DO touch that dial: Switch quickly from outdated 'WKRP'

September 13, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"WKRP" is W-E-A-K.

Yes, "WKRP in Cincinnati," the CBS sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1982, is back. The show returns in syndication at 7:30 Saturday night on WBAL-TV (Channel 11) with new episodes featuring three of the original cast members.

It was not worth the wait.

The three returning cast members -- not surprisingly -- are the three who have not found much work since the series ended. Gordon Jump is back as station manager Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson. Richard Sanders returns as wannabe newsman Les Nessman. Frank Bonner is sales manager Herb Tarlek. Missing are Tim Reid, Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman, among others.

Saturday's premiere is the first of two episodes about the station's being sold. There is not a solid laugh in this half-hour unless you think it's real funny when Tarlek mistakes the new program director (Mykelti Williamson) for the parking lot attendant because he is black.

But if you truly want to see what a knuckleheaded idea it is to take a show with a 1970s sensibility and

plop it virtually unchanged into the '90s, watch part two next week and pay attention to the messages the show sends out about women.

The big news in that episode (which airs Sept. 21) is that Anderson and Hesseman make one-shot appearances, trying to prevent the ownership change. The logic of their scheme is so bizarre I could barely follow it, but it involves lots of retrogade thinking and roles for women:

Anderson's Jennifer Marlowe uses her attributes to compromise a government attorney so he won't prosecute the station on an obscenity violation. Hesseman's Johnny Fever, meanwhile, meets with a Mrs. Grindbody, head of the Cincinnati Legion of Decency, who winds up making sexual advances. And, then, there's the introduction of Mona Loveland (Tawny Kitaen), whom the producers describe as "a sultry voiced late night DJ who looks as alluring as she sounds." The mentality is Playboy magazine circa 1957.

The original "WKRP" had its moments -- mainly belonging to Reid and Hesseman. But even that version relied too much on waist-up profile shots of Anderson. It was not enlightened in 1978; in 1992, such stuff is unforgivable.

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