NewsRadio was a workplace comedy that showed how an office can be like a dysfunctional family, not unlike The Mary Tyler Moore Show did before it or The Office did after it. What made the show different, however, was that it would occasionally get unapologetically absurd—setting season finales in outer space and putting the WNYX-AM staff on the Titanic.
This meant that while the sitcom was just as smart as Frasier, possessed as funny an ensemble cast as Friends, and was at times as humorously sour as Seinfeld, NewsRadio was the nineties NBC comedy destined to not be as popular or appreciated by its own network as it deserved. Here are 21 things you might not have known about NewsRadio.
1. IT WAS THE CREATOR’S FIRST TIME WORKING FOR A NETWORK SITCOM.
Paul Simms went from writing for The Harvard Lampoon and the satirical Spy magazine to working for Late Night with David Letterman and the HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show (a comedy about a late night talk show host), to overseeing his own show at 29 years old.
2. TEN EPISODE TITLES ARE LED ZEPPELIN REFERENCES.
The final nine episodes of season two are titled after the names of Zeppelin albums, in a non-chronological, seemingly random order. One season three episode was christened “Led Zeppelin Boxed Set.” When Simms was interviewed for The New York Times to promote the launch of the series, it was noted that he was wearing jeans and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt.
3. BOTH JIMMY JAMES AND BETH WERE NAMED AFTER SONGS.
Stephen Root’s character is named after the Beastie Boys song from Check Your Head. Beth the secretary got her name from the Kiss ballad.
4. SARAH SILVERMAN AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BETH.
As did her one-time roommate and Mr. Show castmate Mary Lynn Rajskub, who went on to play Chloe on 24. The part of Beth went to Vicki Lewis.
5. RAY ROMANO WAS ORIGINALLY THE STATION ELECTRICIAN.
The part played by Greg Lee in the pilot and by Joe Rogan for the rest of the series was Ray Romano’s for two days. Romano claimed he was “relieved” when his manager told him that he had been fired, and felt deep down that he “wasn’t pulling it off” anyway.
6. THE CASTING DIRECTOR ACCIDENTALLY ERASED MAURA TIERNEY’S INITIAL AUDITION.
Showing Lisa Miller-like determination, Tierney went back to New York, passed the network audition test, and started rehearsing the same day.
7. THE CAST OF FRIENDS WENT TO THE PILOT TAPING.
The six stars of Friends watched veteran TV comedy director James Burrows direct NewsRadio’s first episode, and reportedly felt “jealous.” Burrows directed Friends' pilot and nearly half of its first season. Former NBC executive Karey Burke remembers not being able to figure out whether Friends or NewsRadio would become the network's big “hit."
8. PHIL HARTMAN’S EARLY GRAPHIC ARTIST CAREER WAS A PART OF THE SHOW.
In “Bill’s Autobiography,” Bill discovers a recording of Dave singing “A Horse With No Name” by America, a song that Lisa claimed Dave is “obsessed” with. Phil Hartman designed three album covers for America, a band managed by his brother John. What was a job in the seventies was Hartman’s hobby in the nineties; Stephen Root recalled to Grantland that the actor drew a lot on set.
9. JUDD APATOW WAS THE UNCREDITED VOICE OF GOOFY BALL.
The 1995 "Goofy Ball" episode found Mr. James tasking Matthew, Beth, and Joe with testing an “annoying” toy being made by one of his companies. Apatow had only been credited in one TV show and one movie before this voice gig, but is labeled as a celebrity guest star on the official DVD.
10. RON JEREMY IS IN MR. JAMES’ BOOK READING AUDIENCE FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON.
He has no lines, and is uncredited for appearing in the scene from the classic episode "Super Karate Monkey Death Car.”
11. DAVE ACCIDENTALLY HEARING THE STAFF COMPLAIN ABOUT HIM WAS BASED ON AN INCIDENT IN THE SHOW’S WRITERS’ ROOM.
“Bitch Session” came about after Paul Simms accidentally heard his writers complaining about him.
12. EVEN SIMMS WAS SURPRISED THAT THEY GOT TO MAKE SO MANY STAR WARS REFERENCES.
After “Presence” made several visual and spoken references to Boba Fett, the closing credits read that Boba Fett was provided by “J.T. Hutt.” Simms was “shocked” that LucasFilm gave them permission to discuss and show an action figure of one of their characters at all.
13. NBC RE-AIRED AN EPISODE AS ONE LONG "POP-UP VIDEO."
“Our Fiftieth Episode” got the then-popular VH1 show treatment on April Fool's Day in 1998, 364 days after its initial airing. One “fact bubble” read that Charlton Heston had turned down a request to appear on NewsRadio because he had never heard of the show.
14. KHANDI ALEXANDER LEFT THE SHOW TO DO MORE DRAMA.
The opening credits of the show were re-edited in the season four episode “Catherine Moves On” to show Alexander’s character slapping the male cast members in the face.
15. A RADIO MAGAZINE PUT PHIL HARTMAN ON ITS COVER FOLLOWING HIS DEATH.
Months after Hartman was murdered, NewsRadio returned for its fifth and final season with its characters returning from the funeral of his character. The actual Radio Ink cover that featured a remembrance of Hartman was visible on Dave’s desk throughout that season.
16. JON LOVITZ PLAYED THREE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS.
He was Fred in “Our Fiftieth Episode" and the suicidal Mike Johnson in “Jumper” before replacing the late Hartman. It took Lovitz weeks to decide whether or not to accept the role of Max Lewis, the character that would replace his close friend and former SNL co-star. Rob Schneider and Patrick Warburton were also considered to play Max.
17. NBC STANDARDS AND PRACTICES WOULD NOT ALLOW AN EPISODE TO AIR FOR OVER A YEAR.
“The Injury” was only finally allowed on television after the show’s staff cut down the number of times the word “penis” was spoken. The edited version is on the DVD, while the unedited version made its way to syndication.
18. A NETWORK EXECUTIVE THOUGHT THE SHOW WASN’T POPULAR BECAUSE THE CHARACTERS WERE MEAN.
Simms defended his show by pointing out that "Even in the most contemptuous relationship—like between Dave Foley's character and Phil Hartman's—Dave's always helping Phil save face. And... what about Seinfeld?"
19. NBC WANTED DAVE AND LISA TO GET MARRIED.
In response to the request, an episode was written where Mr. James bugs Lisa to stage a stunt wedding for the radio station.
20. A WRITER WORE A SHIRT WITH THE SHOW’S BAD NIELSEN RANKING ON IT.
It was considered to be “gallows humor,” since NewsRadio was ranked a dismal 97th at the time.
21. PAUL SIMMS BELIEVED THAT NBC KILLED NEWSRADIO.
A very frustrated Paul Simms was fed up with NBC moving his show to different days and times. He infamously gave a profanity-laced interview to Rolling Stone in 1997, near the end of the show's fourth season. Among other things, Simms said that NBC “killed the show,” and described the network's Thursday night lineup as being “like a big double-decker shit sandwich with three good pieces of bread.” After Simms told the reporter to not print the quote, he quickly changed his mind, reasoning that if NewsRadio was the lowest-rated sitcom on NBC, “it can’t get any worse.” Despite its creator adopting a sunnier public attitude about his bosses for the next year or so, low ratings finally led to the show’s cancellation in 1999 after five seasons and 97 episodes.