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Interview with Loni Anderson (’WKRP in Cincinnati’), coming to DragonCon

Loni Anderson will be at DragonCon next month. CREDIT: AP

Loni Anderson will be at DragonCon next month. CREDIT: AP

Like the fictional radio station it depicted, the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” struggled during its run from 1978 to 1982. But like “The Brady Bunch” and “Star Trek,” it flourished in syndication.

It also turned actress Loni Anderson into a huge star. As the cool and collected secretary Jennifer Marlowe, Anderson made sure bumbling boss Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson did no harm while fending off blowhard salesman Herb Tarlek’s relentless advances.

Three decades later, the show’s first season is now available for free on demand on Hulu and is remembered fondly by fans, even those too young to watch the show when it originally aired.

“I was just at a Bed, Bath and Beyond,” Anderson said in a recent phone interview from her Los Angeles home. “A woman stopped me and said, ‘I love you.’ She looked like she was 30 years old.”

Anderson and Howard Hesseman, who played the pot-addled morning jock Johnny Fever, will be in Atlanta at DragonCon Labor Day weekend for a mini-”KRP” reunion. They’ll host panels about the show and sign autographs. (Her friend Barbara Eden, best known as the star of “I Dream of Jeannie,” convinced her to come to Dragon*Con, Anderson said, because Eden had such a good time last year.)

The show was created by former Atlanta ad executive Hugh Wilson, who based some of the characters and antics from 790/WQXI-AM, the powerhouse Atlanta top 40 station known in its heyday as “Quixie in Dixie.”

“He was our mad genius,” Anderson said.

Wilson, in an interview, picked Anderson for her beauty and she insisted she didn’t want to be stupid. “She was the oracle of the place,” Wilson said. “I never had to rewrite a line for her. She had such a definite look.”

Wilson has said the late, wacky “Skinny” Bobby Harper was the model for Johnny Fever. Fashion-challenged Herb Tarlock was a stand-in for long-time Atlanta radio executive Clarke Brown. (”I dressed like a total schmuck,” Brown said Thursday. “But that was the fashion back then.”) And Jerry Blum, the former general manager at QXI, was the inspiration for Carlson. (There’s even a physical resemblance between Blum and actor Gordon Jump.)

The most noted “WKRP” episode when Carlson throws live turkeys out of a helicopter for a Thanksgiving promotion was based on a less deadly turkey giveaway Blum did in the 1970s where he actually uttered the words, “I didn’t know turkeys couldn’t fly,” similar to the “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” Carlson uttered at the end of the episode.

Fans still recite that line to Wilson to this day. “I didn’t realize people would remember it a quarter century later!” said Wilson, who teaches broadcast journalism at the University of Virginia but is thinking of moving to Savannah and doing the same for SCAD.

Here’s a 30-second summary of that infamous show:

Even after three decades, Anderson said the surviving members of the show stay in touch, though the actors are scattered all over the country. “We’re still very much a family,” Anderson said. “Only Gordon is gone.” (He passed in 2003.)

In 1978, when the show debuted, “nobody was a big star. We all started at the same level,” Anderson said. “There was a real camaraderie and closeness, kind of like a first kiss. It was special.”

The show itself remains Anderson’s calling card. “I think women loved the fact I was sexy and smart,” she said. “I know it sounds crazy to people today but in 1978, when we came on, not many women were doing both in comedy.”

While the cast has reunited for various events, Wilson, who has a daughter in Atlanta but lives in Charlottesville, VA, has chosen not to join them. “He’s a gentleman farmer, enjoying his life,” Anderson said.

Anderson married and divorced Burt Reynolds many years ago and was very much a tabloid staple. Her life is much quieter now.  She said she’s picky about what she wants to do acting wise and hasn’t had a regular role in any show since 2006’s “So Notorious” with Tori Spelling.

On interesting postscript about WKRP: the show used music by major artists but when it went into syndication and DVD, most of the classic songs were stripped out because of royalty cost. For instance, when you watch the originally “turkey” episode, Carlson enters the DJ booth and talks about Pink Floyd with Johnny Fever (something you can find on YouTube). But in the edited cut you see on Hulu, they don’t talk at all.

Music right issues are also why season 2 to 4 have not been released on DVD. “The network wanted to do soundalikes,” Wilson said. “But we did real music. We did it on a 20-year-buyout. When they were up again, music rights were through the roof.”

He watched one revised episode, he said he freaked out and hasn’t done so again.

The show was on 18 different time slots over four seasons, Wilson said. “When we were behind ‘M*A*S*H,’ we were in the top 5.”


EVENT

Dragon*Con

Sept. 2-5, 2011

$120

To purchase tickets, details here.

As of this writing, the schedule grid is not available so I’m not sure what time Anderson will be appearing.

15 comments Add your comment

I still love me...

August 19th, 2011
10:58 am

…some Loni Anderson…and “Dr. Johnny Fever”, “Jim Ignatowski”, and Louie DePalma (both from “Taxi”) are still 3 of the all time great casting jobs…

Tommy From Waleska

August 19th, 2011
11:06 am

Remembering the phone police when the transmitter was going to get blown up. Loved this show. It is why I did radio for 6 years. Corporate radio has ruined the old days when you had a committed group of individuals who wanted to create something special for the listeners.

John Long

August 19th, 2011
11:35 am

Three of the real life people on which Wilson based characters in WKRP have been inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. To see which ones, visit http://www.grhof.com.

Kar

August 19th, 2011
12:38 pm

I loved this show but I hate how they use different songs in the reruns. Apaprently it’s too expensive to use the genuine hits. Not that they ever played that many of them.

Wonder if she’ll dish about her barely discreet fling with the actor Sandy Gary?

Kevin O'Connell

August 19th, 2011
12:54 pm

Mega dittoes, Tommy from Waleska. I gave up in 1980. That’s when I left WQXI after five years there.

BTW, Rodney, I have heard it debated that the model for Loni’s character was the receptionist I worked with at Quixie. She was endowed with some of the same physical attributes as Loni except that Jane was a brunette.

Rickster

August 19th, 2011
3:57 pm

The Turkey Drop episode is one of the all-time classic funny moments on television. I still think it’s the hardest I’ve ever laughed watching tv.

Rickster

August 19th, 2011
3:58 pm

I always thought that “Bailey” (Jan Smithers?) was the more attractive of the two. She didn’t know how pretty she was. Loni, however, thought she was hotter than she actually was.

Dave

August 20th, 2011
6:29 am

Hey, Kar… you mean “Gary Sandy?” Jeez.

dtanner

August 20th, 2011
8:06 am

damn loni i remember when you were young and hot,now look you are old,oh well guess it happens to all of us

JackDennis

August 20th, 2011
9:06 am

Remembering Skinny Buddy Hickman….

The Lions Den

August 22nd, 2011
4:57 pm

Hey Rodney, You didnt mention that Burt and Loni lived in Atlanta most of the time they were married. back when Burt had the Lions Den restaurant in at the Omni

Bill

August 22nd, 2011
8:34 pm

Wasn’t it Les Nessman that actually threw the turkeys out of the helicopter? “They’re hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement’! Priceless…

Rodney Ho

August 22nd, 2011
10:45 pm

@bill. No. Les reported on the turkey drop. We never see any of the actual turkeys. Arthur Carlson threw the turkeys out of the helicopter.

Sassy in Atlanta

August 24th, 2011
6:47 am

Where is mention of “Oh! the humanity!” Les Nessman from the classic Turkey episode? Thanks WKRP for all the laughs and the wonderful portrayal of humanity’s foibles.

Dan Atlanta

August 24th, 2011
5:38 pm

I was in high school when this originally aired and never missed a show! A couple of friends of mine and I actually called each other Les, Mr. Carlson and Bailey. Unfortunately, I was Les (nerdy with glasses, but quite lovable).