Joe Rogan, Vicki Lewis, Khandi Alexander, Jon Lovitz
The Complete Series
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jeff Giles
ewsRadio” debuted on the airwaves during the dark hours of NBC’s post-“Cosby Show”/“Family Ties”/“Cheers” era, when the network was flailing about in an effort to find new ensemble sitcoms that would duplicate the ratings magic it enjoyed throughout the ‘80s. If you’ve never seen it (and judging from its ratings, you may very well have missed it during its run), you might be tempted to lump it in with such middle-of-the-road series as “Caroline in the City” or “Suddenly Susan.” But even if it never scaled the ratings heights (or, arguably, was never as funny) as its more famous forebears, “NewsRadio” was still one of NBC’s brightest hidden gems during the mid-to-late ‘90s, a show whose stellar cast and frequently brilliant writing were enough to carry it through four years of low ratings and 11 timeslot changes.
At least nominally, “NewsRadio” was a workplace sitcom, built around the same character archetypes and plot formulae used by every on-the-job comedy from “The Bob Newhart Show” to “Murphy Brown.” But where other shows tend to start off with at least a tenuous connection to reality before running out of ideas and relying on progressively more far-fetched storylines, “NewsRadio” always had a healthy appreciation for the eccentric and the absurd, which helped the show transcend its borrowed roots. Any sitcom based in a struggling AM radio station owes a certain debt to “WKRP in Cincinnati,” but “NewsRadio” bore no more than a passing similarity to “WKRP” – or any other series, before or since.
Unlike a lot of other ensemble shows, “NewsRadio” didn’t really have a star, per se. When it debuted, its biggest name was “Saturday Night Live” vet Phil Hartman, who brought his splendid gift for playing unctuous creeps to the character of blowhard anchor Bill McNeal. Hartman shared screen time more or less equally with the rest of the cast, including former Kid in the Hall Dave Foley (right), as the sputtering, beleaguered station manager, Dave Nelson; respected character actor Stephen Root, as the insanely wealthy (and borderline insane) station owner, Jimmy James; future “ER” mainstay Maura Tierney (right), as producer/reporter Lisa Nelson; and Andy Dick, as resident incompetent boob Matthew Brock. Rounding out the core cast, but seen less often, were Joe Rogan, Vicki Lewis and Khandi Alexander, who left the series during its fourth season. Although Dick was the closest thing to a breakout star “NewsRadio” ever had, no one character ever dominated the show, at least in part because each of them were given so many off-the-wall personality quirks that they never ran out of ridiculous places to go.
Of course, as most “NewsRadio” fans are no doubt aware, each of the show’s seasons has already been released on DVD; all Sony is doing with “The Complete Series” is bundling together all 12 previously issued DVDs, along with bonus materials, and packaging them in a single box. It’s here that fans will probably quibble most with “The Complete Series” – the box’s artwork consists of stock images laid over a brushed-metal Photoshop filter and the names of each disc’s episodes, and the DVDs themselves are stacked on a plastic spindle; it’s about as bare-bones as you can get. But the content is another story: Each “NewsRadio” season set came packed with an armload of extra content, including behind-the-scenes featurettes, gag reels, and episode commentaries, and they’re all included here.
Drab packaging aside, having the entire series all in one place is undeniably cool, and this package’s $60 MSRP is below what you’d pay for each of the separate season sets. That being said, it bears mentioning that a not-inconsiderable number of the show’s fans have never had much use for the fifth and final season, which grafted Jon Lovitz onto the cast in place of the murdered Hartman. A majority of the cast and crew didn’t want the show to carry on without Hartman, but the network had already ordered another batch of episodes, and since a fifth season would make it easier to sell “NewsRadio” into syndication, it limped on for another 22 installments that, while certainly not awful, didn’t have the same energy as the rest of the show’s run. Their inclusion here will appeal to completists, but they serve as a reminder of the disjointed, half-hearted way “NewsRadio” went off the air; fans might be better off just watching the first through fourth seasons and pretending the rest never aired.
Even docked half a star for the caveats mentioned above, “NewsRadio: The Complete Series” offers a nice value for fans of the show who, for whatever reason, don’t already own these episodes on DVD. The bonus material is first-rate, and the laughs are just as plentiful as ever. “NewsRadio” never escaped the long shadow cast by “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” but it offered viewers some damn fine television, and the worst thing about retracing the series’ run is wondering what might have been.