The Under Appreciated NewsRadio

Todd VanDerWerff of Vox wrote a nice piece on the ’90s TV show NewsRadio:

Joke for joke, NewsRadio is as funny as any show in TV history. (Watch some of its best moments here.) It’s also almost completely devoid of references to the world of the ’90s, something Furey assures me was intentional, to allow the show to hold up in future decades.

This really does help explain how this show is so re-watchable. All the times I have watched it I have never noticed this before, but it doesn’t feel extremely dated and this must be why.

NewsRadio is terribly under appreciated, and probably forgotten, by many at this point. Throwaway jokes have become the staple of a lot of shows these days, but NewsRadio really thrived on these before everyone was doing it. When Lisa (Maura Tierney) asks Matthew (Andy Dick), “why don’t you join a rotisserie baseball league?”, and he responds “because I am allergic to chicken”, it shows how this show was really ahead of it’s time. Current shows like New Girl do this exceptionally well now, but it’s much more common than it was then.

The cast was deep, and pretty much any of them could carry the main plot of an episode when need be, and they all got their shots along the way. In typical 1990s sitcom fashion, all of the characters played to very typical stereotypes, but they made it work. The cast is also very recognizable today, but was mostly unknown at the time. It’s interesting that outside of Maura Tierney and Khandi Alexander (who did 145 episodes of CSI: Miami and Treme) none of the cast really had success on TV after NewsRadio1. But this cast was just perfectly constructed; Dave Foley’s straight man to Phil Hartman playing the villain was especially great. After a decade on Saturday Night Live it was great to see him find the right place to succeed. Stephen Root would pop-up and play millionaire Jimmy James perfectly. Andy Dick nailed the slapstick humor. Vicki Lewis was the perfect ditzy secretary.

The on-again, off-again romance between Dave and Lisa was less of the primary focus, unlike a lot of other sitcoms, and that made it much more tolerable over the long run. Andy Dick showed how much physical comedy and absurdness was a home run in moderation, and some of the best scenes involve him, but thankfully it is not overdone. The right mix of guest stars and bottle episodes are solid as well.

Seinfeld and Friends owned the ’90s sitcom landscape, and Hartman’s untimely death prior to the 5th season surely hurt this show’s legacy. It replaced Hartman with Jon Lovitz, but was nowhere near the same. Many of the great ’90s sitcoms managed to push 8+ seasons and it’s possible that if NewsRadio had pulled this off it would rank much higher in people’s memories.

  1. Obviously Phil Hartman was tragically killed []