Critics loved WKRP in Cincinnati, producer Hugh Wilson’s comedy series about a fourth- rate radio station and its quirky co-workers. So did TV viewers. The trouble was no one could find it on CBS’ schedule. During “WKRP’s " four-year run (1978-82), the network moved the series 12 different times.
“I was on the show and I didn’t know when it was on,” recalled Richard Sanders, who played the painfully inept newsman Les Nessman. Sanders also wrote five episodes of the series.
After “WKRP” was canceled by CBS, the reruns--much like the original “Star Trek"--became a huge hit in first-run syndication.
And now, nine years after it left the network airwaves, “WKRP” is back with 23 new episodes. The new series will debut next week in first-run syndication in more than 200 markets across the country. Most stations are getting ready by first airing six episodes of the original series and a one-hour retrospective.
Returning for the new series will be three members of the original cast: Sanders, Gordon Jump (befuddled station manager Arthur Carlson) and Frank Bonner (obnoxious, sleazy salesman Herb Tarlek). Several members of the production team also were brought back. Loni Anderson, who played the sultry receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, and Howard Hesseman, as hip deejay Johnny Fever, will make guest appearances in the special two-part premiere. The other original regulars, Tim Reid, Gary Sandy and Jan Smithers, have expressed interest in doing guest shots.
Bill Dial, one of the original writers, is the new executive producer. “This new series came about because of the syndication success,” he said. “TV stations were saying to our syndicator (MTM) that they wished there were more episodes.”
He initially wasn’t interested in returning to the series. “They had to do a sales job,” he said. “I knew from a sales point of view it was a good idea, but I had to know what the angle was to do it again. And then I decided it was very simple--we would just pick up where we left off. The three characters who are still at WKRP would in real life still be at the radio station. Then once I figured that out I said, ‘We can do this.’ And I populated it with a new gang of crazy people, hopefully as appealing as the old bunch.”
Among the new characters are Tawney Kitaen as sexy, late-night deejay Mona Loveland; Kathleen Garrett and Michael Des Barres as the station’s married morning drive team who can’t stand each other off the air; Mykel T. Williamson as the new program director, Donovan Aderhold; Hope Alexander-Willis as traffic manager Claire Hartline and Lightfield Lewis as Arthur Carlson Jr.
“It was kind of spooky when we got on the set because it is exactly the same set,” Dial said.
“It is like we have been on a long hiatus,” Jump said. “It is like starting all over again. You can only hope the audience will feel that way.”
“When we first came into rehearsal it was really eerie,” Sanders said. “Before we started actually rehearsing I was a little nervous about how well it would work. Then we started rehearsing and it was like the same working atmosphere which made it fun before.”
And just what has happened to the characters over the last decade?
“Arthur Carlson has gotten a little older,” Jump said. “He works with the same degree of naivete as he did before. He is bringing his son into the operation and, like most parents, he feels his son can do no wrong.”
Les Nessman got married--briefly. “I think that will affect him,” Sanders said. “I think he is probably going to do the news just as well as he did before.”
And Herb Tarlek is just as obnoxious. “Herb and the other guys couldn’t find jobs elsewhere,” Bonner said. “No one in their right minds would hire these guys. There was no place else for them to go.”
“WKRP’s Greatest Hits” airs Monday at 5 p.m. on KCAL Channel 9; Sept. 8 at noon on San Diego’s KGTV Channel 10. “WKRP 50th Anniversary Special” airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on KCAL and Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. on KGTV.
The new “WKRP in Cincinnati” is scheduled to premiere Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. on KCAL and Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. on KGTV.