May 29, 2013

Les on the Ledge

May 1979: my first year at Augustana College.  I'm working on the college radio station, WKRP, broadcasting "The International Pop Hour" on Monday nights: Lorenzo Santamaria (Spanish), Claude Francois (French), Roy Black (German, left), Heintje (Dutch), whatever I can find.

Jim, the station manager, is praising a new tv show: WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), a hip, urban workplace comedy about the misadventures of the new dj at a struggling radio station.

So when my program ends for the summer, I watch a few episodes.  

It's pleasant enough, but not very interesting: no beefcake, no bonding, no subtexts, just Dr. Johnny Fever head-butting with the conservative radio station owner.

Then comes a rerun of "Les on the Ledge," actually the third episode of the series, originally broadcast last October.

Mousy reporter Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is banned from interviewing athletes in locker rooms, because they think he's gay.  When Les finds out, he is so traumatized that he rushes out onto a window ledge, intending to commit suicide.  He is not actually gay, but just the rumor is enough to ruin his career and destroy his life.  

The reaction of his coworkers is mixed. Station manager Andy Travis freaks out, but receptionist Jennifer Marlowe says "So what if he's gay?  His sex life is nobody's business."  Advertising manager Herb Tarlek ruminates, and finally says "It's ok if you're gay."  However, they all agree that being "falsely accused" of being gay is humiliating, and they understand why Les is on the ledge.