Monday, August 21, 2017

"Let's run away together. To Los Angeles! They'll understand there!"


We've had this pop up a couple times before in our podcast history: two adjacent episodes in WKRP's run that provide us with a more-or-less themed podcast episode around one of the characters in WKRP's ensemble. In early Season 2 it was "Baseball" and "Bad Risk," which allowed us to delve deeply into Les Nessman's psychology, and later in Season 2 we had "Herb's Dad" and "Put Up or Shut Up," which gave us a fantastic opportunity to talk about Herb's upbringing, male role models, and masculinity in crisis in WKRP-era America more generally. "Huggable Herb" has fast become one of my personal favorite episodes of the podcast.

This week, we get a pair of Andy Travis-centric episodes. We see a dark "path-not-taken" version of Andy in "The Consultant" and the trials and tribulations of Andy as a piece of, well, beefcake in "Love, Exciting And New."

We've said it again and again; we were super harsh on Gary Sandy in Season 1 of Hold My Order, and maybe unfairly so. By this point, we know a lot more about Andy as a character and Sandy has slipped into the role much more comfortably. And these two episodes might be him at his finest. There's a great scene in "The Consultant" where Andy meets with Norris Breeze, his old friend, now a radio consultant, where Andy has to essentially complete the process that "Baby, If You Ever Wondered" back in Season 2 started. He's no longer That Guy who comes in from out of town to upset the applecart; Andy by now is one of the inmates in the asylum that is WKRP, and he wants to help save his friends' jobs. And Andy comes up with an ingenious plan to save the station, which he takes great delight in springing on Mrs. Carlson.

And speaking of Andy and Lillian... wow. "Love, Exciting And New" takes the transgressive idea of Mama and Andy dating and does some incredible gymnastics around that sitcom-y plotline, the then-very relevant issue of workplace sexual harassment, and somehow still manages to make it funny, at least to the two of us in 2017. Once again, Put-upon Andy is Best Andy.

A couple of solid episodes of WKRP, some great early-'80s history and culture to talk about... all this and a double-shot of HIRSCH! Coming your way in a couple of days!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Show Notes for HMOTD 043: High Heels and a Whole Lot of Leather


0:00 "Three Days of the Condo(r)": Many props to Rob for this ingenious open, which not only references the 1975 conspiracy thriller of the same name, but also our long-documented love of over-the-top three-minute-long 1970s movie trailers.

Also, can I say? I'm a little upset; I typed "Three Days of the Condo" into Wikipedia, and it brought me to the Frasier episode guide where I find out that they used the WKRP writers' very clever title! Dirty pool, Frasier writers.

1:15 Sean Cranbury and Luke Meat: Here's all the links you'll need to find Sean and Luke online: Sean can be found at seancranbury.com, booksontheradio.org and realvancouver.org! And Luke can be found at 98.3 FM/Roundhouseradio.com and his band störc (GREAT name) is on Bandcamp here. And here's the website for the Storm Crow Tavern; I really want to go there!

1:40 "Like that Flaming Lips album!" That Zaireeka joke may have been a bit of an obscure reference; if you don't know the story, the 33⅓ series book on it is a good read. Also a bit poignant considering the problems Rob had with editing this episode; sorry, Rob.

[Rob: Yeah, this exchange is ironic, because we did have some technical difficulties in recording this episode. Instead of a quadrophonic soundscape with each of us in a different speaker, we all got lumped into one channel, which podcasters will know is a bear to edit. I don't wanna be all  "Area Podcaster Makes Solemn Promise to Improve Sound Quality Next Episode," but...]

4:35 63 CHED: An AM station that was rock and roll in the '70s and early '80s but since has gone to talk and sports radio. It's a little WKRP on the central Alberta prairie!

6:28 "..and obviously, the 'Baseball' episode." THANK YOU, Sean. Les in right field, thou art avenged.

6:48 "Soap... you can SEE through!" One of Johnny's many coked-up purchases was a couple of bars of see-through soap, which he puts up to his eyes in a suitably comic manner. I remember one of the many aspirational lifestyle purchases my family made in the 1980s was Neutrogena soap, which today kind of feels like a yuppie affectation. Neutrogena had been around since 1930 but really only became a lifestyle product in the '80s, as its brand was built marketing to "dermatologists and luxury hotels." Those are definitely two places where it pays to market to upscale yuppies. In fact, Neutrogena is one of the many facial care products that Patrick Bateman uses in American Psycho. And that's my 10 minutes of material on Neutrogena.

8:02 Another reason to plug the Shout Factory DVDs: Never a bad time to send Shout! Factory (and presumably, the cast and crew of WKRP) a little of your hard-earned cash!

9:22 "It's an outrage, Jennifer!" So yes, the 1981 baseball strike and subsequent frankly bizarre "split-season" playoff format did screw over the Reds, who had the best record in the NL West, royally. But my point about the Big Red Machine being gone at this point still stands: this really was the Reds' last chance at playoff glory for the rest of the '80s.

9:36 "That soft drink machine... break again?" Such a weird line read but it makes me laugh every time.

15:50 "There's the suits and dungarees. Venus is definitely neither of those." As expertly explained in our alignment chart from way back in HMOTD 005.

17:10 "It just takes a little bit of success to turn Johnny into a jerk." As seen in both "Most Improved Station" and "Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide."

21:15 "Land. The only thing worth fighting for." So people on our Facebook including Rob and friend of the podcast Leah Biel seem to think the voice doing this ad for Gone With The Wind Estates sounds familiar. Is it perhaps Hugh Wilson doing his best Rhett Butler?

22:00 America II: Sadly long out of print, but both stunningly prescient in so many ways and a lovely reflection of where America's well-to-do were headed on the cusp of the yuppie Eighties. Louv talks a little bit about its prescience in the aftermath of the 2016 election here.

27:55 Plantation weddings: Here's a piece from Salon in 2014 about the "disturbing" trend, but it's kept going over the intervening years.

29:23 "Sometimes it's the straights who are the weirdest ones..." It was quite perceptive of both our guests to detect this undertone in both these episodes. While we can overstate the "suits vs. dungarees" thing sometimes, I think back to the early part of Season 1, when this conflict was entirely internal to the station, and Herb, Les, and sometimes the Big Guy were the antagonists. I think it was probably around the Ferriman episode where the weirdness of the straights was externalized, and the wacky zany WKRP family became the ones who were actually sane.

30:18 "If Georgia fights, I go with her." Speaking of William Tecumseh Sherman, Rhett Butler's observations of the South's industrial and economic paucity at the outbreak of the Civil War are taken almost word-for-word from Sherman's famous warning to his friend David Boyd.

31:50 Ms. Archer as Nurse Ratched: Another very perceptive observation, this time by Rob. As Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was very clearly meant to evoke a postwar matriarchal domesticity being enforced on ostensibly free, wild men, Ms. Archer takes a great deal of relish in promising that Johnny will learn to conform, by hook or by crook.

33:00 Tommy Krasker: Again, we'll link to Tommy's great Season 4 piece which is pertinent to "Three Days of the Condo" and yes, a piece on Blake Hunter which becomes a celebration of the elegance of the script for "Jennifer and the Will."

35:10 Crab puffs and scampi and quiche: Correction from Twitter! Real Men Don't Eat Quiche (1982) was intended as a parodic riposte to those who decried the new sensitivity in males. But the problem with parody, as we've seen in the past year or so, is that it can backfire and normalize the behavior it was meant to parody. I remember the "real men don't eat quiche" line being trotted out as a kid in the mid-'80s with absolutely no irony but that just might have been my family. People who don't read the book but love the title... a better summary of our problems in 2017 couldn't possibly be concocted.

[Rob: I actually gave a copy of Real Men Don't Eat Quiche to my Dad one 1980s Christmas, along with its sequel Real Men Don't Cook Quiche--a cookbook! As with so many things from that era, I could not tell you precisely how sincere/parodic this purchase was. Real Men Don't Eat Quiche was inevitably followed, in classic flogging-the-joke / diminishing-returns style, by Real Women Don't Pump Gas, Real Kids Don't Say Please, and Real Dogs Don't Eat Leftovers.]

39:10 "Top of the day... Deathwatch!" A shoving match with Spiro Agnew? You go, Colonel! This feels like it was based on a real-life incident, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

41:12 Violins in the dark restaurant: What a find here by WKRP music man Mike Hernandez. I'll quote his Facebook comment directly: "The violin player at the beginning, Shony Alex Braun, was a composer and musician, as well as a Holocaust survivor. Here's a bit of his story. The piece he's playing for Jennifer and the Colonel, "Fascination," is a waltz composed by Fermo Dante Marchetti and Maurice de Féraudy. Daytime TV fans of the day would likely have recognized the melody from a number of Luke and Laura scenes from General Hospital. Or maybe you recognize it from The Karate Kid." Amazing! Thanks, Mike.

44:20 Jennifer marrying the Colonel: Rob's source for the Jennifer marrying the Colonel plotline is WKRP lore-keeper Jaime Weinman.

47:20 Henri: Played by the recently-departed George "Commandant Lassard" Gaynes in "Jennifer's Home For Christmas"; I'm still bummed we had to cut our 2-3 minutes on Gaynes from our Christmas episode, his life really is fascinating. He was Hollywood's Frenchman! And most importantly, he was married to WKRP's sweetheart, Carmen Carlson herself, Allyn Ann McLerie!

49:51 "Hey look, she's with another old coot!" "Cootster" is another one of those Gordon Jump line reads that is alternately baffling and adorable.

52:25 "Hey Jenny." Yeah, Frank Bonner gets just a couple of things to do in this episode but just kills them both. Again, check out Tommy Krasker's Blake Hunter post for some thoughts on Herb's "way with words."

54:10 Les and his dictionary: Les's last journey through the pages of the dictionary to look up "obtuse" and "addle-minded" occurred in the otherwise moribund "Young Master Carlson."

57:05 Video will: So pleased to see TV Tropes has us covered for this very definite trope and trend at the outset of the home video era.

1:00:15 Tontine: Couldn't find much on WWII officers leaving bequests to their enlisted men, but here's the fascinating history of the tontine with a giant section on tontines in pop culture, including M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, and of course The Simpsons.

1:01:40 Pat O'Brien: Here's his Wikipedia entry; I note he came from the same Wisconsin Irish conservative milieu as Joseph McCarthy. O'Brien died not too long after recording this episode of WKRP, in 1983.

1:02:38 Milkshake Duck Moment: For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter account "pixelated boat" (a.k.a. cartoonist Ben Ward) and his addition to our social media vocabulary, here's the story of the lovely duck who drinks milkshakes.

1:03:55 Johnny's date ideas: Specialty comic stores in the '70s! This is exactly when the "direct market" for comics began; another fascinating piece of hidden history and one I wish we'd gone into in more detail on the podcast. Bailey's right; one of the innovations that specialty direct market comic stores brought to the world was the ability to pick up back issues in the increasingly continuity-conscious titles of the '70s and '80s. Personally, in the mid-'80s I bought my first comics in a local convenience store on a wire rack, like my parents' generation did, but pretty soon I was checking out local chains like New England Comics and Newbury Comics for those all-important back issues.

1:05:40 Night Court: I will gladly take the copyright hit for excerpting this classic TV theme in its entirety. Night Court kind of kept the flame alive for grungy '70s sitcoms well into the '80s.

1:10:16 "All right, we finally made it to BAAAAAHSTON!" Aw, come on, how can you not love Bob Seger's amazing stage presence. He feels funky tonight and is going to let you know about it!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

HMOTD 043: High Heels and a Whole Lot of Leather


Special guests Sean Cranbury & Luke Meat join Mike and Rob to discuss and dissect the WKRP episodes "3 Days of the Condo" and "Jennifer and the Will."

(Full show notes appear at Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser two days after each episode is released. All audio clips are the properties of their owners/creators and appear in this work of comment and critique under fair use provisions of copyright law.)


Check out this episode!

Monday, August 7, 2017

"Lord knows, I do want to be a good... Gone With the Winder."


From the very beginning of this podcast (okay, to be fair, from the second episode of this podcast), we've had to deal with the fact that WKRP In Cincinnati is a product of a very different time. In "Les on a Ledge," we had to deal with a double dose of "well-meaning" 1978 sensitivity towards homosexuality that looks quite unfortunate to modern eyes, to say nothing of the crude use of the possibility of Jennifer being trans as a punchline.

This week, in our look at "Three Days of the Condo" and "Jennifer and the Will," we get that same push and pull of WKRP in one moment trying so hard to be progressive, and the next indulging in the worst kind of stereotyping. In "Jennifer and the Will," we finally see Jennifer confront the gold-digger innuendo that has floated around her throughout the series as an attractive young woman who dates older men, thanks in large part to a powerful and understated performance by Loni Anderson. But in "Three Days of the Condo," we have the well-known denouement in which Johnny pretends he and Venus are lovers to get out of Johnny's condo contract.

Rob makes an excellent point in this week's podcast that surely the writers of WKRP thought they were the hip ones, puncturing the absurdity of homophobia in episodes like "Les on a Ledge" and "Three Days of the Condo." After all, the evil condo board at "Gone With the Wind Estates" can't countenance a gay interracial couple, and they're clearly the bad guys! But regardless, Johnny's performance for the condo board is of a piece with other camp portrayals of homosexuality from this period: broad, full of stereotypes, and uncomfortable to watch in 2017. I remember reading in more than one source that the Monty Python troupe regretted their use of camp over the course of their series in the late '60s and early '70s. Even having Graham Chapman (an out gay man who definitely could and did play around with characters who were alternately butch and camp) in the group didn't let the straight Pythons off the hook for what they felt were repeated insensitive portrayals of homosexuality for cheap laughs.

And I think that's the key to Johnny's (and Howard Hesseman's) performance. Those with privilege sometimes can't see that whatever their good intentions, using broad comic signifiers to signal a kind of hipness to a "straight" crowd (here meaning "straight" in all senses of the word) perpetuates the same hurtful stereotypes as outright mockery. It's of a piece with stuff we've discussed in the past about the "love and theft" at the center of the collision of dominant white and oppressed black cultures in terms of things like popular music and the history of rock and roll. It's still an issue that hits home hard today in terms of things like cultural appropriation.

I'll point you again to Tommy Krasker's excellent summary of Season 4 which in part discusses WKRP's returning to unfortunate gay jokes over and over throughout the series' run. We'll be discussing this part of Tommy's piece in detail in this week's podcast. (You should also check out Tommy's piece on Blake Hunter and "Jennifer and the Will" while you're there: it's magnificent.)

Putting these serious issues aside, this is a funny (and moving!) pair of WKRP episodes, so join us on Wednesday as we take a look at both "Three Days of the Condo" and "Jennifer and the Will" with a pair of special guests!