In 2004, TNT scored big ratings with an original production titled The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, which followed Flynn Carsen, a bookish adventurer (ER alum Noah Wyle) who tracks down lost relics. The network hopes to strike gold again with a sequel, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines, premiering this Sunday at 8 pm/ET. Among the many riches inhabiting the film is a flesh-and-blood American treasure — comedian Bob Newhart. TVGuide.com recently spoke with the stammering septuagenarian about reprising his role as Judson, the mysterious library curator, and we also got his take on what it's like to look back over his most celebrated career.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised at the success of the first Librarian movie?
Bob Newhart: Yeah, I was — not that I didn't think it was good, but it was very different. It kind of had this message that it's all right to be smart, which is not the most common message in popular culture. That was what appealed to me, and I loved the script and my character.
TVGuide.com: Were you at all reluctant about doing the sequel?
Newhart: Not really, once I saw the script. And the fact that it was being shot in South Africa was very intriguing to me. I worked for about eight days on the picture, and then my wife and I took a safari. That experience was mind-blowing. I'm glad they didn't find out until later, but the whole damn thing could've been shot here in Los Angeles.
TVGuide.com: So your scenes were all filmed on a set?
Newhart: No. The library we used was at the University of Cape Town, which was amazing, but the scene I shot on the beach could've been Malibu. So I'm indebted to them, but the stuff with Noah and Gabrielle [Anwar] had to be shot in Africa. Those are some incredible scenes.
TVGuide.com: What's the deal with Judson? How can he just materialize out of nowhere?
Newhart: That's one of those things that's just inexplicable.
TVGuide.com: You mean you didn't work out a backstory in your own mind?
Newhart: No, I didn't. I'm not what you'd call a Method actor.
TVGuide.com: I've got an idea for a third Librarian film: Flynn Carsen tracks down the original master tapes of your legendary 1960 comedy album, The Button-down Mind of Bob Newhart. Do you think that could work?
Newhart: Yeah. [Laughs] First of all, write it down and then mail it to yourself, because you know how these studios are. Actually, I was scheduled to present the master tapes of my second album to the Smithsonian a few months ago, but they were in the process of renovating, so that may happen at a later time. Those tapes were actually discovered at a bookstore in Pasadena.
TVGuide.com: But what about the first album's tapes?
Newhart: I don't know where the first album's master tapes are.
TVGuide.com: Maybe this idea of mine will work after all.
Newhart: Well, if they taped over the first seven years of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to save money, then I'm sure they probably taped over the masters of my first album.
TVGuide.com: That would be a pretty sad ending. On a happier note, you still get out on the road to do stand-up. However, I noticed you rarely do Las Vegas gigs anymore.
Newhart: I played the Stardust a couple years ago, but there aren't really that many places to play anymore. I spent so many years in Vegas that my family practically grew up there. The day I saw the implosion of The Sands, my heart sunk. I can't say that's the reason I'm not playing, but there are fewer and fewer places for my act. They're all going to Celine Dion and Elton John. Also, I would never play a couple months anywhere now.
TVGuide.com: Your memoir, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, came out in September. What was it like to look back over your life and try to sum it up in a book?
Newhart: In some ways, I enjoyed the process of putting it all down on paper and recalling it. Each day it would be like, "Oh yeah, I'd forgotten about that." Even now, my wife will say, "You know, you should have put in.... " Maybe the title of the second book should be "I Forgot About That." But what was toughest was realizing, "Where the hell did the time go?" My youngest daughter just had her first child in June, and in the last year of [The Bob] Newhart [Show] they kept calling me out because my wife was expecting my youngest daughter, so the writers kept having to write around me. That was 1977, and recalling that and realizing that she's now 29 — though it seemed like yesterday — was hard.
TVGuide.com: Did PBS' profile of you on American Masters last year inform the book at all?
Newhart: That helped. It was the same process, where I had to go back through all the years. But the American Masters thing, when I first heard about it, I was like, "American Masters is [Leonard] Bernstein." To be included in that company is wild. I think it was as much a salute to humor as it was to me. Humor is so important to the American scene throughout history. But why I was profiled in the series is for somebody else to say. I'm just grateful to be included in that company.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.