BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Loni Anderson has discovered the fountain of youth. It's
a delicate mixture of equal parts reruns and fan mail.
" 'WKRP' has been running somewhere in the world since it
went off the air in 1982, and I still get fan mail from all
over the world. I'm getting tons from Germany right now, so
it must be on over there. Some people don't realize how old
the show is, how long ago it went off the air. Little kids
write to me saying, 'I know you're older — you must be 20 --
but will you wait for me?,' " Anderson said in an interview
"I love that kind of fan mail."
The TV show that made Anderson a star, "WKRP in
Cincinnati," begins its run on Nick at Nite this week. The
network launches the reruns with a five-day, 40-episode
marathon beginning Monday night, unofficially enshrining
the show as a classic in Nick at Nite's virtual on-air
television hall of fame.
The marathon will run each night this week from 8 p.m.
to midnight on Tulsa cable channel 33 and will be hosted by
Anderson, who played clever receptionist Jennifer Marlowe,
and her "WKRP" co-star, Howard Hesseman, who played the
incorrigible DJ Dr. Johnny Fever. Anderson said she's
enjoyed seeing the show brought back into the limelight,
though the series is no stranger to rerun ratings routs.
The show ran for four seasons, '78-'82, and actually became
more popular in syndication. Executives at CBS realized the
mistake of canceling the show when reruns of "WKRP" topped
Monday Night Football a year later.
"I'd forgotten a lot of it — and how funny it was,"
Anderson said. "I laughed out loud, which to me is the true
test of a comedy."
"WKRP" was a smart sitcom set in a struggling Cincinnati
radio station, which makes the abrupt format shift from
elevator music to Top 40 rock 'n' roll. Though the music
the on-air DJs are spinning is now called "classic" rock,
Anderson said there's plenty for new viewers — like the
young'uns writing her fan mail — to enjoy. "It's not
dated at all," she said. "That's the interesting thing about
the show. Hugh (Wilson, the show's creator) was so into
comedy coming out of character and story rather than a
referral joke to what's going on in the world at the time.
The comedy comes out of the story and never gets old."
Anderson almost turned down the role of Jennifer. She
had come to Hollywood from her native Minnesota at the
urging of actor Pat O'Brien (who later played one of
Jennifer's elderly beaus in the episode "Jennifer and the
Will," airing Friday night). At the time, she was married to
Ross Bickell, who was called back several times for the
role of WKRP programming director Andy Travis.
"He had the script with him, and I kept getting calls to
go in for the part of Jennifer. But I didn't want it. I
thought the part was window dressing," Anderson said. "It was
not the way I wanted to go, especially since I had just
decided to go blonde. Finally, my agent said, 'There's only
so many times you can tell MTM (Mary Tyler Moore's
production company) you're not interested, so I went in to
"I was doing an episode of 'Three's Company' at the time
('Coffee, Tea or Jack?'), so they told me to come in on
Saturday. I got out my soapbox to tell them how much I
didn't like this character. I did my speech, and Grant
Tinker asked me, 'How would you do it then?' I said I think
she should be sarcastic and atypical. He said, 'So do it
that way.' But it wasn't written that way, and I cried all
the way home thinking I was terrible.
"On Monday they offered me the part. Hugh said, 'I
promise, if this pilot sells, you'll change.' And he kept
his word. You can see the change from 'Pilot Part I' to
'Pilot Part II.' In the first part, I'm sticking my chest
in Andy's face and calling Carlson (station manager, played
by Gordon Jump) a jerk. Later, Carlson became my baby, and
Jennifer became a real person."
That was one of many battles Anderson would have to
fight in Hollywood over the stereotype of the dumb blonde --
ironic since Anderson was a natural brunette until moving
"Before you even open your mouth, there's a look that
happens. I didn't have to deal with that as a brunette, and
it was very new. I made sure to do talk shows so people
would see more than just the outside of me," Anderson said.
Not that Anderson couldn't play a dumb blonde quite
well. In the episode "The Consultant" (airing Friday night),
the staff of WKRP reverses roles to foil a radio consultant
with ulterior motives. Jennifer pretends she's the classic
"I was so intent on not letting anyone know I could do a
dumb blonde voice. I used it a lot when I was a brunette,
but it was never a problem. After I went blonde, I didn't
do it anymore. But I was sitting on the set one day, and
someone made a comment, and I did the voice. Hugh said,
'Did that come from you?' I said yes, and he said, 'We have
to do a show where you can use that,' " Anderson said.
Anderson has played a variety of characters since "WKRP"
went to static, most recently being the mother to the
brothers in "Night at the Roxbury" and mother to Pamela
Anderson in UPN's "V.I.P." Still, she remembers that
first TV role most fondly.
"We were such a family," she said of her "WKRP" co-stars. "We
had all worked, but none of us had had much celebrity
status before that, so it was a beginning, and beginnings
are always spectacular. You always remember your first
kiss, to have this be such a wonderful experience — well, we
were very lucky."
After this week's introductory marathon, all 90 episodes
of "WKRP in Cincinnati" will air in sequence at 11 p.m. on
Nick at Nite.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.