The New WKRP in Cincinnati is an American sitcomsequel to the original 1978–1982 CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati that aired in first-run syndication from September 14, 1991 to May 1, 1993 and, as with the original WKRP, MTM Enterprises produced the show.
The week before the show's premiere, many stations carrying the program aired the hour-long WKRP in Cincinnati 50th Anniversary Special, centered on a newspaper reporter interviewing Arthur Carlson about the fictitious station's golden anniversary, which served as a setup to show clips of memorable moments from the original series.
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The character of Arthur Carlson, Jr., returns as an adult. However, he is not portrayed by Sparky Marcus, who played a 10-year-old Arthur in one episode of the original series. Newcomer Lightfield Lewis was signed on to assume the role of the character, modeled much after the Herb Tarlek character from the original series. Art Jr. works as an advertising account executive for WKRP, presumably being groomed to take over the business from his father. Among the other notable actors that were cast members on the show were Mykelti Williamson as program director Donovan Aderhold, Tawny Kitaen as late night D.J. Mona Loveland, Kathleen Garrett as D.J. Dana Burns, and French Stewart, who joined the cast in the second season as morning D.J. Razor Dee.
The show underwent many cast changes during its run, and ended production in 1993 after two seasons and 47 episodes.
In the first season, Michael Des Barres played Jack Allen, one of the two halves of the "Burns and Allen" (a play on George Burns and Gracie Allen) morning show. Des Barres had played Sir Charles "Dog" Weatherby, frontman for the fictional band Scum of the Earth in the "Hoodlum Rock" episode of the original series.
For the first several episodes, the series was still identified as WKRP in Cincinnati and used a nearly identical opening sequence to the original series, except with updated cast names; the The New portion was not added until later, when clips of the starring actors were added to the title sequence. Additionally, the familiar opening and closing themes of its parent series were retained; while a new arrangement/recording was used for the opening theme, the closing theme was the same version heard on the original series.
The series followed up on some details left unaddressed in the original series. For example, the actual frequency of WKRP was never revealed in the original series. In this version, the station is identified as being at 1530 AM, the actual home of WCKY, also licensed to Cincinnati, though the actual 1530 AM is a 50,000 watt class A clear channel frequency, while WKRP's coverage map promoted the station as a 5000 watt station of unknown class (with the exception of the original series pilot, in which the station was also at 50,000 watts).
Also addressed is why the station is in the same position as the first series. The original series was supposed to conclude with everyone's hard work paying off and the station reaching number one. At some point, WKRP went all talk and one of the on air personalities shot someone.
Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), occasionally called the "Big Guy," is the middle-aged general manager, whose main qualification for the job is that his business tycoon mother is the owner. His bumbling, indecisive management is one of the main reasons the station is unprofitable, although he is a decent man and something of a father-figure to his employees.
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), the boorish, tasteless advertising sales manager, wears loud plaid suits, with his belt matching his white shoes. Though he can't land the big accounts, he displays a remarkable talent of collecting from deadbeat clients. While Herb is portrayed as buffoonish most of the time, he does occasionally show a sympathetic side, particularly towards Art Jr., whom he feels he needs to protect though there's no love lost between the two. Tarlek was based on radio executive Clark Brown.
Arthur Carlson Jr. (Lightfield Lewis), the rookie advertising executive, groomed to one day take over the management of WKRP after his father retires. Pompous and arrogant (but angelic in his father's presence), he's much like Herb, but lacks Herb's experience when it comes to dealing with potential problem clients, proving himself to be no more competent. His own personality is the complete opposite of his father's: where his father is passive but will stand up for himself and others when pushed, Art Jr. is aggressive but quickly backs down when confronted.
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the fastidious, bow-tied news reporter, approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite being incompetent. Nessman is forever trying to win the fictitious Ohio radio news trophy the "Buckeye Newshawk Award" (which he has already won five times), as well as the "coveted Silver Sow Award" for excellence in farm news, particularly hog reports. He is best friends with fellow employee Herb Tarlek. To protest not having an office of his own, he has marked where walls would be with tape on the floor around his desk, and mimics opening a door whenever he enters or leaves. Mr. Carlson and Herb humor him by "knocking" (clicking their heels together while making a knocking motion with their hands) before entering.
Donovan Aderhold (Mykelti Williamson), the station's new program director. He arrives at WKRP after the former program director, Steve "The Savage" DeMarco, is fired (after saying on the air "something you can't say on the air"). Aderhold fills the same position held by Andy Travis, who had left the station some time after the end of the original series; he has also worked with former WKRP morning DJ Dr. Johnny Fever at a radio station in Pittsburgh.
Mona Loveland (Tawny Kitaen), the station's new nighttime DJ, hired by Aderhold. Beautiful and talented, Mona is also exceptionally intelligent, much like Jennifer Marlowe in the original series. Her dilemma is that though she longs for male companionship, she enjoys her freedom and dedication to her career. Like Jennifer was with Herb, she finds herself constantly rebuffing advances from Art Jr.
Buddy Dornster (John Chappell), the station's hopelessly lazy chief engineer. He is the brother of Bucky Dornster, who held the same job on the original WKRP and was played twice (on "Holdup" and "Baseball") by series head writer Bill Dial, who reprised the role once in a cameo on the revival. Buddy has served alongside Carlson in the Korean War, and has some shell-shock tendencies, such as diving for cover suddenly when Jack Allen yells "Incoming!" in his direction. John Chappell appeared as Reverend Drinkwater in the "Preacher" episode of the original WKRP.
Claire Hartline (Hope Alexander-Willis), the station's traffic and continuity director. Unlike her predecessor, Bailey Quarters, Claire's role is that of her job title, unlike Bailey's eventually expanded role as midday and afternoon news anchor and part-time field reporter. Claire is often sarcastic (like the Bailey character evolved into later in the original series), but kind and levelheaded, one of the few competent employees at the station.
Ronnie Lee (Wendy Davis), the station's attractive receptionist. She finds a kindred spirit in Donovan, as they are the only two black employees at the station. Though Herb for the most part leaves her alone, she often finds herself rebuffing his advances.
Dana Burns (Kathleen Garrett), half of the station's "Burns and Allen"-style morning show with Jack Allen.
Jack Allen (Michael Des Barres), half of the station's "Burns and Allen"-style morning show with Dana Burns. Their on-air chemistry is similar to George Burns and Gracie Allen, but both are at each other's throats off the air, largely due to their impending divorce. Despite their constant bickering, both know that outside of their morning show together, neither has much of a future in the radio business. They are replaced by Razor Dee in the final season.
Mrs. Carlson (Carol Bruce) is Arthur Carlson's ruthless, domineering mother and the owner of WKRP. An extremely successful and rich businesswoman, her only regret is that her approach to parenting (the "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" school of child-rearing) backfired; her son ended up indecisive, weak-willed and afraid of her, and her grandson ended up being a brat in his younger years. She makes her debut in the new series after the series of events that led to the firing of Donovan's predecessor, where she tells Arthur that she has agreed to sell the station to a new owner. Carlson foils her attempt to sell the station with the help of his former receptionist Jennifer, and former DJ Johnny Fever.
Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) initially was a recurring character on the series. In the nine years since the end of the original series, the burned-out former morning jock has moved on to at least two other markets. Late in the second season, Moss Steiger (the always-unseen overnight disc jockey in both the original and revival series) dies, and Fever returns to the station to fill the open slot.
Several critics of the show railed against the thought of continuing the original series, and it premiered to a mix of positive and negative reviews. Among the negative reviews from broadcast professionals was the charge that the station, broadcasting on the AM band, was still playing Rock 'n Roll music in the early 1990s, long after FM was established as the industry's leading band.
The series, contrary to the belief of some, was not canceled due to large monetary losses. Despite the challenges of syndication, which included varying airtimes (sometimes late at night) in various markets, the series was able to operate in the black, but not producing a profit substantial enough for investors to back it financially.