Judging by the pilot, there’s no reason to think any new sitcom territory will be charted, but NBC may have a modest hit on its hands with the dyspeptic “NewsRadio.” Being sandwiched between “Wings” and “Frasier” won’t hurt its chances.
James Burrows directs the premiere episode, written by creator Paul Simms (“The Larry Sanders Show”). Presumably, newsrooms are popular sitcom workplaces because plenty of characters with above-average intelligence can be packed into a small, pressurized space.
Among the ensemble at New York radio station WNYX are news director Dave Nelson (David Foley), off-the-wall owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root) and smarmy newscaster Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman).
It’s Dave’s first day on the job, and he has to fire his boorish predecessor (Kurt Fuller). Situation provides ample humor, although the writing generally indicates that the scripters believe brusqueness equals laughs. A fairly weak prologue and ponderous first five minutes establish Dave’s character. In the second half the ensemble gets going. In full stride, “NewsRadio” is on a high, if familiar, level.
Foley (formerly a member of the Kids in the Hall) limns an earnest Wisconsin boy, easily discombobulated, whose behavior is borderline slapstick; series creators seem to be shooting for a puckish Dick Van Dyke.
Although Foley’s Dave proves his mettle as the series’ Everyman, the character is a somewhat risky choice for lead because he doesn’t provide a strong center for the group. But this may not matter if a dynamic ensemble chemistry evolves.
Viewers may soon grow tired of Root’s rude station owner. Hartman (in his first post-“Saturday Night Live” series) has nailed the pompous newscaster and, with some of the better lines, he’s the most realized and recognizable figure. Andy Dick is a howl as the hypersensitive reporter Matthew. There’s a stab at romantic tension between Dave and the competent news writer, Lisa (Maura Tierney).
Deadpan secretary Beth (Vicki Lewis) and repairman Rick (Greg Lee) get to fling obnoxious barbs.
“NewsRadio” features a group of caustic neurotics that many viewers will find entertaining. But nothing especially creative is introduced. There is a strong feeling of having listened to this station before — which could mean a long run.