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WKRP in Cincinnati
WKRP in Cincinnati.jpg
Title Card
Format Sitcom
Created by Hugh Wilson
Starring Gary Sandy
Howard Hesseman
Gordon Jump
Loni Anderson
Tim Reid
Jan Smithers
Richard Sanders
Frank Bonner
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 88 (90 in syndication)
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel CBS
Original run September 18, 1978 – September 20, 1982
Followed by The New WKRP in Cincinnati

WKRP in Cincinnati is an American situation comedy that featured the misadventures of the staff of a struggling fictional radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. The show was created by Hugh Wilson and was based upon his experiences working in advertising as a client of a classic album-oriented rock radio station. The ensemble cast consisted of Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner.[1]

As was typical of most MTM productions, the humor came more from running gags based on the known predilections and quirks of each character, rather than from outlandish plots or racy situations since the show has a realistic setting. The characters also developed somewhat over the course of the series.

The series won a Humanitas Prize and received 10 Emmy Award nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. Andy Ackerman won an Emmy Award for Videotape Editing in season 3.

WKRP premiered September 18, 1978, on the CBS television network and aired for four seasons and 88 episodes (90 in syndication) through September 20, 1982. During the third and fourth seasons, CBS repeatedly moved the show around its schedule, contributing to its eventual cancellation.

When WKRP went into syndication, it became an unexpected blockbuster. For the next decade, it was one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication, outperforming many much bigger prime time hits, including all the other MTM Enterprises sitcoms.

Jump, Sanders, and Bonner reprised their supporting roles in a spin-off/sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1991 to 1993 in syndication.



New programming director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly-incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, oily sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters, and spaced-out veteran disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey from New Orleans, Venus Flytrap. Lurking in the background and making an occasional appearance is ruthless business tycoon Mrs. Carlson, the station's owner (and Arthur Carlson's mother).


Les Nessman and Johnny Fever in the studio
Johnny Fever flirts with Jennifer
Bailey Quarters and Andy Travis
  • Andy Travis (Gary Sandy). For the most part, program director Andy Travis serves as the straight man for the eccentric staff of the station he has been hired to run. Before coming to WKRP, he had an unblemished record of turning around failing radio stations, but meets his match in his wacky staff members, of whom he becomes distressingly fond. The show's opening theme song is about Andy and his decision to settle down in Cincinnati; in the episode "The Creation of Venus", Andy echoes the opening theme lyrics in talking about his past ("Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial").
  • 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 ultimately a principled, kind, decent and sometimes surprisingly wise man. (Coincidentally, Gordon Jump in real life had been a Dayton, Ohio, radio personality)
  • Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is a burned-out veteran disc jockey who came to WKRP after being fired from a major station in Los Angeles when he said "booger" on the air. After the station changes format, one of his first on-air words (after being told he would not be fired for saying it) is "booger." Cynical and neurotic, he is usually in one sort of trouble or another. Though the character's real name is John Caravella, he often uses a stage name, notably including Johnny Cool, Johnny Duke, Johnny Style, Johnny Midnight, Johnny Sunshine, Professor Sunshine, Rip Tide and Heavy Early. This role is possibly Howard Hesseman's signature role. Hesseman had been briefly a disc jockey.
  • Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the fastidious, bow-tied news reporter, approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite being almost totally incompetent. For instance, he mispronounces golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez's name as "Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweeze". He is best friends with fellow employee Herb Tarlek. As a running gag, Nessman wears a bandage in a different spot each episode. It is suggested that these bandages are the result of repeated attacks by Phil, Nessman's monstrous dog (who is never seen but is heard growling offstage in another room in Nessman's apartment). In fact, the bandages are a running in-joke. During the taping of the pilot episode, Richard Sanders bumped his head on a studio light and had to wear a bandage to cover the cut. From then on, Sanders decided, Les Nessman would always wear a bandage. Other gags are Nessman winning the "Silver Sow" award for hog reporting and having masking tape on the carpet in front of his desk-which represent Nessman's office "Walls". WKRP is sometimes promoted as "The station with more music and Les Nessman."
  • Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the station's gorgeous blonde receptionist, and the station's highest-paid employee. Despite her image, she is informed, wise, and able to handle practically any situation with aplomb, no matter how absurd. Although very aware of her sex appeal, with various wealthy, powerful men at her beck and call, she is friendly and good-hearted with the station staff.
  • Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), full name Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr., the boorish, tasteless advertising account executive, wears loud plaid suits, with his belt matching his white shoes. He can't land the big accounts, usually succeeding only in selling air time for trivial products such as "Red Wrigglers — the Cadillac of worms!" Although married to Lucille (Edie McClurg), he persistently pursues Jennifer, who has absolutely no interest in him. While Herb is portrayed as buffoonish most of the time, he does occasionally show a sympathetic side. Tarlek was based on radio executive Clarke Brown.[2][3]
  • Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), the soulful, funky evening DJ, runs his show with a smooth-talking persona and mood lighting in the studio. His real name, Gordon Sims, is almost never used and he maintains an aura of mystery. In an early episode, it is revealed that Gordon Sims is a Vietnam veteran who is wanted for desertion from the US Army. In later episodes, Venus's backstory is changed, and it is revealed that he spent several years as a high-school teacher before becoming a radio personality.
  • Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), the young ingénue of the radio station, is originally in charge of billing and station traffic. However, having graduated from journalism school with some training in editing, and intent on becoming a broadcast executive, she is later given additional duties as an on-air news reporter, in which capacity she proves much more capable than Les. As the series progresses, she overcomes her shyness and develops self-confidence. Beginning with the second season, she occasionally becomes linked romantically with Johnny Fever. The dynamic between Jennifer and Bailey has been likened to that between Ginger and Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. Jan Smithers was one of the few WKRP cast members who was the first choice for the role she played (Gordon Jump being the other one).[1] Creator Hugh Wilson said that despite Smithers' lack of experience (she had never done a situation comedy before), she was perfect for the character of Bailey as he had conceived her: "Other actresses read better for the part," Wilson recalled, "but they were playing shy. Jan was shy."[1]
  • Mrs. Carlson (Sylvia Sidney in the series pilot, Carol Bruce afterward) 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. In the final episode of the series, it is revealed that she had always intended WKRP to lose money (for the tax writeoff), which explains why she allows the incompetent employees to continue working at the station. The only one who is regularly able to get the better of her is her sarcastic butler, Hirsch (Ian Wolfe). She and Hirsch are not regular characters, only appearing in three or four episodes each season.
  • Three other DJs at the station are mentioned, but (with one exception) never seen: Moss Steiger has the graveyard shift after Venus and is mentioned as having attempted suicide at least twice; Rex Erhardt (who was finally seen in the fourth season episode "Rumors") hosts a program after Dr. Johnny Fever's morning show; and "Dean the Dream" has the afternoon drive slot. Another DJ, Doug Winner (Philip Charles MacKenzie), is hired and fired in the same episode ("Goodbye Johnny...Part 2").
  • Series writer Bill Dial occasionally shows up as engineer Bucky Dornster.
  • Longtime actor William Woodson (though not credited) served as the announcer of the series (imploring the audience to stay tuned for the tag scene, in the episodes that had one) and did various voice-over roles during the run, including the pre-recorded announcer of the intro/outro to Les' newscasts, and the narrator of the trial results in the first season episode "Hold Up".


In the pilot episode, Andy Travis comes to the station as the new Program Director, hired to improve the dismal ratings of the beautiful music station, run by weak-willed Arthur Carlson. Travis abruptly changes the programming format to rock music, but WKRP's ratings fail to improve significantly in the Cincinnati market (although even the mild rise that does occur is considered wonderful by the other employees), mostly because of his unwillingness to fire the existing personnel when he takes over; their idiosyncrasies are more to blame for the station's fortunes than its format.

One of WKRP in Cincinnati's best-known and most-loved episodes ("Turkeys Away") is a comic account of a disastrous promotion initiated by Carlson. As a publicity stunt, the station drops live turkeys out of a helicopter over a shopping center as a Thanksgiving Day giveaway. The domestic turkeys, which cannot fly, plunge to their deaths as shoppers run for their lives. The entire event, however, occurs entirely off-screen, as the viewer only sees and hears Les Nessman describe the scene in words reminiscent of Herbert Morrison's reporting of the Hindenburg disaster. A shaken Arthur Carlson later remarks, "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." It was named by TV Guide as one of the greatest episodes in television history. This episode, along with the "dancing ducks" episode, is based on real events occurring at WQXI in Atlanta, a station at which series creator Hugh Wilson worked while in the advertising business.[4]

The episode "In Concert" was inspired by a real event: the tragic concert by The Who in Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum on December 3, 1979.

Time slots

The show started out performing badly; placed in a tough time slot, it got poor ratings and was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away". But due to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that really understood the radio business, CBS decided to bring WKRP back without any cast changes.

WKRP was given a new time slot, one of the best on the network, following M*A*S*H. This allowed creator Hugh Wilson to move away from farcical radio-based stories, which is what CBS mostly wanted at the beginning, and start telling stories that, while not necessarily serious, were more low-key and character-based. To allow the ensemble to mingle more, the set was expanded. A previously unseen communal office area ("the bullpen") was added to accommodate scenes with the entire cast.

Partway through the second season, the show was moved back to its original earlier time. CBS executives wanted to free up the prized post-M*A*S*H slot for House Calls (with former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers). They also felt that the rock n' roll music and the sex appeal of Loni Anderson were better-suited to the earlier slot, which at that time was thought of as mostly aimed at young people. For the next two seasons, the writers and producers often had to fight CBS over what kind of content was appropriate for a show in the so-called "family hour".

During the third and fourth seasons, CBS moved WKRP around repeatedly, so much so that cast and crew members claimed that even they didn't know when the show aired. After the fourth season, the network decided not to renew the show. The final first-run episode of WKRP to air was seventh in the weekly Nielsen ratings for all series, specials and sports events. Prior to the broadcast, the series had already been cancelled.


WKRP was videotaped before a live studio audience at Goldenwest Videotape Division, later moving to the CBS Studio Center.[5]

In the opening credits for the episode titled "Fish Story", Hugh Wilson went under the name of Raoul Plager. He was under pressure by CBS to write a more broad comedy, but since he didn't want to be credited for work that he believed was beneath him, he used the alias. The episode turned out to be the highest rated in the show's run.

Los Angeles disc jockey Steve Marshall of KNX-FM submitted a spec script for WKRP which was bought by the producers. He later joined the writing staff of the show, briefly holding down both jobs simultaneously.

Producers Dan Guntzelman and Steve Marshall also created and produced Just the Ten of Us, which featured Frank Bonner in a supporting role as a Catholic priest. Blake Hunter co-created Who's the Boss?.

George Gaynes directed the finale episode ("Up and Down the Dial"). Gaynes is best known for playing Henry Warnimont on Punky Brewster and Eric Lassard in the Police Academy movies.

Fact vs. fiction


The "real" WKRP people

Characters on the show were based on real people, including those known by executive producer Hugh Wilson.[6] The character of Arthur Carlson was based on an actual person, as was Dr. Johnny Fever. The real Arthur Carlson managed a group of radio stations across the country under the name Susquehanna Radio. Based in York, Pennsylvania, it was one of the first radio "chains" to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Susquehanna was owned by the Appell family, and is now known as CMPSusquehanna, the "CMP" standing for Cumulus Media Partners after a 2007 merger with Cumulus. Carlson also was a past president of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB).

Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI-AM in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968).[6] WKRP writer Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial's inspiration for the show. Hugh Wilson was an Atlanta ad man then, before going on to create WKRP in Cincinnati.[6] Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including 7 in Atlanta.[6] In 1997, Bobby Harper told WSB's Condace Pressley, "He went on record as pointing out which ones, including myself, that he based the characters on. It [that recognition] was a nice little thing. You know? That was nice. I appreciated that." [6]

Bailey Quarters was based on Hugh Wilson's wife, who was also extremely shy, very intelligent and remarkably beautiful.

The "real" WKRP stations

The first assignment of the callsign was in September 1979,[7] to a new, daytime only, AM station in Dallas, Georgia, in the metro Atlanta area. At first, the FCC denied the call letters to the new station, stating that MTM had a 'hold' on the callsign. When the station's lawyer pointed out to the FCC, "MTM is neither a licensee, nor a permittee. Therefore, MTM has no legal basis to reserve the WKRP callsign", they allowed the assignment. In August 1989, the station switched to its current calls, WDPC.

The call letters WKRP (supposedly a pun on the word "crap") were assigned to a low-power TV station in Washington, DC until 2005; it is now WDDN-LP. Currently, they are assigned to a low-power TV station (WKRP-LP) in Alexandria, Tennessee.[8][9] The call letters are not currently assigned to any AM or FM radio station, and any potential user would have to obtain permission from the TV station owners and the FCC. These call letters were most recently assigned to an AM station in North Vernon, Indiana, about 60 miles from Cincinnati, but the call sign was changed to WNVI in 1997 (the station's calls are now WJCP). Another television station, WLPX-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, held the "WKRP" calls from 1988 to 1998, when the call letters were changed to its present calls. However, the calls were never used on-air—the station did not sign on until August 31, 1998, after the calls were changed.

Though WKRP was never identified by frequency in the original series (although it was on the AM dial), it was identified as being at AM 1530 in the 1991 series remake (which, in reality, was the original and current frequency for Cincinnati-based WCKY). Coincidentally, Cincinnati boasts the similarly-named WKRC radio and WKRC-TV, which were co-owned entities (under the Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting and its successor companies, and eventually Clear Channel) until the early years of the 21st Century. At the time of the original series' airing, the CBS-TV affiliate in Cincinnati was WCPO-TV.

WEBN, a Cincinnati radio station, originally had a classical and jazz format but eventually changed format to album-oriented rock, a format which continues to this day. In real life, the transition to rock-and-roll was gradual, unlike the fictional WKRP where the rapid change was played up for comedic effect in the opening two episodes.[10]

Cincinnati also has a very popular rock/pop station called WKRQ (aka Q102) which was on the air during the show - and was also co-owned with WKRC-AM/TV at the time. This station is also referenced (among many now defunct Cincinnati stations) in the episode "The Airplane" as a direct competitor to the fictional WKRP.

WKRP's signal power was displayed in a radius on a framed picture of the Midwest in the front lobby. The poster on the pilot episode stated that WKRP had a 50,000 watt signal, but all later episodes downgraded the station's power to 5,000 watts (which is the operating power for WKRC-AM).

In the 1980s, a radio station in Salt Lake City, KRPN (now KMRI) identified itself on-air as "WKRP in Salt Lake City, The Oldies Network". For legal purposes, the calls were actually read as "W KRPN Salt Lake City", with everything after the "W" complying with FCC standards for station identification.

The transmission tower seen at the beginning of WKRP in Cincinnati actually belonged to Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, WLWT.[11] The tower has since been dismantled.

The building shown as the home of WKRP and referred to as the Flimm Building was the Enquirer Building at 617 Vine St. in downtown Cincinnati. The real Cincinnati Enquirer relocated its offices in the early 1990s.

Just before WKRP in Cincinnati left the air, a small AM station in the Cincinnati market flipped from a Country format to a Rock format. In 1981, 500 watt daytime station WCLU-AM 1320 based in Covington, Kentucky, became "Cincinnati's AM Rock." By 1983 it had evolved into a straight Top 40 station and remained so until April 1987. The on-air studio was very similar to that shown on "WKRP", with its rotary pot console and turntables covered in green felt. This station eventually changed call letters to WCVG and became the nation's first "All Elvis" station in 1988. It is now one of Cincinnati's two AM gospel stations.

In November 2008, Cincinnati low-power television station WBQC-CA changed its branding to "WKRP-TV",[12] and the station's owner, Block Broadcasting, has registered "WKRP" and "WKRP Cincinnati" as trademarks.[13][14] It is of no relation to the Alexandria, Tennessee, station.

Also the call letters of WKRP's main competing station in the show, WPIG, are now those for a country station based in Olean NY.


Musical themes

WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show. The opening theme, called "WKRP In Cincinnati Main Theme", was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and performed by Steve Carlisle. An urban legend had circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to Carlisle) had actually recorded the song. Wilson stated in the commentary for the first season's DVD set that this was simply not true.

A full-length version of the original theme song was released in 1979 on a 45 rpm vinyl single on the MCA Records label. It peaked at 65 on the Pop Singles chart in 1981 and at 29 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1982. The lyrics refer to the life of character Andy Travis.

The closing theme, "WKRP In Cincinnati End Credits", was a hard rock number composed and performed by Jim Ellis, an Atlanta musician who recorded some of the incidental music for the show. According to people who attended the recording sessions, Ellis didn't yet have lyrics for the closing theme, so he sang nonsense words to give an idea of how it would sound. Wilson decided to use the words anyway, since he felt that it would be funny to use lyrics that were deliberately gibberish, as a satire on the incomprehensibility of many rock songs.[15] Also, because CBS always had an announcer talking over the closing credits, Wilson knew that no one would actually hear the closing theme lyrics anyway. In one pop-cultural nod to the closing theme, a character performs the song in the film Ready to Rumble. The closing theme is also played at the end of the syndicated morning radio show The Big Show with John Boy and Billy.

Music licensing

DVD cover for the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati

The show was one of the earliest to use extensively contemporary music by big groups and artists of the time such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, to name a few.

The show's use of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was widely credited with helping the song become a major US hit, and the band's record label Chrysalis Records presented the producers with a gold record award for the album Parallel Lines, on which the song appeared. This gold record can be seen hanging on the wall in the "bull pen" where Les, Herb, and Bailey worked in many of the episodes in the second, third, and fourth seasons.

The songs were often tied into the plot of the episode. One of the most popular examples was "A Date With Jennifer", where Les was dressing in the bullpen for his date with Jennifer that evening, with Foreigner's then-current hit "Hot Blooded" playing on the station's speaker monitor, with Les moving to the music as he was getting ready. This song was cut from the episode on the DVD release and replaced with a generic sound-alike.

Music licensing deals cut at the time of production were for a limited amount of time (approximately ten years). In addition, the show was videotaped rather than filmed because it was cheaper to get the rights to rock songs for a taped show.[citation needed] Once the licenses expired, later syndicated versions of the show did not feature the music as first broadcast, but rather generic "sound-alikes" by studio musicians to avoid paying additional royalties. In some cases (when the music was playing in the background of a dialogue scene), some of the characters' lines had to be redubbed by sound-alike actors. This was evident in all prints of the show issued since the early 1990s, which included its brief late-1990s run on Nick at Nite.

As a result, production on a WKRP DVD was delayed for years because of the expense of procuring music licenses. It was feared that fans would reject edited versions. Sales of first-season DVD sets of Roseanne and The Cosby Show suggested that viewers prefer original, uncut episodes. However, as was done with many other television series, the DVD release of WKRP in Cincinnati - Season One has much of the music replaced by generic substitutes. In addition, some scenes have been cut or truncated and voice-overs used to avoid using unlicensed musical content.[16] Other scenes that were originally edited for television and thus never before seen, were added back into the episodes and giving viewers the backstory which further explained a later scene that appeared in the episode. According to TV Guide magazine, creator Hugh Wilson said he was "satisfied" with the final product for DVD release.

A 2009 syndication package of the show, however, aired as part of "Outta Sight Retro Nights", a flashback TV block aired Sunday nights on the national WGN America cable TV service with promos voiced by Casey Kasem, which appears to have all of the original music intact according to published references about the original release.[17]

DVD releases

DVD Season Ep # Region 1 Region 2 Comments
Season 1 22 April 24, 2007 "Do My Eyes Say Yes?" featurette, "A 'Fish Story' Story" featurette, two commentary tracks featuring creator Hugh Wilson and cast members Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner
Season 1 6 yes "As God as my witness...", when Carlson sneaks up on Johnny in the booth, the music playing in the original broadcast was Pink Floyd's song "Dogs" from their Animals LP (album cover shown in the scene), but in the DVD release, it is not.
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4


  1. ^ a b c Kassel, Michael B., ''America's Favorite Radio Station: WKRP in Cincinnati'' Popular Press (1993) ISBN 0879725842, 9780879725846. 2003-06-26. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  2. ^ "Brown To Receive BCFM's Lifetime Achievement Award". 
  3. ^ "Radio's Call To Arms". 
  4. ^ "Radio honors real-life WKRP manager". Atlanta Journal Constitution. 1996-11-14. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 
  5. ^ Evanier, Mark (2006-01-13). "WKRP in Cincinnati". Old TV Tickets. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Radio Broadcasting History: Radio People by Name (H)". 440 International, Inc.. 2008. pp. entry for Skinny Bobby Harper. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  7. ^ "FCC Call Sign History for WDPC". FCC records. 
  8. ^ "Call Sign - Query". FCC Media Desk. 
  9. ^ "(Alexandria, TN) website". Wkrp-Tv. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  10. ^ "WEBN". Wikipedia. 
  11. ^ Fybush, Scott (2003-01-30). "Looking for "WKRP": Cincinnati, Part II". NorthEast Radio Watch. 
  12. ^ "Station takes call letters of TV show". Associated Press. November 29, 2008. 
  13. ^ "WKRP-TV website". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  14. ^ "Trademark Electronic Search System". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved November 30, 2008. 
  15. ^ "Television". Jim Ellis Music. 
  16. ^ Lacey, Gord (2007-03-31). "WKRP in Cincinnati DVD news: List of 'WKRP' music changes". 
  17. ^ "Something Old, Nothing New: WKRP DVD Not OK". 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 

External links

Herb Tarlek (Herbert Ruggles Tarlek Jr., born 1946) is a character on the television situation comedy WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982). He was played by actor Frank Bonner. He also starred as the same character on the sequel, The New WKRP in Cincinnati.


Sales manager not so extraordinaire

Herb is the sales manager at radio station WKRP, but he is unable to get any major advertising agencies to buy time on the station, partly because of WKRP's poor ratings and partly because the advertising agency people loathe Herb personally. The clients Herb does get for the station are often disreputable or sleazy, like Shady Hills Rest Home, Gone With the Wind Estates, Ferryman Funeral Homes, and Dave Wickerman, whose "diet pills" turned out to be a legalized form of speed. Herb's most reliable advertising client is Red Wigglers (the "Cadillac of Worms"), though the owner of Red Wigglers, Harvey Green, pulled his commercials off WKRP after the Religious Right threatens a boycott of the station's advertisers ("a lot of religious people fish"). Herb's only real skill is knowing how to collect money from deadbeat clients, often by blackmailing them. He admits to program director Andy Travis that it took time to develop that skill, saying of one client: "He did that to me [failed to pay up] twenty times. Then I got smart."

Herb also repeats this skill in The New WKRP in Cincinnati, where he bails rookie salesman Arthur Carlson, Jr. out of a ticket trade scam for a freak show operator. Though the contract legally binds the station to air the show's ads, Herb is released from the contract after he threatens to take legal action against the promoter, who has habitually left a string of unpaid debts to other radio stations.

Herb is best known for his atrocious taste in clothes. He always wears a white belt and white shoes; most of his suits are made of polyester and are covered in loud plaid patterns. He claims to get his suits in a golf pro shop in Kentucky; no one else makes his kind of clothes anymore due to anti-pollution laws. While Herb's co-workers mock his fashion sense ("Somewhere there's a Volkswagen without seat covers"), Herb claims that his suits put his clients at ease, conveying the message "trust me, sign my deal! I know what I'm doing." He is proven right in the episode "Changes", when he switches over to a tasteful wardrobe; his lowbrow clients don't trust someone with such a highbrow wardrobe, and Herb quickly returns to his old way of dressing.

Herb prefers personal luxury cars for what he believes is necessary for a job of his caliber. In the episode "Baby If You've Ever Wondered", he suggests an across-the-board raise (which he calculates by taking away Carlson's share of the station sales commissions). When he figures out the final sum, he tosses the calculator on his desk, declaring "Oh yes, we are definitely talking Cordoba!" This is realized in the subsequent episode "Real Families", where his car is indeed revealed to be a 1980 Chrysler Cordoba.

Herb sometimes tries to make money by doing other things on the side, like selling life insurance or running a numbers racket. He also collects kickbacks from his advertising clients and from the disc jockeys (for getting them endorsements and other outside work); in the pilot he boasts that "they don't call me 'Mr. Kickback' for nothing."

At WKRP, Herb is considered a troublemaker and "general jackass" by his co-workers, but they all have a certain grudging affection for him. Jennifer Marlowe intervenes on Herb's behalf on several occasions, both in personal matters (such as trying to convince Herb's wife to accept him back during a brief separation) and in his professional foul-ups (such as trying to save Herb's job by attempting to deceive a dissatisfied client, who ultimately turned out to be sympathetic). Venus Flytrap also saved Herb's job on one occasion; a jealous Herb had lied about a job offer he received, hoping to get the same response Venus got when he received an actual job offer. Venus used a counter-offer from Andy to get Herb his job back, telling Andy they were a "package deal" (and "soul brothers").

Personal life

Herb is married to Lucille (Edie McClurg), a slightly overweight and feisty brunette with a high-pitched voice, and has two children: Bunny, a smart girl with an interest in animals and the environment, and Herb III, a shy boy who likes to play with dolls, much to Herb's chagrin. In the episode Real Families, Herb's family is profiled on a network TV reality show. Herb tries to convey the impression that he is a hard working, clean-living all-American guy, but as the episode goes on, the TV hosts systematically expose his incompetence as a worker and as a family man. At the end, Herb throws the camera crew out of his house, but still remains so desperate to be on television that he accepts an invitation to fly out to Hollywood and meet the hosts-who claims that their next "Guests" are a red head housewife and her cuban husband {an injoke reference to the old I Love Lucy show}. In Never Leave Me, Lucille, Herb and Lucille briefly split up, while in Frog Story, he causes the death of his daughter's pet frog by accidentally spray-painting it. When asked (in "Real Families") what she sees in Herb, Lucille smiles and replies "he's got a great body."

Herb's widowed father, Herbert R. Tarlek Sr. (Bert Parks) was himself a traveling salesman, with a similar wardrobe and outlook on life to that of Herb. However, he is more charming than his son, and more successful at his trade, as proven when he sells an entire collection of knockoff Indian jewelry to Carlson in the episode "Herb's Dad". It is eventually revealed that Herb and his father came to an arrangement; his dad retired and went into the Shady Hills rest home, and in return Herb cut the rest home a deal for commercials on WKRP. However, Herb Sr. grew restless and went to see his son at the station. Initially fooling Herb into thinking he was dying, Herb Sr. eventually admits to his son that he still feels he has a few good traveling years in him (along with a blonde female nurse for company) and wants to go to California. Herb initially resisted his father's wishes (which also caused some resentment among Herb's co-workers, particularly Bailey and Jennifer who had been charmed by Herb Sr.), but eventually came around to his dad's way of thinking and even gave Herb Sr. $1000 for traveling money.

Herb constantly hits on the station's receptionist, Jennifer Marlowe, and tells every man he meets that he and Jennifer are a couple (a fact he admits to her in the episode "Fire", when the two are trapped in an elevator during a fire). Jennifer finally agrees to go on a date with him in the episode Put Up or Shut Up, in order to call Herb's bluff; however, Herb is so nervous at even the remotest thought of his fantasies finally coming true that he begins to hyperventilate (an act he repeats in later episodes when under stress), as well as admitting to Jennifer that he feels guilty over the possibility of cheating on his wife. However, there were moments prior to this when Herb showed concern for Jennifer beyond her sexual appeal, such as when he tried to comfort her after a blow-up with her childhood sweetheart (in the episode "I Do, I Do...For Now").

Though he doesn't like to admit it publicly, he is faithful to Lucille; the closest he ever came to adultery was during the episode Hotel Oceanview, where he got drunk and began kissing a woman he vaguely recognized from high school, but couldn't place...who turned out to be a man who had undergone sex reassignment surgery (when she informed Herb of this, Herb's initial response was to curl up in the fetal position, and then protest to everyone that "just because I kissed him, that doesn't make me gay.").

Herb also tends to drink too much, and at one point, his three-martini lunches with clients leads him to the brink of full-blown alcoholism. In the episode "Out to Lunch", Herb's reliance on alcohol to try and land customers causes him to blow a deal with a small record store, while he tries to lock down a deal with a representative from a large ad agency (Craig T. Nelson). Eventually, the rep admits that he was fired from the agency weeks ago; Herb realizes that due to his own inebriation, he was unable to see that the rep was just stringing him along for free food and drink. Despondent, Herb is eventually forced to face up to his issues by station manager Arthur Carlson, who convinces him to get the problem under control before it is too late.

He has a fondness for pornographic movies with titles like Kick Me, Kiss Me, and in one episode he sneaks out of the hospital (where he has been admitted for heart tests) to take Les Nessman to a theater where they show adult films in 3-D. He sometimes writes letters to Penthouse magazine, though they are never published. He is once arrested on a morals charge, though he maintains that "it's a complete lie -- I don't even know the names of those girls!"

Out of his co-workers at the station, Herb tends to be the closest to Les Nessman. Les and Herb tend to have a love-hate relationship, as Herb routinely insults and derides Les. At one point, a jealous Herb tried to have Les' date with Jennifer for an awards banquet broken by manipulating Mr. Carlson, and at another time even goosed Les' mother, thinking she was Les in drag (as they strongly resembled each other). In turn, Les seriously injured Herb when pulling him along on a hang glider for a promotional stunt (Les had stopped at a stoplight, causing the glider to plummet to the ground). However, Les and Herb have also shown signs of strong friendship. When Herb's wife threw him out, Les pleaded Herb's case to the others at the station so he could have a place to stay. In the episode "Les on a Ledge", when Les was considering suicide (due to rumors that he was homosexual) by jumping off a ledge outside Mr. Carlson's office, Herb eventually went out on the ledge himself to get Les to come back in (and ended up falling onto the firemen's nets several stories below, incurring yet another serious injury). Les once described their relationship by saying "I hate him, but he is my best friend."

Behind the scenes

The writers of WKRP did many episodes focusing on Herb; in the third season of the series, no less than six of the twenty-two episodes were Herb stories. One writer, Peter Torokvei, said that horribly flawed characters like Herb were more interesting to write for than a more self-assured character like Jennifer Marlowe. Another staff writer, Steven Kampmann, recalled that he liked writing for Herb because he was one of the few characters on the show with a wife and family, which added more dimensions to his character.

Frank Bonner directed six episodes of the series.

The role of Herb Tarlek was originally offered to the character actor Rod McCary, but he turned it down to appear in another series.

Cultural references

Canadian band Rheostatics paid tribute to Herb Tarlek in their song, "The Tarleks", in which Bonner reprised his famous role in the music video.[1]

In the mid-1980's, an Ann Arbor punk band was called the Herb Tarlicks. Their signature song was "Call Me an Asshole". Typically, the band would implore the audience to do so, and the audience responded as such.


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