Sep 16, 2012

WKRP in Cincinnati

During the late 1970s, there was a fad of hip, urban workplace sitcoms that were very popular but had little to offer gay teens.  The office setting meant no shirtless scenes, the business plots meant no daring rescues, and buddy-bonding was all but absent in casts full of New Sensitive Men seeking out boogie nights.

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), about a struggling radio station, was the worst of the lot.  I watched it -- everybody watched it -- but I didn't like much except the catchy theme song: "Got kind of tired of packing and unpacking, in town to town, up and down the dial").

1. The male actors not only displayed no beefcake, they weren't even cute to look at fully-clothed. Rock dj Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) was scraggly, reporter Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) mousy, and advertising manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) smarmy.  That left station manager Andy Travis (Gary Sandy), who at least could fill out a flannel shirt and pair of 1970s extra-tight jeans (and appeared fully nude in Playgirl)

2. No buddy-bonding, not even a lot of same-sex friendships.  Most of the conflict involved not external threats, but the various on-air personalities and support staff bickering with each other.

3. Most of the hip urban comedies had at least one "very special episode" with someone's visiting brother or college buddy informing the cast that he was gay, resulting in "hilarious" spit-takes, denials, some homophobic comments, and finally tolerance.  Not WKRP. Instead, tt had:

Les Nessman so upset by an unfounded "accusation" that he tries to commit suicide (see "Most Homophobic Moments in College #4).

A smarmy photographer with incriminating photos claims to be gay, so Herb Tarlek puts on his most effeminate facade to flirt with him and try to retrieve them.  

Dr. Johnny Fever wants to get out of his condo lease, so he pretends to be gay, and the condo board, aghast, practically kicks him out the door.

4. No gay-friendly actors.  Howard Hesseman had played gay before, but only negative stereotypes.  Gary Sandy had a few connections with gay people: he shared an apartment with gay superstar Sal Mineo, and got his start playing a hustler who beats up Candy Darling in Some of My Best Friends Are (1971).  But, all accounts suggest that he is even more homophobic in real life than his character was.

Better stick to the catchy theme song.

See also: Frasier, another sitcom about a radio station.