Monday, 10 September 2018

Ep. 70 - Rumors

September 10, 2018

Writers: Peter Torokvei
Director: Linda Day
Original Air Date: October 28, 1981

Alright all you Bailey lovers! This is the episode you have been meme-ing, screen capturing and pause buttoning for the past 37 years. Any image search of "Bailey Quarters" will find a dozen pictures of Bailey in Johnny's T-shirt. And we will discuss that! But first, getting to what really matters... Sam Anderson is back!

The fourth and final character Sam brings to life for "WKRP in Cincinnati" is the creepy/harmless mid-morning DJ Rex Erhardt. At one moment, he is seductively pouring Perrier water for lonely housewives listening to his show and the next he is flustered at making simple conversation with Bailey. Once again, Sam Anderson creates a fully rounded character in just a couple of minutes of screen time.

"Continuity is so important," says Bailey. "Thank you for always being a jerk, Herb." That's a funny line, but the first part could have been written on a plaque in the writers' room for this season. There is a direct line of continuity from last episode. Andy continues with his plan for remodeling the lobby, and begins to give out the much deserved raises. These links will continue all season long.

This episode is called "Rumors" because it follows the intertwining of two related rumors going around the station. The first is Andy is going to give his morning drive time slot to the younger Rex Erhardt. Johnny created this idea himself, of course, but as he says "when everyone is out to get you, paranoid is just good thinking!" The second is that Johnny and Bailey are sleeping together since he is spending the week at her apartment while his place is being fumigated for lizards. (Do you believe Johnny was telling Les the truth about the lizards?)

Focusing on second rumor first, it's not hard to see why the whole station thinks something is up. Bailey has been openly pining for Johnny since the beginning of season two in episode 23 "For Love of Money," when she asks him out on a date to the movies. In Ep. 60 "I Am Woman," Johnny asks Bailey if he were to get her a pair of cut off jeans, and he got a boat... and she cuts him off by just saying "Any time." We know they like each other, and that they have chemistry.

1981 is also the middle of the broadcast run for "Three's Company," (a show that was WAY more successful in the ratings than "WKRP in Cincinnati" ever was) that was entirely about the sexy misadventures of a man living, platonically, with TWO women. The idea is in the collective conscienceness. So the staff has been primed and ready for the idea of these two together. If Les were staying at Bailey's place, no one would think much of it.

However, the one person who also thinks there might be something going on is Johnny himself, and I'm going to go back to my commentary about Joyce Armor and Arthur Carlson in this season's premier, "An Explosive Affair." In that, Joyce behaves in such a way that ANY reasonable person would think she's coming on to Arthur. Also so here, under the guidance of the same director, Linda Day, Bailey rubs her hands all over Johnny and tells him to "reach out and touch that beauty. Take advantage of your situation!"

It may not be "changing into something more comfortable" but it's pretty suggestive. Especially at a time when Johnny is worried people think he's getting old.

Bailey may think Herb is being a jerk by suggesting something is going on, but really he's just being the most forthright in saying what literally EVERYBODY at the station is thinking. Les is shocked at the inappropriateness of Bailey and Johnny's arrangement. Jennifer wants the girl gossip. Andy and Venus reveal how silly they can be together as they snicker and, literally, howl at the thought of Johnny with Bailey. So it's peculiar that they would then be so offended when Rex says "I hear Johnny's squeezin' her." Which, on one hand, ewww, but on the other hand is exactly what Andy was just lying on the floor laughing about.

Bailey comes home and ties the two rumors together for Johnny. She is upset that the station thinks she is some sort of a "floozie" or that Johnny would be anything less than a gentleman. She also feeds Johnny's paranoia by reporting that Venus agrees that testing for Rex in his time slot for a week would be a perfect way to moving Johnny out. She soft pedals that fact that Venus also said he doesn't think Andy has any plans to do this. She is so tied up in the rumors herself that she doesn't notice Johnny had prepared an entire candlelight dinner for the two of them.

Then, playing back into the mixed messages set up, Bailey tells Johnny she should just give the station what they all want... then leaves him cold. It's the turning point of the episode.

I am going to direct all readers of this blog to what I wrote about Ep. 45 "Most Improved Station" when it comes to Bailey fandom. Because the next scene is the same level of fan service to Bailey's fandom that Jennifer's scene in the bathing suit from "Filthy Pictures" is to her fan base. This is Bailey's sexiest scene in the series. It concludes with Bailey straightening Herb's tie and purring "I was naked Herb. And this was on the bed so... I put it on."

Johnny shows up in Andy's office and finally becomes the gentleman Bailey thinks he is, defending her honour before fighting for himself. Johnny just wants to deal with the truth. It hurts him to see Bailey thought of poorly and it's tiring to stay paranoid. Returning to the continuity, Andy confirms "Alright. There's going to be some changes around here," starting by giving Johnny a $200 a month raise (which is a pretty good raise even today!)

The final misunderstanding, between Mr. Carlson who has just learned of the Bailey/Johnny rumors and Bailey, who is talking about being given the hand-me-down business show, doesn't really work. The business show plot was too thin for Bailey to really be that upset about, but it does allow her to say "I get off on it" to Mr. Carlson, which is weird in it's own right.


Other Notes - Number of times I, as a Canadian, spelled "Rumors" with an extra "U" while writing this post... seven! Things in Bailey's apartment include: a chalk board shopping list that includes "Milk, Vitamin C and Wheat Bread." Isn't all bread wheat bread? How crunchy granola does Bailey have to be to remind herself that if she's buying bread, it needs to be "wheat bread?" Also a poster for the Sea Shepherd, a conservation group (still in existence) that uses "direct action" to protect marine life.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Ep. 69 - The Union

August 28, 2018

Writers: Blake Hunter
Director: Linda Day
Original Air Date: October 21, 1981


I realize my last blog entry was very long, so today I'm just going to discuss the history of trade unionism in America.

"It's as American as apple pie," according to Bailey.

No, I won't put you through that, but this is one of those WKRP episodes that really demonstrate how the world has changed in 35 years. I don't think a sit-com would take on a topic like unionization today, and even if it did, it would take a very different approach.

This is also the pivotal episode the season. Many of the actions that are coming up, including the finale, flow directly from the "Deal" Andy makes with Mama Carlson. I have a couple of ideas about that deal.

Mama Carlson never leaves her patio throughout the entire episode, even when Andy is having drinks. We are introduced to her through her thoughtful soliloquy on the spirituality of nature: "You know, people today live without spiritual awareness." She is tell Arthur about how important the garden is to her; how she nurtures each plant and they in turn nurture her spirit. She believes this make her spiritually in tune.

But look who she is telling this to - the one person she was suppose to nurture throughout his life: her own son. Yet he lives his life starved for that nurturing and attention from her.  Arthur does not cultivate his spiritual growth through plants - he receives it from the people around him. He care about his employees and wants to make them happy when he can. He pays attention to each of them and thinks of them all has his family, with him sitting as benevolent father on the top.

So when the station cracks the finally, after three years of rock n' roll, cracks the Top Ten rated stations in the Cincinnati market, he wants to give the staff a little raise. In part because they've each contributed to the success of the station, but mostly, as he tells Jennifer "it makes me feel good too!"

Mama Carlson does not care about her employees and Carol Bruce runs ice water through her veins at the news that the employees are thinking about unionizing. She quickly thinks about how she and the other station owners can stop this before it starts. "We'll crush them like a bug!" she smiles as she takes in a deep, nourishing breath from a flower.

The employees are not nourished. There are a couple of things they are wanting from a union. Obviously, the first thing is more money. But the next thing is a sense of leadership. What Venus and Bailey are most excited by is the notion that they were personally chosen by the Brotherhood of Midwestern Radio Workers to lead up the union drive, before learning that everyone else had also been approached. Even Les, who is adamantly opposed to unionization becomes part of the drive because "I just like being in charge for once." Johnny become the leader mostly because he sees the payday that could be in store for himself as an "old timer" in the business.

All these opposing forces are about to clash in the end, and these moments are as good of a retelling of the roots of Reagan era capitalism as you'll ever find in a sitcom. Once again, we can be amazed looking back at this show a third of a century after it originally aired, knowing how many of the economic and business decision made in the early '80's have turned out. We no longer have a battle between the suits and the dungarees - the battle has become more sophisticated.

On one side there are the workers, who we might call have once called the dungarees, wanting what they consider their fair share of the profits of their labours. But it's the suits that are split. One group is who we would traditionally think of as the suits - the owners who want to keep as much money for themselves as possible, and consider their workers as expendable and expensive. Of course, this is represented by Mama Carlson. But then there is also the benevolent owner, represented by Arthur. He's like the old Mr. Fezziwig character in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol;" someone who worked as hard as his employees but also enjoyed having fun with them and respected them as human beings, and in so doing earned his employees' respect, and even affections. As financially successful as Mama Carlson may be, she has earned neither from her employees. That's why they are prepared to unionize.

But Arthur doesn't see it this way. He has put his spirit into cultivating his relationships with his employees and tells Andy "This whole union thing is a personal attack on me!" Arthur agrees with his mother that he doesn't want a union at WKRP, but it is for very different reasons than her. She, rightly, sees a union as a limiter to profits and control. Arthur sees as something that is breaking up the family; something that will limit how much love and respect he can choose to show his employees.

What we can see clearly now, more than 30 years later is that Mama Carlson's side won. Cold-eyed economics became the measurement of success, not the human relationships that can be built between employer and employee. If you think that's cynical, wait until you read my next ideas!

The crux of the episode rests in the final moments, when it is revealed that it was Andy's plan all along to manipulate the people involved to keep the union out of the station in order to get more money into the station from Mama Carlson. I'm going to propose two left-field ideas: 1) Andy contacted the Radio Workers Union to have them notify his people about unionizing the station, and 2) Andy would win whichever way the station went. Here's my thinking:

Andy has told us many times he's worked in radio all his life, so at some point he must have come across this Union and would know some of it's members. If that's so, then it wouldn't be too much of a leap to think he could reach out to them. That's a more likely scenario that this union just discovering WKRP because they've now hit the Top Ten. After three years, Andy has determined he will never get the money he needs to take the station where he wants it to go directly from Mama Carlson. A union creates the pressure point he's been looking for. As he tells Mr. Carlson "I'm on the side of the station."

If he makes a deal with Mama, and keeps the union out, he finally shows how invaluable he is and gets the money he needs. BUT if he DOESN'T get keep the union out, the union will force Mama's hand and demand the money that the station needs, especially regarding salaries. So he still gets the money. It's a low risk deal for Andy for Andy to make.

Look at his attitude when he comes back to that station the next day after meeting with Mama. Andy is practically giddy! His first idea is to clean up the lobby, something he probably wouldn't have gotten if the union had won out. Andy is happy to let Mr. Carlson think that it was his speech to the employees that won them over - that's the way they themselves would have recounted it too. Andy doesn't need the credit... he's already won!


Other Notes: The union loses by a vote of 5-4. Count the number of people at the meeting... there are eight. Jennifer provides most of the humour in the episode, from dealing with a crazed admirer sending her hundreds of roses to discussing her own union: "The International Sisterhood of Blonde Receptionists."

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Ep. 67 and 68 - An Explosive Affair, pt.1 AND pt.2

August 11, 2018

Writer: Steve Marshall
Director: Linda Day
Original Air Date: October 7 and 14, 1981


Just like they did to begin Season Two, Season Four of "WKRP in Cincinnati" starts off with two-parter. But if I had to guess, I think the producers weren't sure if it was going to be two episodes or one hour long episode, because unlike the two halves of "For Love or Money," this feels like  two entirely different scripts that were combined, and then split into two half hour episodes. I say this because the shows jump back and forth between the A and B plots with almost nothing connecting them. The first episode is all set-up - very little action takes places. That's why, if you remember these episodes, you're remembering things from the second episodes, including what may be the second most repeated quote in WKRP history.

I'm going to do something different and discuss these episodes as two different episodes:

1) An Explosive AFFAIR

In the cold opening, an unknown woman walks into the empty lobby and very comfortably answers the WKRP office phone. Jennifer walks in and is put out until she realizes this is Joyce Armor, the previous receptionist before her. They hug and Joyce tells Jennifer she is now an advertising accounts executive living in Cleveland. She has come hoping to have a meeting with her old boss, Mr. Carlson.

Meeting Joyce gives us a little glimpse into the world of WKRP before we got there (we haven't had any of that since the "Bah, Humbug" Christmas episode.) Herb used to be the "Little Guy" to Arthur's "Big Guy" and Jennifer originally came to the station has a young hick from West Virginia. (I'd love to know what brought Jennifer to a radio station in Cincinnati all those years ago, but I digress).

Arthur is thrilled to see Joyce again, calling her "the best little receptionist I ever had" right in front of Jennifer. They go out to one of those three-martini lunches that business people only had in the '70's. There is a lot of laughter and reminiscing between these two old friends, however they are sitting awfully close together in that booth. Then Joyce invites Arthur back to her hotel room that evening because she has a "hot proposition" for him. She is coy and won't tell him what she has in mind, but she purrs this invitation at him very closely. Arthur is suspicious as to what she really wants.

Something to note here is that she calls him "Arthur" and not "Mr. Carlson." Jennifer never does that. Even Andy calls him Mr. Carlson. As a former employee, it's odd she would be comfortable enough to do that.

Back at his office, Arthur calls his wife Carmen, who we hear has been pretty tired lately with the new baby. We can take from this that the Carlsons probably haven't been "romantic" together lately either. Arthur wants to invite her out to dinner; he tells her that he loves her but she is still too tired. Mr. Carlson even comes to Andy saying he's willing to have that budget meeting tonight, but as we'll discuss later, Andy already has is hands full. Mr. Carlson is looking for any excuse not to go to Joyce's hotel room because he doesn't trust Joyce or his own fidelity to his wife.

I'm calling Arthur out here - we have seen many examples over the past three seasons that the one, true love of Arthur's life is his wife Carmen. They have a deep and respectful bond with each other and although Arthur has had thoughts about Jennifer (or even Bailey) in the past, he was never in danger of acting on them. Although he plays with toys, Arthur is a grown man! If he doesn't want to go to a hotel room at night to meet up with a single woman, it's probably a good idea that he doesn't.

But he does go, wearing Old Spice on the way out.

At the hotel, Joyce greets Arthur at the door and shows him she's prepared his favourite drink: a purple cow, which is vodka and grape juice. Joyce, who is wearing business attire, says she is going to go into the other room and change "into something more comfortable." Arthur starts drinking heavily, wracked with guilt that Joyce is about to throw herself at him. There is a part of him that finds Joyce an attractive woman whom he'd enjoy being intimate with. On the other hand, he's married to the woman he loves, with a new baby at home. Gordon Jump plays guilt-ridden nervous wreck better than he plays drunk.

Arthur is disappointed and confused when Joyce comes out of the bathroom in jeans and a hoodie, expecting something much more sexual. He decides he needs to leave, but Joyce complains she hasn't even given him her pitch yet. "I have visual aids in the other room" and Arthur just about dies from shock. She tells him to close his eyes and imagine "it would be like having a branch sales office in another town." Now Arthur is completely confused and asks the question he should have asked back at lunch: "Joyce, what are we talking about?"

Surprise! This whole time she's been trying to sell Arthur on using her Advertising rep firm! And I call BS on the writers here.

She could easily have brought this up back at the office. If she's done any research before coming in, she know WKRP has been losing advertisers after last season's boycott by CURB. Herb even keeps bringing the topic up with Andy throughout the episode. And precisely because they are old friends, she wouldn't need to go through the whole wining and dining of Arthur to bring this point up. At the restaurant, she is affectionate with Arthur, touching his hands and speaking closely to him. And why is the reason for her meeting such a big secret that he needs to come up the her hotel room that night?

The worst is the "slipping into something more comfortable" line. Unless this is literally the first television show you have ever watched, this has been code for "preparing for sex" in movies and TV since the Hays Code of the '30's. And EVEN if the writers were being honest about comfort, she's been in her hotel room long enough to make drinks before Arthur gets there, but not to change her clothes? I believe Arthur was completely correct in assuming Joyce wanted to sleep with him. No serious business person and/or old friend acts or speaks that way.

So were left with two options: either the writer was lazy in crafting the Joyce character this way because he was more focused on the second story, or he believed this was the way a female account representative would have to behave in order to land an account - she would need to sell herself before she could sell the service. Which way do you think he would cop to today?

Once the mix up is revealed, the two old friends do share a tender moment in which they admit to a mutual attraction, but know nothing will happen. Arthur goes back to station.

At the end of the night, still feeling guilty, Arthur asks Jennifer to send his wife a dozen roses and she tells him it's already been done. He smiles and very sincerely tells Jennifer "You really are the best, you know." And we see that Jennifer is grateful to hear that from him.

Doesn't that seem like an entire episode? Throw in a couple of DJ jokes and that is a standalone episode of WKRP. But in reality, it isn't because it's actually been chopped up into this other episode.

2) An EXPLOSIVE Affair

Andy is unfazed that someone cranked called the station with a bomb threat, but as a matter of practice, he calls it into the police anyway. Les tells him a story about a group called Black Monday who blew up a television station Channel 75 in Dayton "right in the middle of the John Davidson Show." This makes Andy worried because it was Black Monday who called in the threat.

Andy also interrupts Venus and Johnny in the booth while they are trying to place bets with Johnny's Chinese bookie. The police are going to search the station for the bomb that is set to got off at 3:30pm. Andy sends the DJs to continue broadcasting from the transmitter outside of town, which was the original WKRP location, until they receive the all clear from him to return.

We have a lot of fun watching Johnny and Venus trying to broadcast with the broken down equipment at the old transmitter. But while they are there, Johnny sees a bet he needs to place: a horse is running at 80-1 odds named "Fever's Break." But the race starts at 3 o'clock, which is in just a few minutes! The bookie, Wing, keeps putting Johnny on hold because he is also running a busy Chinese restaurant. Johnny is still on hold as the race begins and he and Venus listen to the broadcast as Johnny's long shot comes in, paying $1600 on a $20 bet. Johnny is distraught! Venus seems to have calmed Johnny down, but in a moment of frustration, Johnny grabs a toolbox he finds and beats the telephone to piece!

Andy is frustrated he can't get through on the phone to the DJs to let them know the bomb squad has cleared the station. But Les, as always, only cares about the news! So he interviews Andy about the bomb threat. In the course of the interview, Andy learns that the bombing at Channel 75 occurred at their transmitter - the bomb is at the transmitter!

May I interject here that if Andy had just taken Les seriously from the beginning, and found out everything he knew about the Channel 75 bombing in Dayton, none of this would have happened? However, I do want to point out how great Gary Sandy is in these episodes - moving from mocking Les to panic, from frustration to grief seamlessly.

Back at the transmitter, the DJs are cut off from the rest of the world, at least believing they are far from the bomb. Johnny mindlessly drums "tick tock" on the toolbox as Foreigner's "Urgent" plays in the background.

Andy has the idea of cutting into the broadcast live, but Bailey lets him know that's impossible. Until the DJs themselves flip the switch, the station is dead. That's when they both realize they haven't called the police yet to go rescue the DJs.  There is only 15 minutes left!

Herb is talking to Andy in the lobby when a call comes in - it's Black Monday! Andy tells Jennifer to get the police on the other line while he keeps Black Monday busy. He wipes the sweat off of his hands and gets on the phone.The terrorist didn't realize any people would be out at the transmitter, and tells Andy the bomb is in a toolbox.

Cut to the transmitter and Johnny beating on the toolbox with a rock, trying to get it open so he can fix the smashed phone. He hears sirens in the distances; the sirens we know are coming to rescue them. Johnny thinks it's strange to hear sirens in the country until it dawns on him what is happening: "It's the Phone Company!"

"They know what I've done here! I've got to get out of here!" Venus tries to talk sense into him, but Johnny runs away in terror.

Back at the station, Jennifer is on a live patch with the squad car as it races to the transmitter. It's almost 3:30! Andy turns up the radio - as long as WKRP is still on the air, everyone is safe. Now it's past 3:30. There is relief... until the radio goes to static. The police confirm the transmitter has been blown up. There appear to be no survivors.

At this moment, Mr. Carlson returns from a business meeting with an old friend in a joyful mood. He hasn't been around the station for any of this, and Andy takes him into his office to tell him what happened. (There is a time issue in this episode: Mr. Carlson goes for the hotel meeting in the evening and arrives back at the station just after 3:30.) We break for a commercial, which is important - the audience needs time to take in what has just happened to Johnny and Venus.

Coming back, Carlson is mad at himself for not being there all day. Andy is upset that he sent the DJs to the transmitter in the first place. Suddenly, Johnny runs past yelling "You didn't see me!" The audience roars with relief!!

Johnny is trying to hide behind couch in the bullpen as Andy, Carlson, Jennifer and Bailey rush in, trying to find out what happened. Johnny is inconsolable: "I'll play the hits, Travis! Just hide me!" Then Johnny gives one of the most quoted line in WKRP history :"It's the Phone Cops!"

Venus stumbles in, suffering from shock. "The bomb was at the transmitter!" But Johnny will not be convinced "These phone cops play hardball!" Finally Venus explains why Johnny thinks "Phone cops" are out to get them. Andy emphatically explains to Johnny "There is no such thing as Phone Cops" to which Johnny, in full 60's paranoia responds "Oh sure, cover for them."

I want to point out here that the entire "Phone Cops" coda at the end only lasts about two minutes, but it is one of the most memorable scenes in the series. I think that's no only because it's so funny and ridiculous, but it's coming off of such a serious, sombre moment that the juxtaposition stays in your memory. Also, everyday there are instances in which we could blame "Phone Cops" for the problem we're having with our various devices. If the DJs had had cell phones, they wouldn't have had this problem, but then Johnny would be dealing with a whole new level of Phone Cops.

So there we go - two separate WKRP in Cincinnati episode that got edited into one.

By the way, keep in mind that whole "needing a new transmitter" thing. That's going to have consequences in upcoming episodes. The fourth season is the most cohesive season of the series!


Other Notes: The biggest Easter Egg in WKRP history is the character Joyce Armor shares her name with a writer for the show, who is credited with the "Ask Jennifer" episode. The reason has never been explained. We learn the Carlson's baby's name is Melanie. John Davidson was a '70's and '80's TV staple, hosting "That's Incredible!" and appearing on shows like "The Love Boat." He briefly had his own daytime talk show. "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" was a 1976 John Cassavettes movie.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Bonus Feature - "Baby, If You Ever Wondered - A WKRP in Cincinnati Reunion"

June 21, 2018

At the beginning of 2018, we lost the creator of WKRP, Hugh Wilson, at the age of 74. But he lived to see he most popular creation restored to (almost) its original condition and released in 2014 in the Shout Factory boxset. And the biggest bonus of this boxset is this featurette of the Paley Centre for Media's reunion interview featuring cast members, directors and Wilson himself. As we have come to the end of the Third Season of "WKRP in Cincinnati" let's examine this joyful reunion and hear what would be Wilson's final word on the series.

The moderator is long time radio DJ Jim Ladd, who currently hosts the "Deep Tracks Freeform Radio" show on SiriusXM (channel 27). He has been in radio since the late '60's in Los Angeles, even appearing as a DJ in movies and on albums. Frankly, he is Johnny Fever if Fever has better management. He also hosted a nationally syndicated rock interview show called "Innerview" in the 1970's and '80's, so he knows how to conduct an interview AND the world of WKRP.

Wilson is joined stage by actors Loni Anderson, Howard Hesseman, Jan Smithers and Tim Reid. Finishing up the reunion are regular WKRP director Asaad Kalada (who worked mostly in the first and last seasons of the show) and famous director Jay Sandrich, who directed the pilot (he also directed over 100 episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," over 50 episodes of "Soap" and would later direct over 100 episodes of "The Cosby Show." Thanks IMDB)

For only being involved in the first episode, Sandrich has very clear memories on his time with the show and Wilson's work creating it. He recounts the how he recommended both Gordon Jump and Howard Hesseman due to the work they did on "Soap" the season before "WKRP" launched. Wilson, with a mischievous grin, explains why he hired Jan Smithers although she didn't have much experience: "I'm a boy!"

Loni Anderson credits Wilson for creating a show with two well defined female characters who displayed a camaraderie within the station, when it would have been easier, and more commonplace, to show them as rivals. She also credits Wilson for making "the glamourous woman the smartest person in the room."

Tim Reid goes into a lot more detail about how the character of Venus originated as a "flamboyant negro" and how Wilson promised him that, if the show got picked up, the writers would do more to display two sides of the character. Reid explains how New York soul DJ Frankie Crocker was an influence, having both an outsized public persona (seriously, check out the Wiki page on this guy!) and quieter personal side. Still, Reid says he had concerns: "I don't want to be sixty something years old and have someone say "Hey Venus!" Before turning the crowd and saying "Here we are!" It's maybe the biggest laugh of the night. Later in the interview, it is Hesseman who calls out the "Who Is Gordon Sims?" episode for really developing the character of Venus, and he goes out of his way to praise Wilson for writing it.

When this reunion originally happened, it was streamed to over 35,000 people, and one of those watching calls in: Gary Sandy! It is an important moment because for years the rumour had been that Sandy resented the show for typecasting him and making it difficult to get other film or television work. If that was ever the case, it certainly isn't anymore! Sandy goes out of his way to praise his time on WKRP, and of the cast and crew he says: "It is a family." He makes such an impression that the fourth Bonus Feature of the boxset is an interview with Sandy alone.

If anyone on the stage is angry, it's Howard Hesseman, but not at the WKRP family. He is angry that the rest of his career in television was not as much fun or as collaborative as his time with Hugh Wilson. Hesseman says the character of Dr. Fever was "already on the page" but that the writers would take an interest in his input and they would TOGETHER work on making Fever come to life. He bemoans how he spent "six years on a series (where) writers were buried in their scripts" and not watching what they had created. He is obviously talking about his time on "Head of the Class," and may explain why you are not reading a "Head of the Class" blog right now.

Sandrich and Wilson take this time to praise the late Grant Tinker and MTM Productions for standing up for the writers in the face of the network. Both complain there are no more really independent producers in television anymore.

Wilson takes a moment to call out the two remaining cast members not present for the reunion, thanking Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner for being "so funny." Anderson says Bonner would make her crack up during takes and calls his comedy "a force of nature." Wilson tells the oft-told story behind Les' bandages and Kalada jumps in to discuss how Sanders developed the bit about Les' taped walls.

Some time is then taken to remember the only cast member no longer alive at the time, Gordon Jump, and everyone on the stage immediately fills up with warm loving memories of the man. "Full of compassion and love," says Reid. Wilson says he was "always the adult in the room" calling him the "Master of the Take."

Most of the rest of the featurette is filled just the kind of fun stories and remembrances you want old friends to retell when they get back together; whether it was greeting CBS affiliates with the "Welcome Scum" banner or the genesis of the "In Concert" episode. There is good natured ribbing and self deprecating jokes. The group acts the way we fans would hope they would act years later.

In discussing the characters of Jennifer and especially Bailey, Hugh Wilson remarks "the show is accidentally a history capsule of stuff back then." It's that idea that has fueled this blog and so many people's fandom over the years.

Please join me has we tackle the fourth and final season of "WKRP in Cincinnati."!


Other Notes. At the same time as this reunion, Hugh Wilson gave an individual interview to the Paley Centre. Clips from this can be found on YouTube. In it he discuss both "WKRP" and "Frank's Place."  There are five episodes of "Soap" with both Hesseman and Jump. They are Season 1, episode 21-25 ("Soap" didn't name it's episodes)

Friday, 20 April 2018

Ep. 66 Clean Up Radio Everywhere

April 20, 2018

Writers: Max Tash and Hugh Wilson
Director: Linda Day
Original Air Date: April 12, 1981

There is an underlying, secondary theme in the episode that I want to address first. (We'll get to "Imagine" in a bit) It is provided by the Sage of 'KRP, Les Nesman:

"When I get confused, I watch T.V.  Television is never confusing. It's all so... simple somehow."

In an episode about radio standards, there's a lot of talk about television. Venus bemoans the fact that CURB isn't going after television, which he sees as a greater purveyor of smut. Herb says there isn't ENOUGH smut on television and doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Obviously, as a broadcast television show, "WKRP in Cincinnati" was wrestling with all the same issues of a newly elected Conservative structure to the U.S. as the staff of our favourite little station. There aren't clear black or white sides, and Arthur Carlson is forced to choose the principles he believes are most important.

This is why we like "WKRP in Cincinnati." It's not simple. It won't fit in the little box Les mimes and, once again, it is still relevant 35 years after it first aired.

If you have friends who don't understand why you would want to read a blog about an old sit com, or even why you watch an old sit com, watch this episode with them. It explores the issues of censorship and choice in a fairly balanced way while still maintaining a specific point of view. It's also very funny, especially the funny noises Carlson's new-fangled computer baseball game can make. There is so much meat on the bones of this episode, I had to check and make sure it was still only a half hour.

Gordon Jump puts on an acting clinic here. Carlson is a man who doesn't want to make a decision, wants to take the easy, obvious route in making a problem go away, and in the end is stronger and more at ease with himself because he put it the hard work of analyzing his beliefs and coming to a decision he believes his best for himself and, much more importantly, that he believes his best for his community. That means the community of his own station and staff, the community of radio broadcasters and the community of Cincinnati itself.

The episode is structured like many other WKRPs: a problem arises and is passed through each of the characters until a resolution is finally made. A very personable pastor named Dr. Bob Halyers comes to Mr. Carlson's office and announces he is with the Tri-Faith Broadcasting Advisory Committee and is heading its new task force CURB - Clean Up Radio Broadcasting. His group of "3000 Christians in Cincinnati alone" have been monitoring WKRP and heard a number of songs that they feel are offensive and are asking WKRP not to play them anymore. If the station doesn't comply, CURB will begin boycotting WKRP's advertisers.

At first, Mr. Carlson. a regular church-goer himself, is appalled by the lyrics and asks his staff to stop playing those songs. Remember, this is a character who, in the first season turned down a huge advertising deal from Ferryman Funeral Homes because he found the commercial to be in poor taste. "Righteous and Weak" is how he describes himself. Not playing those songs should solve the problem nice and simply, right?

Hold on! Andy is inherently suspicious of evangelicals because of issues he had with an aunt and uncle. Johnny just doesn't like to be told what he can or can't play. Venus shares Mr. Carlson's concerns about the subject matter in some of the music the station plays. But all three of them believe this is censorship, and oppose the list of banned songs on that principle. Johnny make the strongest case by saying, if they do stop playing these songs, next month the station will receive "another list, and after that another one and after that another one."

The camera stays on Carlson's reaction while Johnny makes this point. He realizes his simple solution won't work. Not playing a few songs will not make these people go away. As Dr. Bob stating when meeting with Mr. Carlson, CURB wants to "work together" with his program director to "help" WKRP play the kind of music they want to hear.

Dr. Bob is a great character because he is not an evil character. He has a valid argument to make: if his group is offended by what's played on the public airwaves, do they not have the democratic right to say so, and try to change it? As portrayed by Richard Paul, he is very calm and reasonable. In fact, Andy comes off as petulant in comparison. Richard Paul had been on TV for three years before this as Mayor Teddy Burnside on the show "Carter Country," in which he was a blowhard, low-level slimy mayor of a small southern town. He made a career of playing southern politicians, southern judges and southern ministers, culminating in his performance as Rev. Jerry Falwell (who he has always resembled) in the film "The People vs. Larry Flint."

And now we get to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority History Lesson. Rev. Jerry Falwell was a founder and leader of the evangelical Christian organization. Created in 1979, The Moral Majority promoted what it considered a "tradition vision of family life," which included opposition to abortion, homosexuality and the Equal Rights Amendment. They were also opposed to media outlets which they claimed promoted an "anti-family agenda." (Thanks, Wikipedia). They were early financial supporters for Ronald Reagan's presidential bid in 1980 and he used them as advisors throughout his campaign. Falwell himself became a media celebrity by regularly appearing on talking head news programs to give the Moral Majorities opinions on events of the day.

I tell you all this to let you know that audiences of the day were familiar with how Falwell looked and sounded, and would be able to imagine his views of Rock and Roll. So when Richard Paul walks into the scene and says he's with the Tri-Faith Broadcasting Advisory Committee, they would read him immediately as a cipher for Jerry Falwell. They would also know that, to a small operation like WKRP, a "Moral Majority" could be a serious threat.

This episode pivots around the scene of Arthur visiting Dr. Bob at his office after the predicted second list arrives. It is a powerful scene in which Carlson arrives looking for a way out; looking for more of the congeniality he has seen from Bob, and has probably experienced from his own ministers in the past. By the time he leaves though, he realizes he is going to have to fight - there is no choice left to be made.

Carlson asks Dr. Bob to read the lyrics to John Lennon's "Imagine" and asks if this song would go on the list.  Up to that point, there hasn't been a laugh in the show for about five minutes. We have been watching an informed and very civil debate about the rights of private businesses versus the rights of concerned citizens, censorship and choice, and the control of the few over the lives of so many. Dr. Bob reads the lyrics, including "imagine no religion" finally getting to the line "imagine no processions" to which he tosses the letter aside and proclaims "That sounds like Communism to me."

The crowd roars with laughter! They've been waiting for that relief for a long time (this is suppose to be a comedy, after all) and with that line, the point is made. This is just another type of McCarthyism, and the attack on rock and roll is a witch hunt meant to move political power to the small group Dr. Bob controls. It's a big important laugh, but Carlson is not laughing. He finally sees clearly what he is up against and what he and his station have to do.

Another big scene follows back in Mr. Carlson's office when he is visited by WKRP's most famous advertiser, Red Wigglers' owner Harvey Green. We get the sense Arthur and Harvey have known each other for years and I wonder if Red Wigglers would have been one of young Arthur's early clients when he was sales manager (easy to imagine Carlson the fisherman as a customer of Red Wigglers - they ARE the Cadillac of Worms!) Harvey recognizes what CURB is about and what they are trying to do but he doesn't have the resources to fight back. He wants to do the right thing and stand beside his friend, but he is afraid. "I feel like a coward and I am ashamed!"

This is a scene most other televisions series would not have included, even if they had dared to write an episode like this. It's easy to write CURB as evil, not reasonable. It's easy to think of these advertisers who are bowing to pressure and being greedy and spineless. Once again, this episode is not simple. Carlson is magnanimous in letting Harvey off the hook (get it? Red Wigglers? Off the hook?) telling him he has made a wise business decision, all the while knowing his own station is hurting.

Just before this, we saw Herb's fear. He is on the front line seeing what the CURB boycott is doing to the station and admits to Mr Carlson "I'm really scared, Big Guy! We're losing everything!"

The episode ends with Dr. Bob once again visiting Arthur to see if WKRP is prepared to relent. Andy is furious and wants Jennifer to throw the man out but Carlson won't hear of it. He scolds Andy for being rude to a "Man of God," insisting his followers "are not 'nuts'!" Andy is rude, refusing to shake Dr. Bob's hand and trying to argue with him about the free market. But Dr. Bob is ready for those sorts of arguments and coolly shuts him down.

Now it is Arthur Carlson's turn and he uses Dr. Bob's own charm offensive against him, telling him "I'm not sure giving up my freedom of decision is God's side." They continue to exchange biblical references until Dr. Bob says he'll need to learn to love his enemies. To which Arthur says "I don't think you're going to be able to trust your friends."

Boom! Mic drop!

Let's go back to 1981. "WKRP" was an acclaimed show, but the ratings were weak. It was in real danger of being cancelled at this time, so as the conclusion of the third season, Andy telling Carlson he's going to fight CURB "tooth and nail" might have been the end of the series. Creator Hugh Wilson and Associate Producer Max Tash wrote this episode knowing this could be the case. So why possibly end this way? I think there may be two reasons: 1) the promised battle with CURB might make for something of a cliff hanger that could bring demand for renewal and 2) this was an issue they REALLY wanted to touch on while they still had a chance. Wilson saw the Moral Majority and their fight not as a rise of democracy, but as a challenge to freedom and he wanted to ring that bell as early as possible.

The season ends with Andy telling Carlson, that if need be, he has one final weapon against CURB. "I might even sick Les Nesman on them." Carlson replies "Boy, that might signal the end of organized religion as we know it!"


Other Notes - Look everybody, we actually get to see Bailey doing her job, scheduling commercials. Also look, she's not using a computer. The only computer at the station is Mr. Carlson's baseball game. Why is Jennifer so eager for Mr. Carlson to meet with Dr. Bob at the beginning of the episode - she sends people away all the time. Is it his Southern charm? The episode's title is "Clean Up Radio Everywhere" which would acronym to CURE? When did the change happen? Only one commercial is heard playing within this episode - during the meeting in the bullpen, we hear the Red Wigglers jingle.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Ep. 65 - Till Debt Do Us Part

April 11, 2018

Writers: Howard Hesseman and Steven Kampmann
Director: Frank Bonner
Original Air Date: April 5, 1981

I think this episode and the previous episode "Nothing to Fear But..." should be watched together as a double feature. Not because the topics are similar at all, but because the tones of the episodes are so different. Together these episodes show the range of moods and feelings "WKRP in Cincinnati" were prepared to cover. This was a show that trusted its audience to move not just between characters and stories, but between mood and approach.

Last week's episode was co-written by Tim Reid and exists to illustrate a particular social topic. This week's episode was co-written by Howard Hesseman and it really shows. The episode is almost entirely a acting clinic from Hesseman, with very little left for the rest of the cast to do. This is in fact Hesseman's sole writing credit on

The set-up is very simple: Johnny's first ex-wife, the mother of the daughter we met in season 2, is getting remarried, which means Johnny will no longer have to pay her alimony, so he is ecstatic! He's even planning a vacation with the money he's going to save. He says he doesn't care who she marries "Mr. and Mrs. Hitler? Fine by me!" but when he actually comes face-to-face with both her and her future husband, old feeling are stirred up.

Hesseman is taing Johnny out on an emotional limb with this story, so he put a lot of safety nets around himself. Frank Bonner, who directed the "Doctor's Daughter" episode is back directing here. And do you recognize guy playing Buddy Graves? That's Del Murdock, the very fast talking owner of Del's Stereo Shop from the first season episode "The Hold Up," performed by Hamilton Camp. Camp was a long-time friend of Hesseman's from their days in the improv group The Committee. Loni Anderson is used as Johnny's pretend girlfriend for the double-date, which in her uncomfortableness is very funny. But how much more interesting would it have been to bring Bailey, the woman he wants to take to Jamaica?

This episode is also very quiet. The joke with the couples ordering champagne at Johnny's favourite restaurant (which is really only open in the middle of the night) and actually being served gauspachu soup by a nice lady who doesn't speak English, just comes off as depressing, not funny.

The whole experience makes me think that Howard Hesseman's personal sense of humour may have been more in vogue in today's television climate, rather than in 1981. Finding the comedy in this awkward personal distress is more in like with shows like "Louie" or ""You're the Worst" than WKRP or other MTM shows.

As a final decision from me, I don't think this episode has the same emotional pay-off for the original "Doctor's Daughter" episode. In that one, we had the sense that Johnny had been kept form his daughter through circumstances and that this was a chance for them to finally come together. He always loved her. In "Till Debt..." Johnny resents paying wife alimony. He's talked about it for year as being the thing that has kept him trapped in the lifestyle he finds himself. The first half of the episode echoes this. Heck, even the title of the episode echoes this.

So for him to finally thank her for raising their daughter, and admitting he still has some attraction to her, no matter how well Hesseman performs it, it doesn't ring true.

What does ring true, and what finally ends the episode on a joyous note, is Les' excitement at the dream of traveling to Nebraska! This may answer the question of how the travel agency industry has almost died, but radio continues to live on.


Friday, 6 April 2018

Ep. 64- Nothing to Fear But...

April 6, 2018

Story: Tim Reid; Teleplay: Dan Guntzelman
Director: Asaad Kelada
Original Air Date: March 28, 1981

This is episode with a sneaky good script. At first glance, it unfolds in the way many WKRP episodes do... something happens and we move from character to character to see how each one deals with it. Also, WKRP was always a show that liked to take on issues of the day, and that happens here as well. However, differently than other episodes, here the characters reactions change over the course of the show, and the issue of guns and crime don't overshadow fun storytelling.

Within the cold opening, we see the station being burgled. Everyone has a different response. Bailey feels violated, like everything she touches is dirty. Mr. Carlson is shocked because he's never been robbed before. He takes the robbery very personally, asking Jennifer "Why would someone do this to me?"

But look at Venus' response.We can tell he HAS been robbed before and doesn't take it as a personal attack at all. "It was just our turn" he tells the others, as if the randomness of the robbery would somehow calm everyone down. Venus' perspective is a very important one because this episode was co-written by the actor Tim Reid. This is his impression on how his character, as both a black man and former Vietnam soldier would react to this situation. At first, he is calm, because he has seen this kind of thing before. But then, he paranoia starts to grow. Venus is more effected by the burglary than he is letting on. Johnny reacts the same way.

Les' reaction is one of nihilistic acceptance. "Modern society as we know it is doomed to a painful and stinking death!" he cheerfully informs the others. I don't think he realizes that, if that were the case, he would be the first person eaten by the masses, but whatever.

Herb's reaction is typical both for the times and for today... he buys a gun. Notice that they are robbed at the beginning of the week, maybe Monday or Tuesday, and Herb has the handgun in his desk by the time of Friday's party.

Compared to that, Mr. Carlson's reaction is reasonable given an unreasonable situation. He gets a fancy alarm for the front door.

The advertisers party is a great mechanism for the script. It puts our entire company in the building after regular closing hours and gives us a lot of great one-liners to balance out the drama happening upstairs. Les finds someone we would think is his paranoid equal at the party quoting John Donne's poem of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," but Les just casts aside young man with an indignant "What bell?"

Another throwaway joke is Andy hitting on the coatcheck girl. We've seen him do this in the past (say, with a candy stripper at the hospital) so it's well disguised that this turns out, in the very end, to be the turning point of the episode.

In the darkness of the station, Venus and Johnny's cool give way to hearing things go bump in the night. It's fascinating to watch the two men, who say later they "know better than this," move from mocking Herb for saying the burglars should be shot for stealing office furniture, to wondering where the gun is, to patrolling the halls with a loaded handgun.

Let's think about that for a moment: what is Herb's plan with having a loaded handgun in his desk at work? Is he planning on shooting a burglar? In the office? Herb might like to think of himself as a Charles Bronson tough guy, but would he ever really pull the trigger? Of course not - he isn't a killer. So it's much more likely that he would shoot himself or one of his co-workers accidently by just leaving a loaded gun in his desk.

Speaking of shooting a co-worker accidentally, Venus pulls a loaded handgun on Andy coming out of Mr. Carlson's office, as Johnny, Carlson and Les look on in panic. Gary Sandy moves quickly from terror to anger to embarrassment as it is revealed he is sneaking around in Mr. Carlson's office because he is canoodling with that same coatcheck girl.  Not so embarrassed that he doesn't bring her back into the booth with him, but shaken none the less.

Of course, the lesson comes at the end when, after all the alarms and guns, the station still got robbed of their coats and purses because the coatcheck girl wasn't at the party.

It has been a lasting fascination for me of how much the issues raised on "WKRP in Cincinnati" are the same issues being raised today, thirty-seven years later. However, at the time I'm writing this particular blog, the "March for Our Lives" in the wake of the Parkland FL school shooting has dominated the news. The issue of gun control has never been more at hand. And here comes WKRP, raising the same questions about guns in society America is wrestling with today.


Other Notes: This is the first time Asaad Kelada has directed an episode since Season One.