Bob Newhart Bob Newhart

Is television comedy icon Bob Newhart, 81, ready to stage his own Betty White-esque pop culture takeover?

"I don't know if the American public is ready for that," laughed Newhart at a salute to his 50th anniversary in show business at Beverly Hills' Paley Center for Media. But while the star of The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart says starring in a regular a series isn't highly likely ("That's for young people"), he's nowhere near retirement — and he may be teaming with his longtime best friend Don Rickles for a TV project in the near future.

"We've talked about it," Newhart told TV Guide Magazine of the possible collaboration with Mr. Warmth (the close pals have famously vacationed with their wives together for several decades). "We have a couple projects that we're kind of exploring, working together and finding the right piece of material. Yeah, that's an ongoing thing, and there have been inquiries for cable shows and other things, so that could happen."

"You never stop — that's the fun," Newhart said. "The most fun is the next routine you're going to come up with. And I always say if you retire and you think of a really funny idea, do you do it for the dog, you know, and see if he's gonna laugh? The real joy is doing new material and working it out and finding out what works and what doesn't work. And then it comes to fruition and people are laughing — that's what it's all about."

Onstage at the tribute, he also revealed that the comedy gene appears to run in the Newhart family. "As a matter of fact, my nephew is one of the new cast members of Saturday Night Live," he explained. "His name is Paul Brittain and he did Johnny Depp last week, and he was great."

And whether or not he stages an octogenarian tour de force like his friend White, he's thrilled to watch her conquering Hollywood. "I'm so happy for Betty," he said. "We did a series together that didn't last very long — a series called Bob. Very inventive — I have this gift for coming up with names for shows."

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