Newhart portrayed Bob McKay, the creator of the 1950s comic book superhero "Mad-Dog". Mad-Dog was a casualty of the Comics Code Authority, a real-life self-regulation authority formed to assuage concerns over violence and gore in comics in the 1950s. In the wake of the CCA, Bob became a greeting card artist, and years later Mad-Dog is revived when the American-Canadian Trans-Continental Communications Company buys the rights to the series. Complications ensued when Ace Comics head Harlan Stone (John Cygan) insisted Mad-Dog should be a bloodthirsty vigilante rather than the hero Bob originally created. Bob initially turned down Harlan's offer to revive the series with the publisher, but after his wife, Kaye (Carlene Watkins), reminded Bob that Mad-Dog would never give up dreams in the face of defeat, he decided to compromise with Harlan on creative direction, and the two became a team.
On the personal side, Bob and Kaye had been married for over 25 years; Kaye was loyal and sensible, and a busy career woman herself (although she nearly quit her job in the pilot, especially after seeing the estimated figure Bob would pull in yearly from the revival of Mad-Dog). Also creating havoc in Bob's life was his grown daughter Trisha (Cynthia Stevenson), who bemoaned her perpetually single state. Other members of the comics staff included Albie Lutz (Andrew Bilgore), a klutzy gofer with low self-esteem; Chad Pfefferle (Timothy Fall), a spaced-out cartoon inker; and curmudgeonly Iris Frankel (Ruth Kobart), an old-timer artist at the office who worked with Bob in his early days (she still called him "Bobby McKay"). Seen occasionally in the beginning, but receiving increased screen time as the series progressed were Trisha's best friend, Kathy Fleisher (Lisa Kudrow); Kathy's parents Patty (Dorothy Lyman) and Jerry (Tom Poston), a fellow comic book writer alumnus who created "The Silencer"; Shayla (Christine Dunford), Harlan's on-and-off girlfriend; and Buzz Loudermilk, as played by legendary Dick Martin (a regular director on the series), a friend of Bob's, creator of "Katie Carter, Army Nurse," and a mature ladies' man. Other Ace Comics titles included Blue Streak, Heat the She-Wolf, Lady Minerva, Mazza the She-Devil, Oyster Boy, Sex Cats, Tiny Silver Hands, Z-Man and Boing-Boing, and The New Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Ace's best-selling title, much to Harlan's chagrin.
One character was heard but not seen — Mr. Terhorst (voice of Michael Cumpsty), the president of AmCanTranConComCo who communicated with all his employees anywhere that fiber-optics could be installed. Harlan even provided Bob will a cellular phone in which Mr. Terhorst would randomly tap into it and begin talking to Bob in his most private, intimate hours. Cryptic yet resourceful, Terhorst was a master mediator in all creative differences in the office, and was determined to make Mad-Dog a cultural phenomenon. Also of note was the shows real life cartoonist and Hollywood storyboard artist, Paul Power who created all the Mad-Dog artwork and visual props and was an actor and background player on screen.
During the series' first year, Trisha collected her neuroses and pushed herself harder into the dating scene, with Bob offering her a position on the Mad-Dog staff along the way. When Trisha joined, Chad instantly developed a crush on her. Later in the season, she and Kathy moved into their own apartment, where Albie, in need of a place, joined them temporarily. Harlan and Shayla, who had quite the tempestuous relationship, became serious and talked about marriage.
A couple of cameos from Bill Daily (who played Howard on The Bob Newhart Show) brought cheers from the live audience when he arrived at the house as one of Bob's poker buddies. Daily's character used his iconic phrase "Hi, Bob." whenever he showed up. Singer and actor Steve Lawrence guest starred as another poker buddy during the first season.
This episode played upon the series' comic book connection by guest starring comic book artists Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Mell Lazarus, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Mel Keefer, Paul Power, Art Thibert and Sergio Aragones (co-creator of Groo with "Bob" scripter Mark Evanier.)
In the final episode of the first season, AmCanTranConComCo was sold to a millionaire who hated comic books, and the entire Mad-Dog staff, including Bob, was fired. When Bob returned in late October 1993, the show was revamped completely. All of Bob's co-workers from the previous season disappeared and the show's premise had changed. Sylvia Schmitt (Betty White), the wife of his former boss (who had run off with his dental hygienist), hired Bob as President of Schmitt Greetings. Her obnoxious son Pete (Jere Burns), the Vice-President of Sales who had expected to take over the company and now had to work for Bob, was irate. Others working at the company were the sarcastic bookkeeper Chris Szelinski (Megan Cavanagh) and dumb but lovable Whitey van der Bunt (Eric Allan Kramer), a member of the production team who adored Bob. Trisha and Kathy remained friends and housemates on a quest for true love, and at one point, Sylvia even set Pete up with Trisha, much to Bob's dismay. Sylvia herself had never lost her following of men, with none other than Buzz moving in on her.
In a rarity for TV sitcoms of the time, Bob was taped on film, with a video assist for the directors and producers to monitor the show during filming.
All the artwork in season one was done by movie storyboard artist Paul Power, who also appears as an extra in most of the comics studio scenes.
The series' theme music was originally a full orchestral piece featuring a heavy horns and woodwinds sound, an arrangement very much in style of the Superman and Batman movies. The opening sequence that accompanied it featured Bob McKay at his artist's desk drawing, inking, then coloring a Mad-Dog comic as the credits appeared. The show's title appeared in a thin, 3-D rendition of Helvetica font in the pilot episode; after, it was redesigned to be a bolder capital font, but with the same yellow base and red shadowing color. The opening credits appeared in a bold comic-style font.
In the second season, as part of the show's revamping, a short opening credits sequence, just featuring the title, was used. The theme music also changed to a soft classical tune, featuring a flute.
In addition to the change in Bob's career setting in the second season, the set of Bob and Kaye's house significantly changed as well. There were no references in the scripts to suggest that the McKays had moved, however.
Cynthia Stevenson would later be hired by Bob producers The Steinkellners as one of the leads for their NBC/Warner Bros. Television sitcom Hope & Gloria (1995–96).
- "Mad Dog Returns" / 1992.Sep.18
- "Drawing a Blank" / 1992.Sep.25
- "My Daughter, My Fodder" / 1992.Oct.02
- "Penny for Your Thoughts" / 1992.Oct.16
- "Terminate Her" / 1992.Oct.23
- "P.C. or Not P.C." / 1992.Oct.30
- "A Streetcar Named Congress-Douglas" / 1992.Nov.06
- "Unforgiven" / 1992.Nov.13
- "Mad Dog on 34th Street" / 1992.Nov.20
- "Stone in Love" / 1992.Dec.04
- "The Lost Episode" / 1992.Dec.11
- "A Christmas Story" / 1992.Dec.21
- "La Sorpresa" / 1993.Jan.08
- "Bob and Kaye and Jerry and Patty" / 1993.Jan.22
- "You Can't Win" / 1993.Jan.29
- "Da Game" / 1993.Feb.05
- "The Man Who Killed Mad Dog" / 1993.Feb.12
- "The Phantom of AmCanTranConComCo" / 1993.Mar.05
- "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Our Lady of Constant Sorrow" / 1993.Mar.12
- "I'm Getting Remarried in the Morning" / 1993.Apr.12
- "Tell Them Willy Mammoth Is Here" / 1993.Apr.19
- "Death of an Underwear Salesman" / 1993.Apr.26
- "The Entertainer" / 1993.May.03
- "Neighborhood Watch" / 1993.May.10
- "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Mad Dog Gone?" / 1993.May.17
- "Greetings" / 1993.Oct.22
- "For Pete's Sake" / 1993.Oct.29
- "Whose Card Is It Anyway?" / 1993.Nov.05
- "Speechless in Chicago" / 1993.Nov.12
- "Kiss and Sell" / 1993.Dec.27
- "Michiana Moon" / Unaired
- "Have Yourself a Married Little Christmas" / Unaired
- "Better to Have Loved and Flossed" / Unaired
Bob was one of four sitcoms CBS assembled on Friday nights in an effort to challenge the dominance of TGIF, the family sitcom block that aired on ABC, in fall 1992. Joining Bob was The Golden Palace a continuation of The Golden Girls which CBS outbid NBC for the rights to, and two of the network's Monday night comedies, the top ten rated Major Dad and Designing Women.
Although it was heavily promoted by TV Guide, which featured it on the cover twice during its freshman season, Bob failed to catch on with the viewing public in its Friday night time slot (which had been shifted to 9:30pm). In fact, the entire Friday lineup failed to make any headway in the ratings against ABC.
When the season ended, the other three Friday night sitcoms were cancelled and Bob underwent a retooling, saved from the axe by a relocation to Mondays and a subsequent ratings boost. However, the show was moved back to Fridays for the new season and again saw ratings trouble. A switch to Monday nights in December was too late to do much good, and the series was canceled after the December 27th broadcast. Three remaining episodes finally aired during TV Land reruns (where it aired as part of the Bob Bob Newhart Newhart Marathon) in the late 1990s.
As part of the promotion of this series, Marvel Comics published a six-issue "Mad Dog" limited series.
On April 3, 2012, CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) released Bob: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.