Emmy commemorative: Hartman’s legacy

'Newsradio's' strong cast kept it afloat

Despite lackluster ratings, the slapstick laffer “NewsRadio” managed to receive enough critical support to stick around for most of the late 1990s.

“NewsRadio” never garnered any awards, and the sitcom always seemed on the verge of cancellation. Yet the program qualifies as one of the great workplace comedies of all time, on par with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Murphy Brown.”

The show’s premise was simple: The crazy goings-on at low-rated New York all-news radio station WNYX. “The Kids in the Hall” alum Dave Foley played the station’s boyish news director Dave Nelson, who was recruited from Wisconsin by eccentric owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root).

“NewsRadio’s” strong cast also included Andy Dick, Joe Rogan (now host of NBC’s “Fear Factor”), Vicki Lewis (now on NBC’s “Three Sisters”), Maura Tierney (now on NBC’s “ER”) and Khandi Alexander (who simultaneously recurred on “ER” as Eriq LaSalle’s sister).

And in his first major post- “Saturday Night Live” role, Phil Hartman played self-absorbed news anchor Bill McNeal. Hartman was slain in May 1998, just days after the skein narrowly escaped its own demise. NBC picked up the sitcom for another season after producer Brillstein-Grey ceded a piece of the show’s ownership to NBC Studios.

Hartman was later nominated posthumously for supporting comedy actor honors for his work in the ensemble piece.

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