Do you have a television show that could be a part of the “Things That Brings Back Memories“? What was it and what did it mean to you?
For this week’s “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something in the topic of “Television” and go with the show “WKRP In Cincinnati“. For those of you, who are either too young, or don’t remember, here’s a snippet of one of the “WKRP In Cincinnati” shows:
WKRP In Cincinnati ran from 1978-1982. It was a show that I would always watch with my Dad. We would laugh and always have a great time. Now granted, this was back in the day when we only had a few channels on the TV, and I, myself, was the remote!! Does anyone else remember hearing your parents ask you to change the channel? You had to walk up to the TV and click the knob over to another station, or the good old UHF. Crazy how time flies and now we have 100’s of channels and sometimes say that there is nothing on TV!!
I loved this show, because it was about a whole bunch of different people and was based on pretty normal life. There was sometimes some things that were said, that made my parents kind of hold their breath, but nothing in the likes of today’s shows that should be censored, if not banned altogether! Did you ever watch this show? Who was your favorite character? My favorite was Dr. Johnny Fever….one of those that I think I would have had a poster on my wall, if they would have made them of him!! ha/ha
Okay, now let’s all sing together:
WKRP in Cincinnati, an MTM production, was created by Hugh Wilson, who had previously written scripts for MTM’s The Bob Newhart Show and served as a producer on the short-lived MTM production The Tony Randall Show. MTM, which had not had a big comedy hit since Rhoda several years earlier, was counting on WKRP to revive the company’s reputation as the best producer of situation comedies. WKRP debuted in a tough slot, 8:00 on Monday nights, followed by a forgettable and short-lived show called People. Despite strong reviews for the pilot episode, and some positive buzz for an episode called “Turkeys Away,” WKRP did poorly in the ratings and was put on hiatus by CBS with five episodes still unaired. Most reports at the time suggested that this “hiatus” was likely to be permanent, but CBS surprised many by bringing the show back in January of 1979, again on Monday nights but this time following the long-running hit M*A*S*H. Though CBS claimed that the series had been “retooled” in the interim, not much had changed except the construction of a new set (the “bullpen” with desks for Les, Bailey, Herb and the DJs) and a slight shift in emphasis: Whereas earlier episodes had focused mostly on Andy Travis, Mr. Carlson and Johnny Fever, WKRP re-emerged as a true ensemble series in which all eight regular characters were of roughly equal importance. In this new time slot, WKRP was a hit, part of a high-quality CBS Monday night lineup of M*A*S*H followed by three series from MTM: WKRP In Cincinnati, The White Shadow, and Lou Grant. Loni Anderson, as Jennifer, became a national sex symbol, while Howard Hesseman as Johnny Fever almost matched her in popularity. Early in 1980, however, CBS moved WKRP away from Monday nights, trying to find a night where it could anchor an uneven lineup. Unfortunately some CBS executives apparently did not care for WKRP, and other executives mistook it for a kids’ show based on the rock n’ roll music and loud clothes. Thus they had a habit of preceding and following it with shows that were much more lowbrow than the MTM-style humor of WKRP — for example, on one night WKRP was followed by the Alice spin-off, Flo. In time slots like these, WKRP’s ratings dropped badly. The time-slot changes eventually became more frequent and more ill-considered as CBS looked for a spot where WKRP would finally fit in. The show also seems to have received only limited support from MTM (particularly after the departure of MTM founder Grant Tinker, who left to run NBC), which was busy conquering the world of hour long drama with shows like Hill Street Blues. In the summer of 1982, CBS announced that WKRP had been canceled. To the surprise of almost everyone, WKRP finally became a breakout hit when its 90 episodes were released to syndication; its long life in syndication eventually made it, according to Grant Tinker, the biggest moneymaker in the history of MTM. Some cast members remarked that WKRP was a hit in reruns because viewers finally new where to find it
Andy Travis (Gary Sandy). For the most part, program director Andy Travis serves as the straight man for the eccentric staff of the station he has been hired to run. Before coming to WKRP, he had an unblemished record of turning around failing radio stations, but meets his match in his wacky staff members, of whom he becomes distressingly fond. The show’s opening theme song is about Andy and his decision to settle down in Cincinnati. In the episode “The Creation of Venus”, Andy echoes the opening theme lyrics in talking about his past (“Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial”).
Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), occasionally called the “Big Guy”, is the middle-aged general manager, whose main qualification for the job is that his mother, a business tycoon, is the owner of the station. His bumbling, indecisive management style is one of the main reasons the station is unprofitable, although he is ultimately a principled, kind, decent and sometimes surprisingly wise man. Mr. Carlson has far more interest in fishing than he does about the radio station, often trying to prevent people from coming to see him about business. (Coincidentally, Gordon Jump in real life had been a Dayton, Ohio, radio personality.)
Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is a burned-out veteran disc jockey from Los Angeles, who came to WKRP after being fired from a major station there when he said “booger” on the air. After the station changes format, one of his first on-air words (after being told he would not be fired for saying it) is “booger.” Cynical and neurotic, Fever is usually in one sort of trouble or another. (Halfway through the first season, he would get hired by the top competitor of the radio station in L.A. that fired him, only to be fired again not for saying “booger” – which can be said now – but for something else that was censored in the show.) Though the character’s real name is John Caravella, Fever occasionally uses other air names, notably including Johnny Cool, Johnny Duke, Johnny Style, Johnny Midnight, Johnny Sunshine, Professor Sunshine, Rip Tide and Heavy Early. This role is possibly Howard Hesseman’s signature role as an actor (he had been a disc jockey for a brief time).
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the fastidious, bow-tied news reporter, approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite being almost totally incompetent (a fact to which he is completely oblivious). For instance, he mispronounces golfer Chi-Chi Rodríguez’s name as “Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweeze”. His best friend is fellow employee Herb Tarlek. As a running gag, Nessman wears a bandage in a different spot each episode. It is suggested that these bandages are the result of repeated attacks by Phil, Nessman’s monstrous dog (who is never seen but is heard growling in another room in Nessman’s apartment). In fact, the bandages are a running in-joke. During taping of the pilot, Richard Sanders bumped his head on a studio light and had to wear a bandage to cover the cut. From then on, Sanders decided that the character would always wear a bandage. Other gags are Nessman’s winning the “Silver Sow” award for hog reporting and having masking tape on the carpet around his desk, which represents the “walls” of his non-existent office. Johnny Fever ribs him with wordplay by describing WKRP on the air as “the station with more music and Les Nessman.”
Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the station’s gorgeous blonde receptionist and the station’s highest-paid employee. Despite people’s assumptions that she is merely “eye candy” for the station, Jennifer is informed, wise, and able to handle practically any situation, no matter how absurd, with aplomb. Although very aware of her sex appeal, with various wealthy, powerful men at her beck and call, she is friendly and good-hearted with the station staff. She is very strict about the limits of her job duties: she doesn’t type letters (though she is in fact an expert typist), and neither makes coffee nor brings any to the office staff.
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), full name Herbert Ruggles Tarlek, Jr., the boorish, tasteless advertising account executive, wears loud plaid suits, with his belt matching his white shoes. He can’t land the big accounts, usually succeeding only in selling air time for trivial products such as “Red Wigglers — the Cadillac of worms!” Although a married man (his wife Lucille was played by Edie McClurg), he persistently pursues Jennifer, who has absolutely no interest in him. While Herb is portrayed as buffoonish most of the time, he does occasionally show a sympathetic side. Tarlek was based on radio executive Clarke Brown.
Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), the soulful, funky evening DJ, runs his show with a smooth-talking persona and mood lighting in the studio. His real name, Gordon Sims, is almost never used and he maintains an aura of mystery. In an early episode, it is revealed that Gordon Sims is a Vietnam veteran who is wanted for desertion from the US Army. In later episodes, Venus’s back story is elaborated upon and it is revealed that after deserting the army he spent several years as a high-school teacher before becoming a radio personality.
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), the young ingénue of the radio station, is originally in charge of billing and station traffic. However, having graduated from journalism school with some training in editing, and intent on becoming a broadcast executive, she is later given additional duties as an on-air news reporter, in which capacity she proves much more capable than Les Nessman. As the series progressed, she overcame her shyness by developing self-confidence. Beginning with the second season, she occasionally becomes linked romantically with Johnny Fever. The dynamic between Jennifer and Bailey has been likened to that between Ginger and Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. Jan Smithers was one of the few WKRP cast members who was the first choice for the role she played (Gordon Jump being the other one). Creator Hugh Wilson said that despite Smithers’ lack of experience (she had never done a situation comedy before), she was perfect for the character of Bailey as he had conceived her: “Other actresses read better for the part,” Wilson recalled, “but they were playing shy. Jan was shy.”
“Real” WKRP people: While Andy Travis received his name and some personality elements from a cousin of creator Hugh Wilson, he was based primarily on innovative program director Mikel Herrington, who also was the inspiration for the character Jeff Dugan in the 1978 film FM, written by Ezra Sacks who had worked at KMET. Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named “Skinny” Bobby Harper at WQXI/790 in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968). WKRP writer Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial’s inspiration for the show. Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including seven in Atlanta. In 1997, Bobby Harper told WSB’s Condace Pressley, “He went on record as pointing out which ones, including myself, that he based the characters on.
Cincinnati connection: The transmission tower seen at the beginning of WKRP in Cincinnati actually belonged to Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate, WLWT. The tower has since been dismantled. The building shown as the home of WKRP and referred to as the Osgood R. Flimm Building is the Cincinnati Enquirer Building at 617 Vine St. in downtown Cincinnati.
The “real” WKRP station: Though WKRP was never identified by frequency in the original series (although it was on the AM dial), it was identified as being at AM 1530 in the 1991 series sequel (which, in reality, was the original and current frequency for Cincinnati-based WCKY). Within the series, the station broadcast at 5,000 watts of power (50,000 watts in the pilot episode), as displayed on one of the walls of the station office.
Thanks for stopping by today. Please be sure to leave a comment, if this show meant something to you, too. Or to just let me know what you think of the story in this post! Thanks and have a great day!!