NewsRadio is an American sitcom, originally broadcast from 1995 to 1999 on NBC.
The show was created by executive producer Paul Simms and taped in front of a studio audience at CBS Studio Center. It was notable for having an ensemble cast.
The series is set at WNYX, a fictional AM news radio
station in New York City
populated by an eccentric station owner and staff. The show began with the arrival of new news director, level-headed Dave Nelson (Dave Foley
). While Dave turns out to be less naive than his youthful appearance suggests, he never fully gained control of his co-workers.
The fast-paced scripts and ensemble cast combined physical humor and sight gags with smart dialogue and absurdist storylines. Plots often involved satirical takes on historical events, news stories and pop culture references appealed to a sophisticated, college-educated target audience. The third- and fourth-season finales took the absurdism to the extreme, setting the characters first in a news radio station in outer space, and then as crew members aboard the Titanic.
There are 97 episodes of NewsRadio. Reruns continued in syndication for several years before disappearing in most markets, but the show recently returned on Nick at Nite, TBS network and TVtropolis in Canada. The program became available in syndication to local stations starting in July 2007 through The Program Exchange.
- Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) is a fish-out-of-water character in many ways. The character is described as a "Midwesterner out of place in New York and pointedly young for such a responsible job." He also has a very polite, controlled and rational personality, which contrasts with the more colorful personalities of the other characters and the absurd situations that occur on the show. A recurring joke in the show involves his mother, his frequent phone conversations with her and a picture of her he keeps in his desk.
- Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney), with whom Dave has an intermittent relationship, is promoted and demoted within the show's run, serving as reporter, on-air personality, producer and news director. An obsessive overachiever, Lisa is able to instantly perform complex mathematical calculations mentally, keeps a detailed life-plan, and not only frequently brags about her SAT exam scores but went so far as to retake the exam well out of college. During the first two seasons of the show, she is in regular contact with her ex-boyfriend Stuart, who is extremely popular with the staff of WNYX (excluding Dave) and who is obviously still in love with her.
- Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) is a co-news anchor for WNYX. Bombastic, egocentric, and insubordinate, Bill is frequently a thorn in the news director's side. As news director, Dave and Lisa both struggle to deal with Bill. His relationships are often unorthodox or contentious. A running joke in the show has Bill describing seemingly painful or scarring childhood memories with an air of nostalgia, often wistfully saying, "good times, good times." As a result of Hartman's death between the fourth and fifth seasons, Bill's death is addressed in the first episode of the fifth season, where Bill is revealed to have died of a sudden heart attack. Ironically, dozens of references are made to Bill's hypothetical death prior to Hartman's death. The character claims to have numerous enemies and stalkers, survives an assassination attempt in Xmas Story, and in both fantasy episodes every character dies except for Bill and Matthew.
- Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander) is the second of WNYX's news anchors. She is often bitter rivals with co-anchor Bill McNeal, partly due to an office affair they had earlier. Catherine leaves the station for a job in London during the fourth season. She makes a brief appearance in the fifth season premiere for Bill's funeral. The role of Catherine was played by a different actress, Ella Joyce, in the pilot episode. Alexander took over the role in episode 2.
- Jimmy James (Stephen Root), the station's eccentric, extroverted, playful billionaire owner. Despite owning a large corporate empire, he seems to enjoy micromanaging WNYX. He is seen as a loving father figure by everyone in the office, and often helps his employees learn life lessons. A recurring theme in the show is James' desperate search for a wife, a quest in which he often involves WNYX. He frequently shows signs of being infatuated with Dave's mother. Jimmy claimed to be both famed hijacker D.B. Cooper and Watergate whistleblower Deep Throat. The name "Jimmy James" came from the Beastie Boys song "Jimmy James".
- Beth (Vicki Lewis) is Dave's quirky secretary, whose main responsibility seems to be getting coffee for Dave. She wears ridiculous outfits, and perpetually chews gum. Her salary is the subject of several jokes, with both herself and other characters frequently pointing out that she "earns next to nothing". Beth's last name is never revealed; in "Freaky Friday", she claims she doesn't even have one. The name "Beth" itself came from the Kiss song "Beth". In the third season DVD commentary, the writers revealed they had been planning to have Jimmy adopt Beth as his daughter, but never followed through with it.
- Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) is a news reporter and official "office weird guy". Clumsy, awkward and maladroit, the character is the butt of many physical jokes on the show, and is often seen tripping, falling, flying over furniture, or handling electronics that explode or catch fire. Matthew idolizes Bill, who in return calls him "Spaz" and torments him with often cruel jokes. Matthew is known for his odd obsessions and his slavish devotion to his pet cats, once even refusing a plum assignment because it would require being separated from them for several days. Matthew holds a degree in dentistry, but prefers to work in radio journalism, considering it his passion.
- Joe Garrelli (Joe Rogan) is the station's electrician and all-around "fix-it guy". He builds all the things he needs rather than purchasing them, including his own homemade duct tape which he uses in massive amounts. He also espouses various conspiracy theories, being particularly concerned with the government's suppression of information about extraterrestrials. His last name is the subject of a running gag: on many occasions when it is mentioned, someone looks perplexed and says, "Your last name is Garrelli?". Throughout the show, he displays an infatuation with Catherine Duke. The character of Joe was originally named Rick, and was played by another actor, Greg Lee, in the pilot episode. Greg Lee tested horribly, however, and the writers replaced him with Rogan. Ray Romano was originally cast to play Joe, but was fired because his style of verbal comedy did not mix well with the fast-paced repartee of the rest of the cast. The writers commented on the Season 1 DVD commentary that his particular brand of slow speech contrasted horribly with the fast-paced hectic arena of a New York talk radio station.
- Max Lewis (Jon Lovitz) is Bill McNeal's replacement in season five. Much like the rest of the staff, he has an odd personality and a complete lack of professionalism. Max has a thing for redheads, and Beth in particular; but although she is initially interested in him, she quickly ends up disliking him. Max Lewis got the job at WNYX because he is an old colleague of Bill McNeal; a plot point that reflects the real-life fact that Jon Lovitz took the role in NewsRadio out of friendship for Phil Hartman. Indeed, Lovitz got his start with Hartman in The Groundlings. When asked why he joined NewsRadio, Lovitz said that he's "doing this for Phil. There's nothing more to say.
The only actors to appear in all 97 episodes are Dave Foley, Stephen Root, and Andy Dick.
Joe Rogan appeared in every episode except the pilot, which was produced before he was cast, and Season 4's "Monster Rancher".
Maura Tierney missed Season 3's "Twins" because she was busy filming Liar Liar.
Vicki Lewis missed Season 3's "Sleeping" because she was busy filming Mouse Hunt. She missed Season 4's "Jackass Junior High" and "Sinking Ship" because she was busy filming Godzilla.
Phil Hartman appeared in every episode through the first four seasons; he was murdered before production began on Season 5.
The only recurring character
to appear in more than one production season was Jimmy's lawyer, Roger, played initially by Norm Macdonald
, and later by NewsRadio
writer Drake Sather
. During the last season, Patrick Warburton
had a recurring role as Johnny Johnson, Jimmy's nemesis and Lisa's love interest (and eventual husband).
Several other actors appeared in multiple seasons playing different characters, notably Lovitz, David Cross, Toby Huss, David Anthony Higgins, Dave "Gruber" Allen and Bob Odenkirk.
Tone Lōc and Toby Huss played security guards Lorenzo and Junior in two Season 2 episodes. The characters were based on the security guards at the studio where NewsRadio was shot.
Lauren Graham had a four-episode run as Andrea, an efficiency expert who shakes up the office (firing Matthew, demoting Dave, and promoting Lisa to news director). She is sometimes referred to as "Planbee" after Matthew misunderstands her being Jimmy's "Plan B" for the office. She was intended as a possible replacement for the departing Alexander, but focus groups disliked the character. In a season 4 episode commentary track, Tierney gives the hiring of Graham as a possible explanation for Alexander's departure, which contradicts the idea that Alexander intended to leave before Graham appeared on the show. All of the changes introduced during Graham's time on the show would be reverted by midseason to the way things were before her arrival.
Brad Rowe had a four-episode run as Walt, an office intern with a crush on Lisa, causing more worry for Dave. Intended as a regular for season five, the character disappeared without explanation after "Sinking Ship".
Steve Susskind had a recurring role as Milos the janitor, appearing in three episodes in the second season.
An inordinate number of guest characters had the last name Johnson, and there were multiple guests named Dr. Mandel.
When Alexander appeared as Catherine Duke in the fifth season opener (in which the McNeal character was killed off to coincide with Hartman's death), she was credited as a recurring character.
Kevin McDonald, Foley's former castmate from The Kids in the Hall, made a guest appearance as the knife-wielding Throwdini in the episode "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show" during Season 4.
Other guest stars included John Ritter, Dennis Miller, Janeane Garofalo, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Stiller, French Stewart, Scott Adams, Jon Stewart, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Patton Oswalt and, in a non-speaking cameo, Ron Jeremy. Celebrities appearing as themselves included Chuck D, Al Roker, Bob Costas, Jerry Seinfeld, James Caan, Adam West, George "Goober" Lindsey and metal band Anthrax.
Guest stars Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, John F. O'Donohue and David Cross all worked on The Ben Stiller Show with Andy Dick.
Guest stars in Season 4's "Chock" episode, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk and Brian Posehn all worked together on Mr. Show. Each of them appeared separately in earlier episodes of NewsRadio. Cross guest starred as Mr. James' weird nephew in Season 2's "Houses of the Holy", Odenkirk appeared as the doctor in "The Injury", and Posehn asked questions at Mr. James' book signing in Season 4's "Super Karate Monkey Death Car".
Ratings for the show were inconsistent. The highest it ever got in the ratings was 26th.
On its first two broadcasts the show received a 20 share, improving on its lead-in (Wings) by a percentage point, and beating its competitors (Under One Roof and Thunder Alley) in its share of the 18- to 49-year-old audience.
Despite critical acclaim NBC moved the show 11 times.
Relationship with network
NBC had pushed for a "Sam & Diane"
-type relationship between Dave and Lisa, but Paul Simms opted to have the characters sleep together in the second episode and have tension come from the aftermath. Later, NBC ordered a wedding to be incorporated into the show to boost ratings, and in response, the show "Our Fiftieth Episode" featured a B-story in which Jimmy tries to force Joe and Lisa into a fake on-air marriage, which Lisa outright refuses. The show's producers would later relent in its final season, and Lisa married Johnny Johnson in an episode that became NBC's "Spotlight of the Week".
Another instance of network interference was an October 10, 1995 promotional gimmick NBC planned in order to capitalize on the success of the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. As a twist on the title of the film, NBC planned for three of its Tuesday night sitcoms to have funerals as the central plot and the fourth to feature a wedding; NewsRadio was given one of the funeral episodes (which were also given to Wings and Frasier, while The Pursuit of Happiness got the wedding episode). Rather than fulfilling NBC's directive in a straightforward manner, the writing staff wrote "Rat Funeral", an episode in which the WNYX staff befriend a rat, then mourn its death.
Another major point of contention between NBC and the show was NBC's insistence that the show include story arcs, which the producers were vehemently against, preferring shows that were self-contained. On the occasions when they did use arcs, they would usually become bored and end up dropping them with little or no explanation. One example is a late third season arc in which Lisa decides she wants to have a baby with Dave but doesn't want to get married; after being introduced, the idea is given passing mention in a couple of episodes, then abandoned without explanation. (Later, in the fourth season episode "Look Who's Talking", the idea would suddenly be brought up again, with Lisa explaining that the window has passed.)
NBC would also on occasion display displeasure with the content of episodes. For instance, many episodes in the second season begin with a short comic situation ending with Dick falling over or knocking something over just before the NewsRadio title sequence. According to DVD commentary, NBC ordered a halt to this because they found it tiresome. One episode, "The Injury", was produced early in the second season, but did not air until the summer following the third season, due to excessive use of the word "penis." The writers admit that they were trying to see how many times they could use the word on-air in response to NBC's relaxing of standards for other shows. The episode remained in the censorship offices for nearly two years, and the number of times the word was used was cut down in the footage to three. "The Injury" appears on both the Season 2 and Season 3 DVD releases, but does not include two additional uses of the word that showed up only in the syndicated airings.
NewsRadio was briefly canceled in May 1998, after its fourth season, but the decision was reversed a day later, with an order of 22 episodes placed for a fifth season. A few days after the renewal, Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife. His absence cast a pall over the fifth season and NBC left the series "on the bubble" until the day the final episode of the fifth season aired, months after production had wrapped.
- The last nine episodes of season two are named after Led Zeppelin albums, though not in order of their release. All but 1 of the albums have an episode named after them (the exception being Led Zeppelin III). In addition, episode 3.13 is named "Led Zeppelin Boxed Set". None of the episode titles have any connection to the episodes' contents.
- Although the location of the WNYX offices was stated in the show as being on the corner of 59th Street and Madison Avenue, the building used for exterior shots was 1450 Broadway, on the corner of 41st Street.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
has released all 5 seasons of NewsRadio
on DVD in Region 1. Each set includes multiple audio commentaries
with creator Paul Simms, the writers and actors. The DVD sets also include "special features" such as "gag reels
" and other featurettes.
||Special features |
|The Complete First and|
|The Complete Third Season
- Gag reel
- 10 episode commentaries
|The Complete Fourth Season
- Gag reel
- 10 episode commentaries
- Short film
|The Complete Fifth Season
- Gag reel
- Two short films "One Man Newsradio"
- 10 episode commentaries
|The Complete Series
- A repackaging of discs from the prior season releases.