Film & Television

Newsradio – The Most Underrated Sitcom of the 90’s

By Neil Mason

NewsRadio was never broadcast in the UK during its original run (1995-1999), but that’s not saying much – even the monster that is ‘Seinfeld’ never got a fair crack of the whip from the BBC (unless you count midnight on a Sunday on BBC2 as primetime). It’s my favourite US sitcom – here’s a brief overview and reasons why you should consider giving it a go.

 The programme centres on Dave Nelson (played Dave Foley of ‘The Kids in The Hall’ fame). Dave is a small state boy thrust into the madness of a New York Radio station when he is hired as the News Director.

 Dave’s main trouble stems from the arrogance and deviousness of presenter Bill McNeil  (played impeccably by the late Phil Hartman). Bill is always out to undermine Dave and test his limits. This is attempted by various means – my favourite being the episode ‘The Cane’. See clip below

This scene demonstrates the main fabric of this part of the show – these weekly mental battles are reason enough to watch the show. The combination of Foley’s ability to create humour from simple facial expressions, mixed with Hartman’s over the top actions, is simply amazing.  Another brilliant scene is shown below from the episode ‘Smoking’

There are various reasons to watch NewsRadio – the humour is extremely varied, ranging from slapstick to dry exchanges & idiosyncratic behaviours. Every character has flaws, and these are exploited in various storylines – ambition, clumsiness, eccentricity, arrogance and paranoia feature heavily.

Andy Dick plays incompetent and child like reporter Matthew Brock. Dick’s slender frame and geeky exterior are perfect for the role – his blend of simple physical humour creates laugh out loud moments when he ends up hurting himself. These ‘accidents’ are frequent and remain funny even when you know what’s coming. His levels of incompetence know no bounds but he somehow retains his job – for most of the show that is.

Maura Tierney is Lisa Miller, a goodie-two shoes ambitious journalist. She doesn’t realise that she is quite neurotic and emotionally numb; this matches well with Dave’s neurosis & ever increasing paranoia (brought on mainly by Bill). When they start dating, they are one of TV’s most engaging, emotionally unhealthy & competitive couples.

Stephen Root completes the foremost cast members as eccentric billionaire and station owner Jimmy James. He can normally be found undermining Dave or massaging Bill’s ego.  During the course of the show he also runs for president, fakes a round the world hot air balloon trip for free publicity and is arrested by the FBI.

I really can’t recommend NewsRadio heavily enough (not without some sort of propaganda machine anyway). It was created to exploit the skills of Hartman & Foley (creator Paul Simms cast them especially for the roles and wrote the parts with them in mind). The intelligence of the show cannot be understated – the majority of the humour comes from the characters/actors themselves and this means it is extremely consistent. The ensemble cast is one of the best ever put together in my opinion; varied, but with great chemistry.

When it was on NBC in the 90’s it was competing with ‘Friends’, ‘Frasier’ and ‘Seinfeld’ but still managed to make it to 5 seasons. More would have been possible, but Hartman’s untimely death effectively ended the run. The fact that it was broadcast in this period perhaps explains why it fell under the radar – especially in the UK. It remains the only comedy show that I’ve ever seen that utilised the term ‘neo-luddite’ for comedic purposes. That itself should be enough to draw you in.

You can follow Neil on Twitter @NeilMace as he discusses Popular Culture, Football and the importance of being Welsh.

Clips can be found on YouTube if you’re intrigued. Otherwise, the show is available on American DVD. Happy (potential) viewing!

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