With its shaky five-season tenure (1995-99) including a dozen different time slots and only one major Emmy nomination, the outstanding NewsRadio
is the atypical sitcom of its age. While most of the '90s sitcoms were based around a single big name talent (Jerry Seinfeld, Candice Bergen, Drew Carrey), NewsRadio
came from the same stock from earlier shows Taxi
: a relatively unknown cast that rarely ventured away from the place of business. These first 29 episodes (7 as a mid-season replacement the first year), deliver a consistently hilarious show about the day-to-day life with the eccentric staff of New York radio station WNYX. Creator Paul Simms (The Larry Sanders Show
) built a talented cast relying on expert delivery and character traits instead of goofy situations. The most famous cast member, Saturday Night Live
's Phil Hartman, went against the grain of most SNL
veterans and gleefully took a supporting role, the pompous, silver-tongued anchor Bill McNeal. The lead--the glue--of the series is Kids in the Hall member Dave Foley as the earnest new station manager, Dave Nelson. Soft but eager, Nelson plays lion-tamer delicately maneuvering around staff to keep the station humming along. This is complicated from the get-go when he falls into a secret, but very cute affair with Lisa (Maura Tierney), the ace reporter.
The station, like Mary Tyler Moore's TV crew two decades earlier, has a good balance between funny folks and just plain whackos. The former includes Stephen Root as the rich yet time-crunched owner, Joe Rogan as the fix-it man, and Khandi Alexander as Bill's tart co-anchor. The latter is embodied in Andy Dick as the helpless Matthew, a sublime airhead whose comic highjinks are often the show's hardest laughs, and Vicki Lewis, continuing the famous TV tradition of the lovable ditzy secretary that knows all. But the legacy of the show belongs to Hartman who tragically died after the fourth season. His comic bravura is balanced with the ability to play the fool. In one perfect scene, Lisa walks by with only a bra on (don't ask) and Bill doesn't move, reading his newspaper. Lisa returns to slap him anyway, shocking him. "I didn't say anything." Lisa retorts, "You were thinking it" and walks away. Hartman eases into a juicy, soft smile and returns to reading, "Well, that's fair."
If you're not a fan of commentary tracks, you won't find the love and care that went into this DVD set. There are commentaries on 20 of the 27 episodes with the cast and crew rotating duties. The nice thing about a cast full of comics is that the commentaries are very funny and rewarding for fans. We hear about the casting of the show, Foley's uncanny ability to memorize a script, the art of the archaic reference, and how the fix-it man was--for the half the pilot--Ray Romano. But if you don't have time for the commentaries, watch and laugh hard at the 10-minute (!) gag reel. --Doug Thomas