Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Steve Kampmann Left "Newhart"

Based on an earlier post about the re-tooling of Newhart into a better show than it promised to be in its first season (in my opinion, anyway), I've been asked a couple of times why Steven Kampmann, who played Kirk, was dropped from the show after the second season. I've never been completely sure, and still am not, but there are two pieces of information I did turn up. One was an article about Kampmann from Jul 28, 1988 in the Los Angeles Daily News; it was about something else, but he mentioned in it that he was let go from Newhart because "Newhart decided he didn't like the focus being put on my character." (The second season of Newhart included a surprising number of episodes built around Kirk: he got married off, apparently in an attempt to make him more likable, and there were episodes about his dating life, proposal, and wedding among others.)

The other is a September 29, 1985 Associated Press article about Peter Scolari, who after being a guest star in season 2 was brought on as a regular in season 3 to replace Kampmann.


The producers decided to make the switch when it became apparent that Kampmann's character had nowhere to go. The character was supposed to antagonize Newhart, but he had become too strong.
(...)
"When you have an obnoxious character you can go one way, as Danny DeVito did on 'Taxi,' and become a character you love to hate," said Scolari. "Or you can have a character who's obnoxious and doesn't realize it, as I do with Michael. This year Michael will be a lot more human. It's to avoid the same trap that Steven fell into, and to keep in step with the rest of the show."


Taking those things together it seems like the writers thought Kirk was too depressing and unlikable of a character (getting him married was supposed to make him more relatable, but it actually made him worse) and Newhart didn't think he made a good comic foil.

15 comments:

Stacia said...

Thanks for this. I've always wondered why he left, and I agree that Kirk just wasn't likable at all. As much as I love Peter Scolari, I honestly didn't think Michael was much better, but it was toned down a bit by having him in a relationship with Stephanie.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably going against the grain, but I really loved Kirk that first season and was disappointed to see him leave. I preferred him to Michael, and in fact I also preferred their original maid (whom Kirk lusted after) to the ditzy Stephany. I felt the show "Newhart" lost a step or two after the first season, though I still enjoyed it in general.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

This was my feeling at the time as well. The one with Ricky Nelson up Kirk's nose turned me off the show for awhile.

It wasn't until the arrival of D,D & D that the show took off.

Bob Newhart said in an interview with Vicki Gabereau on CBC radio, that the first two seasons were a tough slough.

Anonymous said...

I'm watching the shows with Kirk now and I think he's funny; the first season has more edge than the rest did.

Mari LaFore said...

Kirk's unique personality quirks are all to real and easy to relte to...we all know someone like him. It sounds like he was stealing the show apparantly and Bob didn't like to share the limelight. He was wrong though...Kirk was the icing on the cake those first two seasons.
A forever fan of Kirk
P.S. Hey, Kirk if your are reading this...all the best to you!

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a great move to replace Kirk and Leslie with Stephanie and Michael. I treasure these episodes and can watch them over and over. Great move Bob!!!

Gina

lance said...

I was glad when they replaced Kirk with the three woodsmen. I wanted to watch Newhart because I liked Bob so much, but the first two seasons with kirk, who wasn't as likable as a Mr. Carlin and the whole look of the show [The old video tape look instead of the film in the 3rd season on] and the characters just didn't have anywhere to go. Once the three woodsmen and Peter Scolari were bumped up the show became a classic (I am a Bob (Chicago) Newhart man, but loved the remaing seasons of Newhart.

IloveAlicia said...

I found Kirk unbearable for almost the whole first season. It seemed as if the writers were trying too hard to make you not like him. But then something happened and I found the character to be thoroughly enjoyable. I wish he had not been dropped. It would have been nice if they had brought him back for the final season. All in all, still one of the best series to hit the small screen.

ns_kid said...

I love Bob and enjoyed all the seasons of Newhart. But I always felt Steven Kampmann was a better actor than Scolari and that Kirk had much more potential as a character. If the character failed I blame the producers, not Kampmann, for not using him properly.

bill c said...

I remember, many many moons ago as my people would have said, talking to Steve Kampmann. He said there was such huge difference in the feeling and attitudes between WKRP and the NEWHART shows. WKRP was much, much more free devil may care, while Newhart was much more a serious professional group of actors and techies.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand Kampmann OR his character of Kirk. I am glad they got rid of him. It aggravates me though, that you can only find episodes of Newhart online to watch with Kirk in them. Just listening to this guy's voice raises my blood pressure. I love the Stephanie and Michael storyline so much better and I wish freekin Hulu would run the older episodes and NOT only the ones with stupid Kirk.

Anonymous said...

Kirk was a jerk and ruined the show.

Anonymous said...

I liked Kirk. He added another quirky personality to the little Vermont town where Dick and Joanna seem to be the only sane ones around. I was never much for Leslie. She was just too perfect and good and saintlike.
On the other hand I found Stephanie as a replacement great. The big city girl playing housekeeper in Vermont. Loved it. It was so stereotypical whiney rich girl, but it worked. Also did like Michael. Its always priceless to watch him grovel at Stephanies feet.
As for Larry Darryl and Darryl. Well, I think that was the best decision the writers made to include them more.
LOVE LOVE LOVE Newhart!!! There will never be another 'straightman' of comedy. I am just privileged in my young life to actually know and appreciate the work of one of the greatest comedians ever born.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, while I did watch Newhart from the beginning, I didn't remember these episodes that well. I did remember Leslie, but I didn't remember Kirk. I do remember the look of the show changed. And I used to watch it on an old black and white tv. Now that the series is coming out on dvd, it was a no-brainer to get it. While I do love the comic timing of the show. I can sort of see why they replaced Leslie, as she's a bit too nice and sweet, and in a series about a big city type going into the crazy backwaters, she was too likable. Too noble. Stephanie was self-centered and there was more to criticize which is perfect for Newharts brand of comedy. As for Kirk I don't really remember him that well but I can't really say I like or dislike him that much as Scolari's character stands out more. I have only seen season 1 so far (in order) so I do not know if they were able to do more with him in the second season yet. But in many ways with Stephanie coming in, Kirk wasn't necessary. As his infatuation with Leslie seemed like his only redeemable quality. In other words he may be a pathological liar and a jerk to his friends, but at least he likes someone who is much more nobler and less self-obsessed as he is. Stephanie took over the self-absorbed comedy and took it to new levels. Newhart has too strengths, one is he is the master of the one-sided conversation, as seen in his standup and in many scenes when he's on the phone. Two, you can see what he's thinking and many times it's something you would think and would want someone to say in that situation. Newhart was always a slow boil comedian, his humor worked best when he was surrounded by crazies, his brand of saneness seemed almost to be the straight man to everyone else's comic foil. But he's the first "straight man" to actually get as many laughs as he does. he loves to set other people up to shine, but usually the biggest lines always come back to him, not because he has an over inflated sense of self importance, but because that's how the comedy works best. This has always been an ensemble cast, but it's his humor and his buttoned-down straight face that got most the attention. I do not mind the changes that much as it was during the stephanie/michael years that I really got into the show up until then my biggest memory was Anything for A Buck, and "ick". But, even going back now and watching it from the start it seems they made the best choices. It simply got better and better with time, though it was no slouch to start with. It was just different. But once it hit its stride it didn't stop until the series finale, which was freakin' hilarious. (I watched the Bob Newhart show occasionally so I got all the nuance...though I never got fully into that show, even in syndication). It has aged well. Classic and good humor never gets old. even if the format they filmed it on has (I wished they would not have used videotape..but what can you do?)

Anonymous said...

After Kirk left the show it was unwatchable not as funny, he was stealing every episode from Bob so he "had" to go and I quit watching it after that.