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Picks and Pans Review: Biography: Bob Newhart

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A&E (Sun., Jan. 7, 8 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

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Worthwhile though it is, you might want to trim a few minutes from this two-hour Biography. But the comedy of Bob New-hart is timed just right.

“I’d say something, and there wouldn’t be a laugh,” recalls Jack Riley, who played the neurotic Mr. Carlin on the first and best of Newhart’s four sitcoms. “But he’d blink his eyes about 17 times and then the laugh would be there—big.” Whether he’s playing a psychologist (The Bob Newhart Show, 1972-78) or an innkeeper (Newhart, 1982-90) or doing his reliable stand-up act, Newhart is almost always low-key and a little behind the beat. The style has worn exceptionally well over a career of 40-plus years, thoroughly chronicled here with interviews and clips. (Amazingly, Bob bursts into a zany Jerry Lewis impression in a Newhart outtake.)

The 71-year-old Newhart’s artful stammering is also the chief virtue of the new Showtime movie The Sports Pages, in which he portrays a golfer on trial for the murder of his nitpicky partner (Kelsey Grammer). The comedy premieres directly opposite the Biography special—bad timing—but repeats Jan. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

Bottom Line: Durable, buttoned-down wit