Few TV programs have captured the essence of radio like NBC’s “NewsRadio.” Set at a New York City AM radio station, this sitcom featured a harried news director and his staff of anchors, reporters and office employees. It featured well-known actors, such as Phil Hartman, Andy Dick, Stephen Root, and Maura Tierney. NBC broadcast the show from 1995 to 1999.
“NewsRadio” mixed the best elements of WKRP in Cincinnati and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The series focused on Dave Nelson, news director. Played by Dave Foley, the character was often the straight man for a cast of wacky characters. Like Mary Richards, Dave Nelson had his own quirks and flaws. He seemed too young and naïve for his position. His Midwestern background also served as comedic fodder.
The rich station owner, Jimmy James, was a grandiose version of Mama Carlson from WKRP. Stephen Root brought the character to life, making him seem like a lovable Donald Trump. Storylines often focused on his mysterious background and connections. James was an entrepreneur, often hanging out with Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Yet, he always wanted to be in the newsroom of his station. Clearly, he was a die-hard fan of radio.
Phil Hartman played Bill McNeal, an egocentric news anchor. Similar to Mary Tyler Moore’s Ted Baxter, McNeal was self-centered. He was often the butt of jokes. Hartman made the character palatable, bringing warmth to a narcissistic role.
The show’s storylines reflected the post-modern style of the 1990s. One week, the program might look at pop culture, such as “Station Sale.” In this episode, Jimmy James lists famous women he would like to marry. The list includes Loretta Swit, Faye Dunaway and K.D. Lang. Other episodes were fantasies. In “Space,” the radio station was set in a futuristic space capsule.
The hip references and imaginative stories made “NewsRadio” a hit among young people. Hartman’s death in 1998 was difficult for the show. Although NBC canceled the show in 1999, you can still catch it in reruns on Hulu.