The Greatest Show You Never Watched

Well let’s get right into it, shall we?

In the world of sitcoms, only one show has ever managed to cross the uncanny valley that bridges shows with laugh tracks and shows with truly humorous content. In pretty much all other sitcoms, the laugh track is too often used to remind people that what they are watching is funny rather than adding melodic resonance to the already ongoing laughs of the audience.

fry laugh track

The show in question is not Seinfeld. Nor is it Friends, nor Frasier, nor any of the other sitcoms you will find on your typical ‘top ten sitcoms’ list.

The show was News Radio.

And to clarify, I speak only of seasons 1 through 4 with both Phil Hartman and Khandi Alexander still present. Once Jon Lovitz was brought in for season 5 the whole thing fell apart, not unpredictably (the year was 1998 and Lovitz was already well on the downturn of a less than illustrious career in tomfoolery – probably his best role since then was an un-credited role in the mediocre movie The Wedding Singer the same year). Phil Hartman’s murder might have also had a dampening effect on the whole thing….

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many other sitcoms over the years…  Well, actually that’s not a genuine statement. It’d be more honest to say that I’ve WATCHED a lot of sitcoms over the years but have enjoyed very few (enjoying shows like Family Matters and Full House as an adolescent doesn’t count). In any case, News Radio stood out in a class of its own. Its unique mixture of slapstick and rhetorical humor was pioneered elsewhere and attempted in many other shows, but was never pitched as perfectly.

Overall TV is getting better, but network television still sucks. It has always sucked really, but we had way fewer options before. Now, with cable channels like AMC and HBO pouring money into making better shows, the bar for TV is rising. However, most network television shows still stay well below it. News Radio was definitively above the bar in its day, and still stands out as above the bar of what we usually see on network television now. How exactly it was able to accomplish that within the confines of a… well, let’s be honest, shitty… format (laugh track sitcoms) is beyond me. It’s a testament to the writing and the actors involved that it was able to transcend its imposed borders.

And an ensemble cast never looked so good: Lisa and Dave’s relationship was always treated just as ridiculous as it seemed; eccentric billionaire Jimmy James was the prototype for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy; Matthew Brock will go down in history as the least offensive and most hilarious character ever played by Andy Dick; Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke was the perfect counterpoint to the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Bill McNeal; Beth’s over the top incompetence made her no less endearing; and I love the UFC, but Joe Rogan’s TV career peaked with his role as Joe …what was that last name again?

And the show never took itself too seriously, a mistake made in the later years of many popular sitcoms. Hell they even turned a network mandated funeral episode into a farce by eulogizing a rat and throwing it in an incinerator.


Anyway, to make a long story short, News Radio kicked ass. If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it.

If you saw it and you didn’t like it, you are wrong.

3 Replies to “The Greatest Show You Never Watched”

  1. The Dissent:

    I never liked this show. I said it. And I’m not wrong. Now the caveat is that because I never got hooked, I only caught random channel surfing episodes that were sometimes amusing but never enough to make me care about finding it again. Because of this, I may have missed all the inside references and character development that happened previously – but I doubt it.

    My impression of this show was that it was very clever, sometimes funny, and never “clicked”. Dave Foley, who was great in the sketch comedy show, Kids in the Hall is not a very good actor. The zaniness and inherent amateurishness of sketch comedy does not translate well to actual acting expect for the exceptional few. This translates to Dave Foley trying desperately to act… not inhabiting a character. That goes for most of the cast as well, including Phil Hartman. While, no doubt talented, he again suffers from SNL Sketch Comedy Syndrome – great for small bits with funny characters, but can’t infuse a character with enough depth to be interesting for long.

    Saying Andy Dick’s character is his least offensive role is like saying Hemlock is the least offensive poison – and personally, I’d rather die of waking asphyxiation than watch Mr. Dick.

    I remember liking Maura Tierney and Joe Rogan actually, but to be honest, much of my memory of this show is interpreted through a fog of time and apathy with a hint of distaste – and I think my pubescent crush on Ms. Tierney colored even that one bright spot of the show.

    This sitcom wasn’t horrible by any means – just almost forgettable. Which also means that artificially elevating it into the stratosphere warrants a pull from the gravity from a different perspective.

    I could be wrong – but I’m not.

    1. If this was bait, it was well placed. Normally I can easily ignore people being wrong on the internet, but you know I would never allow YOU to be wrong on MY internet.

      Contrary opinions are the bread and butter of our site, my friend, as you well know. And they are especially welcome when they are as wrongheaded and misguided as yours. Your contrary opinions only serve to strengthen my argument.

      I’m sure in your mind News Radio doesn’t compare to such gems as Everybody Loves Raymond or whatever crap you enjoy, and that’s fine. I loved The Chronicles of Riddick while fully recognizing that it’s not a cinematic masterpiece. But yours is the reverse, and that’s much more harmful; it’s ok to knowingly like things that aren’t good, but its not ok to NOT like things that ARE good.

      While fantastically snarky and cleverly framed, all of your arguments basically amount to: the characters in the sitcom were too superficial. Disregarding the fact that all sitcom characters are by nature superficial, I take particular issue with your criticism of the acting. I won’t say there were Emmy performances on the show, but they were certainly no worse than any other sitcom you could name. I’m not sure by what arbitrary scale you’re judging sitcom acting, in any case. Perhaps in over the top gesticulations? Maybe in catch phrases uttered? News Radio wasn’t Breaking Bad, requiring a nuanced and measured performance, and yet the acting and went PERFECTLY with the tenor of the show. That’s really the only scale to measure by: how well it works. The answer in this case is easy to discern, its the same as the answer to the question “was it very funny?” You say “no,” but in this case I have more credibility and experience than you, combined with a much better sense of humor. And I say “yes.”

      Again though, kudos for wit, this most recent straw man argument of yours was certainly wearing its Sunday best this go-round.

  2. I’m siding with Team alKhemist on this one. As far as television is concerned, especially in the realm of comedy, taking things like acting too seriously defeats the whole purpose. Using the Breaking Bad reference, an unconvincing performance would kill that show. In a campy, tongue in cheek, borderline sketch comedy, not so much. Granted there are certain lines of standards that cannot be crossed (such as the Andy Dick line – News Radio was indeed the hemlock of his career), but I don’t think any mainstream (’90s!) comedy actor is going to blow any of us away with their amazing acting. Some are better than others, but having an overly high and ultimately undiscerning standard for all acting does not make for a great critic, just a really sad one.

    Cheer up Mythos, News Radio was a thoroughly enjoyable show. It was way better than its competition as noted by alKhemist in the post – I always hated Seinfeld, Fraiser, Friends, and all that other ilk – and it did help lay the foundation for a few really good shows we have today.

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