Why you need to watch NewsRadio
When it comes to television, people tend to have short memories. While a select few shows manage to live on decades after they were first aired (think Friends, The Office, Seinfeld) a lot of others just stop being relevant. More often than not this speaks to the overall quality of the show: while extremely popular for some time, How I Met Your Mother saw its loyal army of fans dissipate even before the notorious finale. Or take Two and a Half Men, an extremely successful show at the time that just never gets mentioned anymore.
But sometimes it’s not about the quality of the script or the performance of lead actors. Sometimes a show gets forgotten for no good reason at all. And today we discuss NewsRadio — a masterpiece that everyone has left behind. If you want to know more about why you need to watch this show right now – read further. For more TV and game reviews visit Root Nation.
An unparalleled cast
Sometimes actors make the show (like it or not, but without Charlie Sheen Two and a Half Men would never have taken off), and sometimes a good script takes care of everything. But most of the time it’s the synergy between the two that creates a true masterpiece, NewsRadio had a star-ridden cast that featured such prominent performers as Dave Foley (better known for The Kids in the Hall and the 1996 film Brain Candy), Phil Hartman (a Saturday Night Live legend), Jon Lovitz and Joe Rogan. Yes, that Joe Rogan.
To say that the cast was perfect is an understatement. From the first episode, directed by James Burrows and written by Paul Simms, all the actors seemed to be in perfect sync. It’s like they have been doing this for ages.
To me, the stand-out performer has always been Phil Hartman. A superstar in the making, he had seemed destined to become the next big thing in Hollywood. One of the most respected SNL performers and a Primetime Emmy Award winner, he was just getting big before a tragedy struck. After getting minor roles in such movies as Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, Jingle All the Way, and Small Soldiers, he was on his way to international stardom. All was well until May 28, 1998, when his wife shot and killed him in his sleep, later committing suicide.
While Dave Foley might not seem like a big name today, he was massive back then, and it was his role as David “Dave” Nelson that made everyone take notice. No one seemed to be better suited for a role of good-natured and naive Midwesterner, both too young and inexperienced for a role of a news director at the biggest radio station in New York. You just can’t but admire the way Foley conveyed the sincerity of Dave — probably one of the most likable characters in the history of American TV.
Another underappreciated star of the show is Stephen Root, also known as “that guy you recognize but never know the name of”. His role of extroverted and slightly insane billionaire Jimmy James might have seemed hyperbolic and unrealistic back in the day, but in 2021, after witnessing Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States, the character of James stopped feeling that far-fetched. Hell, at one point in one of the wackier episodes he himself tried to become the president!
There probably is no point in explaining who Maura Tierney is. A true star, who by that point had appeared in numerous movies, she was one of the most important actors on the set, serving as the voice of reason at a workplace where everything that could go wrong went wrong all of the time. Her character Lisa Miller had at first been a little bit belittled by the relationship with Dave Foley’s character, but soon after she transformed into one of the sanest persons in the show, thus keeping it grounded. Without her, the show could have completely lost its sense of normality and turned into a madhouse.
And now we come to two of the most controversial inclusions. First is Andy Dick who played Matthew Brock — the most out of place and clumsy member of the NewsRadio gang. A butt of many jokes and the most physical performer, he acted mainly as comedy relief. While nowadays Andy Dick is better known for his drug troubles, eccentric behavior, and an impressive number of sexual misconduct allegations, to deny that he was amazing in the role of nerdy and socially awkward Matthew would be a crime.
Last but not the least (or not?) is Joe Rogan, whose role as Joe Garrelli has never been seen as important or memorable as the ones mentioned above, but whenever he was on screen, Joe did a good job portraying a street-smart handyman too sure of himself for his own good. Nowadays, of course, Joe is known to be a famous podcaster and UFC commentator. Not many people remember his earlier days at NBC.
It feels somewhat weird discussing the character of Max Louis, played by the ever-popular Jon Lovitz. Not because Lovitz didn’t do a great job, but because he would never be in the show were it not for the tragic death of Phil Hartman. It’s easy to get why his character was replaced, but even to this day it doesn’t feel right.
When it works, it works
The formula of NewsRadio might seem overly simple, and it was simple, at least in the beginning. A typical workplace sitcom, it allowed its viewers to take a look at the inner workings of a radio station in New York. It, of course, oversimplified a lot of things, but the smaller cast, consisting of no more than 8 regular characters, made it seem a lot more personal and intimate. Everyone was extremely likable and, to some extent, believable. I feel weird using (again) the word cozy while describing a sitcom, but that’s what it is to me — cozy. Existing in the world before smartphones and the Internet (which, nevertheless, appeared in some episodes, there’s even an in-universe website from back in the day that still works), NewsRadio became a type of a time capsule, encapsulating, for a lack of a better word, all that had been popular and trendy back in the day. For some, it might seem outdated, but for a lot of people there’s a certain charm in that.
But it wasn’t the coziness, but a great script that made it all work. That and the unique persona of Paul Simms, the creator and the showrunner. A relatively inexperienced producer, who previously worked on The Larry Sanders Show, he was in a state of constant war with the network who never seemed happy with the show’s ratings. It was no secret that Simms never paid much attention to his bosses and actively hated their involvement in the show. A free-spirited soul, he detested the way things were done, and the tensions resulted in constant changes to the show. A reactive person, Simms always seemed to act contrary to what had been expected of him, and this… made this show.
Like, It’s easy to see why the network execs wanted to create a slow and steady progression of Dave Foley and Maura Tierney’s characters’ relations (who doesn’t want to copy Cheers?), but the showrunner had the other idea. His two leads did end up together — in the second episode. By making this a casual hookup, Simms destroyed all hopes of steady romantic development which… made the show better. A lot better, in fact, since that one hookup allowed for dozens of awkward moments later in the show.
Over and over again the network made their wishes heard and Simms either ignored them or, more often than not, made a mockery of them. You want a solemn funeral episode? How about an episode where the gang holds a funeral for a rat? It’s a bizarre idea that wouldn’t have been possible without the execs’ involvement. Sometimes the show welcomed the more nerdy side of its creators: the episode “Arcade” told the bizarre story about a “Stargate Defender” arcade cabinet and outed Dave as a gamer in hiding.
it seems that NewsRadio existed solely to comment on what was going on around it. And Simms made sure to take every painful moment of his own life (like the extremely awkward interview in Rolling Stone where he called his NBC bosses “cocksuckers”) to make the show even funnier. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” seemed to be his motto. And it worked. Because the show never actually was a commercial success, it always felt like an outcast on TV which in turn never allowed the creators to relax and take it easy. Angered by their bad luck and constant time slot changes, they made it their goal to become the most daring show out there — even if no one was watching.
What was so daring about it? At first, nothing really, but the worse it got in real life, the more creative and, frankly, insane the show got. It took completely mundane ideas and ran with them until something unexpected happened. Take Smoking, episode three of the show. A simple idea: the station becomes a smoke-free zone, and the smokers had to accept the fact. They, or, to be precise, Bill (played by Hartman) do not accept this development, which leads to the most insane and hilarious moments on TV. Or how about the episode Super Karate Monkey Death Car, in which the premise (the rich owner of the station releases his autobiography in Japan and then it gets horribly retranslated in English) is so silly that it works on a surprising number of levels.
Or what about Space, where the crew gets teleported to, well, space? Not a lot of shows would risk that much to make a spontaneous sci-fi satire just for the heck of it. The show wasn’t afraid to get serious, too: the episode Bill Moves On, created in the aftermath of Hartman’s death, was both hilarious and heart-wrenching — and never cheap. It allowed both the viewers and the actors to mourn the loss of a friend and a talented performer and reminded them that even in the darkest of times there may be a place for a good-natured laugh.
The show that didn’t care
There is a popular belief that NewsRadio was somewhat unlucky and never got the attention it deserved. Unlike most popular beliefs, this one rings true. While respected among the critics, it wasn’t destined to become a household name. It’s as if the show was cursed: 11 times its time slot changed, and it never placed higher than 26th in ratings. And yet NewsRadio once again has proven that there’s a certain freedom that’s possible when you’re living on the edge, unsure of whether this or that season will become the last. NewsRadio took every chance it got, made every joke it wanted, and was never afraid to risk it all. It subverted all expectations and has become one of the bravest and funniest sitcoms in the history of American television.