Why I want to revisit WKRP in Cincinnati

I really want to know what WKRP co-workers Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) and Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) are talking about here; image courtesy of gettyimages.com

Last week, The AV Club’s Todd Van Der Werff put together an amazing historical survey of 70s American sitcoms. I have a basic grasp of the period’s generic innovations thanks to syndication and Nick-at-Nite reruns. Some blanks were filled in when I took a graduate seminar on feminist TV criticism, which itself was a burgeoning field of inquiry during the Me Decade. So I was especially pleased by how Van Der Werff foregrounded The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s cultural influence both by orienting a professional woman as the show’s protagonist as well as the actress’s industrial prowess as a television producer. Also, it’s weird to think of CBS as the hub for televisual artistry. I know Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men dominated ratings during their respective runs. But to my mind, neither of them or any of the network’s recent contributions do anything to elevate the form, though the former shares more with NBC’s beloved Seinfeld than some might perceive.  

One of the shows Van Der Werff discussed was WKRP in Cincinnati, one of the many shows MTM Enterprises. Van Der Werff also argues that the show, which focused on the staff and on-air talent at a rock radio station, adopted The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s poignant treatment of a workplace family comprised of dysfunctional people. Van Der Werff proposes that subsequent American sitcoms follow Mary Tyler Moore or Norman Lear’s All in the Family, which dealt with major cultural issues but tended to privilege gags and banter over pathos.

I’ll go with Van Der Werff on this one, though I do wonder where he’d place NewsRadio in this construction. Based on his assertion that like-minded shows Arrested Development and 30 Rock continue All in the Family‘s legacy, I assume that Paul Simm’s workplace comedy about WNYX’s eccentric staff took its lead from Lear.

Yet I associate WKRP and NewsRadio in my mind. Some of this stems from an ongoing interest I have in representations of people who work in the medium that began shortly after I saw Pump Up the Volume and eventually manifested into programming my own weekly radio program in college. But it has more to do with superficial matters like workplace setting and the period of time in which I watched both shows.

I occasionally followed NewsRadio on NBC during its initial run starting in the mid-90s. But I really latched onto the series in syndication, which started at the end of the decade. Though I loved the ensemble, I also saw more than a little of myself in driven, charmingly square news reporter Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney).

Maura Tierney dressed in character for a 1999 InStyle spread. I'm pretty sure I'm at the intersection between Tierney's Lisa Miller, Liz Lemon, and Rhoda Morgenstern. Image courtesy of mauratierney.com

It was around this time that WKRP started airing on Nick-at-Nite. I was an infrequent viewer because cable wasn’t always available, but I’d tune in when I could and was absorbed into the station’s world, even if the music featured in the original run was replaced with soundalikes.

I’m especially curious to revisit WKRP‘s reporter Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers). Loni Anderson’s role as bombshell receptionist Jennifer Marlowe gets much attention, but I’m curious see Quarters in action. Come to think of it, given Marlowe’s obscured professional efficiency, we might draw analogies between Quarters and Marlowe and Mad Men‘s Joan Harris Holloway and Peggy Olson. Nonetheless, I’m interested in rediscovering how these women viewed working in the media industry and how their contributions were evaluated.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s