WKRP in Cincinnati is a hard show to write about. I mean because you never know whether Cincinnati is spelled that way or this way: Cincinnati. There is no other reason why WKRP in Cincinnati is a tough show to write about. It was one of the most beloved sitcoms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; one of that genre of workplace situated situation comedies ala Barney Miller in the police station or Taxi in the garage. WKRP was not quite in the same league as Barney Miller and didn’t rise to the occasional levels of brilliance of Taxi, but it did produce a fair share of truly memorable episodes, including one that has gone down in history, of course.
Like the Taxi episode where Reverend Jim takes his driving exam, the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati is one of the most memorable episodes of any show in TV history. It is not my own pick as the best episode ever of WKRP, but there is no denying it is a classic for all time. When those live turkeys start falling from the sky, Les Nessman’s radio call is the stuff of comedic legend. It is this particular aspect of this WKRP episode that most people recall and rightly so. Unfortunately, the lead up is simply not that memorable. Still, from the point that the turkeys drop to the end of the episode American comedy from the 1970’s does not get much better. Watch the highlight of this episode by clicking here.
There are two things going on in this episode that make it one of WKRP in Cincinnati’s all time best. On the one hand you’ve got radio deejays Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap taking a sobriety test live on air. The only problem is that Dr. Johnny Fever’s reaction time actually seems to improve with each glass of alcohol. At the same time you’ve got WKRP’s sale executive Herb Tarlek dressed up in a full-body carp suit getting into a fight with the mascot from rival radio station WPIG who is dressed in a fully body pig costume. If that mere description is not enough to convince you this is comedy of great level, then perhaps watching a scene from here will.
You may think that reality TV began in the 1990’s, but it was actually a very popular form of entertainment in the 1970’s. On this episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Herb Tarlek is followed day and night by a TV crew filming a show called Real Families. The comedy here is not just that of watching Herb attempt to paint a positive portrait of his miserable life, but it also stands as perhaps the earliest satire of the entire concept of a holiday in other people’s misery. The underlying dramatic tone to this episode is that the worse off Herb and his family are made to look, the higher the ratings will be for the reality show. WKRP was not the first to predict the future of American TV, but it may have been the first American show to do so.
This is my choice for the funniest WKRP in Cincinnati episode of all time. Mr. Carlson, Andy, and Herb Tarlek arrive in Dayton to meet a potential huge sponsor. Toss in a generally weird feeling that WKRP mastered, the fear of the Dayton Poisoner, and the fact that Herb falls for a girl who used to be a guy he knew in high school and what you’ve got here is pure magic, one of the funniest episodes in sitcom history.
Baby, It’s Cold Inside
There is nothing especially funny about this episode, but it is the epitome of the ability of the makers of WKRP to produce a show that felt like nothing else on TV. There is a disconnected feeling to this episode that very closely approaches the surreal. It is simply a series of extended conversations that take place between characters that have turned to the bottle to keep warm when the heat has gone off inside the building. Describing what makes this WKRP episode so great is an effort in futility. You just have to watch it.
Bah, Humbug: For awhile there it seemed as if every sitcom had to do a takeoff of A Christmas Carol. No TV show pulled it off better than WKRP in Cincinnati.
Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide
This two-part episode was a showcase for Howard Hesseman. Dr. Johnny Fever signs a binding contract to host a new TV show, only it turns out to be an American Bandstand meets Solid Gold show in which he is supposed to play disco songs, which he despises. (And rightly so.) In order to disguise himself from his fans he adopts a smarmy persona, but unfortunately that unctuous alter ego begins to take over Johnny and he develops a split personality. This is one of those kinds of episodes that sticks in your mind even if you only see it once.