” as former science-show host “Professor Proton,” the comedy icon reprises the role Thursday (Nov. 7) in the new episode “The Proton Displacement.” The character unwittingly causes a problem by asking Leonard (Johnny Galecki) for help instead of Sheldon (fellow Emmy winner Jim Parsons) … prompting the jealous Sheldon to bring rival “Science Guy” Bill Nye (playing himself) into the picture.
‘This episode is so totally different from the one I was in before,” the ever-pleasant, low-key Newhart tells Zap2it. “You really get insight into Sheldon and Leonard’s relationship, which I felt was very tender.
“I have one scene where I ask Leonard, ‘Why do you put up with Sheldon?’ He says, ‘Well, he’s a friend of mine.’ And I say, ‘Why?’ In other words, what does he have to offer as a friend? And Leonard says, ‘I can’t help it.’ And that’s kind of the theme of the show.”
Indeed, Newhart also found that in another scene: “We’re in a drugstore, and Sheldon comes up to me and says, ‘Hello, I’m Sheldon. We’ve met before. Possibly, you don’t remember me because of your advanced age.’ It’s not intended to be Don Rickles insulting somebody, that’s just the way he is. He can’t help it.”
Working with recent “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Nye was “dellghtful,” Newhart says. “I sound like Pollyanna, but I don’t know how to describe these people other than being what they are. I could say, ‘These are terrible people and I never want to work with them again,’ but that would be a lie. They couldn’t be nicer, and it’s just totally enjoyable.”
Still, Newhart muses that he gets to display an atypical flash of anger opposite Nye. “There’s bad feeling between the two of them,” he says, “and I actually, physically make a move toward him. He says, ‘My show was really patterned after yours.’ And I say, ‘That’s what I told my lawyers.'”
Newhart is anything but litigious about “The Big Bang Theory,” since he appreciates how the show accommodates him. “I’ve always said that for the one I got the Emmy for, Kaley [Cuoco] really threw herself on the sword. She had to act really dumb, and she’s not. It was a case of everybody just wanting it to work so much, they kept throwing me hanging curveballs, and I kept swinging at them. Though baseball season is over now.
“If a joke doesn’t work, they’ll just keep working on it until it does. As we’re filming, they’re rewriting, and that’s a great comfort when you know you’re dealing with great writers. You know they’re not going to let anything go by until it’s as funny as they can possibly make it, and that’s a very relaxed feeling.”
Newhart initially told executive producer and co-creator Chuck Lorre — who confessed to sneaking onto the set of the 1980s sitcom “Newhart” and eating lunch there during breaks — that he’d want more than one stint as Professor Proton. The latest episode is the second in his three-story deal, and he’s not sure he’d want to continue beyond that.
“I just picked a number out of the air,” Newhart says. “I said, ‘I want it to be a three-shot rather than a one-shot,’ and Chuck said, ‘OK. You’ve got it.’ It’s such a great show, I don’t want my character to be jumping the shark.”