How Good Was Newsradio?

NewsradioI was never much of a Seinfeld fan. It was a well made and funny show, but I always find it hard to get excited about shows where I don’t like any of the characters. And Seinfeld was very much that. Even by sitcom standards, it had shallow characters. The sitcom that I liked — loved even — was Newsradio. But I don’t know if I would go as far as Todd VanDerWerff who says that, NewsRadio Was the Best Sitcom of the 1990s. Or maybe I would. But what VanDerWerff really thinks is that Newsradio was the best sitcom ever. I’m also not really interested in the question. The main thing is that Newsradio was a really, really good show.

I first watched the show because it starred Dave Foley. When I was in grad school, I was a big fan of Kids in the Hall. So it was exciting that Foley had made it to the big time. Most people no doubt watched because of Phil Hartman. But overall, it was the ensemble that worked. I immediately fell in love with Maura Tierney. And I thought that Stephen Root was one of the funniest actors I had ever seen. He has gone on to be one of my favorite character actors. The rest of the cast was excellent as well. But even without the great cast, it would have been a funny show. The writing was excellent.

What I didn’t know was just how troubled the show was. Despite initial good reviews and ratings, NBC really messed with the show. In five seasons, it was put in 11 different time slots. I’m not sure why a network would do that except if it was trying to kill a show. And for all I know it was. Hollywood is known for some of the most spiteful behavior, like network heads trying to kill off shows of predecessors. But the show managed on, even stumbling on for a season after Phil Hartman’s death.

As a result of DerWerff’s article, I went back and watched the Newsradio I could find online. The shows from the third season just blew me away. I still find them as funny as anything that I’ve ever seen. What I didn’t remember about the show was just how slapstick it is. I think I was so focused on Root’s Jimmy James and all his sly silliness, I didn’t notice, for example, Andy Dick’s amazing pratfalls. In addition, much of the writing is pure farce with people coming and going — often repeatedly to great comedic effect.

At this point in my viewing history, I would say that Newsradio is probably most like Fawlty Towers. It isn’t as tightly plotted. But then again, there were a total of 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers, produced over the course of four years. Over the exact same period of time, Newsradio produced 97 episodes. Regardless, Fawlty Towers is the pinnacle of television comedy. The fact that I can even compare Newsradio to it says a great deal about it. Yet the show still doesn’t get much respect. My public library, for example, doesn’t hold a single DVD of the show. It does, of course, overflow with Seinfeld — even though you can watch three hours of it each night in syndication on the television. It’s sad. But apparently, there are a lot of people like DerWerff and me who greatly admire the show. And that’s something.

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