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Fans await comic-actor's visit to Vermont for book signing

Welcome to the world of Newhart, that quintessential 80s television show. The show may vanished from the airwaves, but a small, dedicated group of fans manage to keep its spirit alive on that greatest of high-tech rumor millsthe Internet. A handful of Newhart web sites are attracting fans who are thirsty for reruns and a long-rumored Newhart T.V. reunion. Now rumors of comic-actor Bob Newharts return to Vermont for a local booksigning of his new book, entitled I Shouldnt Even be Doing This (published by Hyperion Books in 2006), have fueled interest in a Newhart visit to Vermont and a video revival. Closer to home, ghosts of the offbeat show haunt the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury. The beautiful inn, a former stage-coach stop at the foot of the Green Mountains on Route 125, served as the exterior of the T.V. shows fictional Vermont inn. Location scouts for Newhart felt it represented the essence of a New England inn. It was that essence the producers wanted to show each week during the programs credits. (The T.V. inns interiorwhich looked nothing like the Wayburys insidewas built on a Hollywood soundstage.) All that remains of the remains of the exterior T.V. shoot are a few wooden prop signs found in the Wayburys pubThe Stratford Inn and The Minuteman Cafe. Newhart played Dick Loudon, a writer of how-to books who buys a classic 18th century Vermont inn, the Stratford Inn (a.k.a. the Waybury Inn), became host of a low-rated local talk show entitled "Vermont Today," produced by a shallow baby-boomer schlockmeister Michael Harris (this show-within-a-show was a veiled spoof of WCAX-TV, Channel 3). Among the shows cast, apparently only Bob Newhart has failed to pay a visit to the Waybury Inn. In fact, Newharts only visit to Vermont was at the Burlington airport in the 1980s. During the shows first run, the comic actor stepped off a plane with his wife Joanna. Leslie Vanderkellen was the privileged maid working her way through college, George Utley (played by comedian Tom Poston) was the somewhat dim-witted handyman, and Kirk Devane was the deceptive owner of the rundown Minuteman Cafe next door. In 1983, the Leslie character was replaced by her spoiled and shallow cousin Stephanie. That same year, Kirk married Cindy, a circus clown, and they moved to Europe at the beginning of the shows third season in 1984. Characters Michael and Stephanie later fell in love and eventually married and had a baby, also named Stephanie. The unnamed Vermont village that provided this show's setting was populated by eccentric characters such as Chester Wanamaker; Jim Dixon; Bev Dutton, the no-nonsense manager of fictional Channel 8 (from which "Vermont Today" originated); andlast but not leastLarry, Darryl and Darryl, three surprisingly cultured Vermont woodsmen. Ironically, in spite of the shows closing in September 1990, most out-of-town guests at the Waybury today are unaware of the inns connection to Newhart. Newhart vanished soon after its final episode airedthe program hasnt had much of a rerun life since. Selected episodes were once available on VHS video for die-hard fans, but the videotapes are no longer distributed. Currently, Newhart is only broadcast in Canada. Despite its demise, the spirit of Newhart lives on. You can still encounter the ghosts of the Newhart gang at the Waybury Inn. Thanks to TV Tome.com and Bob-Newhart.com for providing the framework for this story.

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