A Work Com airing on NBC from 1995-99, set at a news-talk radio station and starring Dave Foley (as news director and Only Sane Man Dave Nelson), Phil Hartman (playing Small Name, Big Ego anchorman Bill McNeil), Andy Dick (Matthew Brock, The Ditz), Vicki Lewis (Sassy Secretary Beth), Stephen Root (Eccentric Millionaire station-owner Jimmy James), Joe Rogan (Joe Garelli, a Conspiracy Theorist electrician with a propensity for Homemade Inventions) and Maura Tierney (neurotic overachiever Lisa Miller). Khandi Alexander played Sassy Black Woman Catherine Duke for three seasons before leaving for a bigger role on ER (which Tierney also joined the cast of following this show's cancellation). Though critically acclaimed, News Radio never got the recognition or Ratings it deserved, in part because NBC apparently scheduled it by rolling dice each week.
After Hartman's death, Jon Lovitz signed on as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
- 555: Subverted, when Mr. James realizes he's been given a fake 555 number.
- Aborted Arc: Nearly all forced on the writers by the network.
- Addiction Displacement: Bill tries to take up chewing tobacco in order to quit smoking.
- Affably Evil: Johnny Johnson. Even after learning that he is evil and Mr. James' rival, everyone but Dave is still fond of him. Lisa even marries him.
- Jimmy James himself might qualify. While a generally goofy and friendly guy, who treats his employees well, he IS a highly successful businessman. This might not be enough to damn him, but on a fairly regular basis he all but admits doing all sorts of morally questionable things because it's good for business.
- Alien Autopsy: Joe, Beth, and Matthew once act out a fake alien autopsy (with Matthew as the alien) in front of a 24-hour webcam for the radio station's website.
- Joe also claims to possess a tape of a genuine alien autopsy. In the Halloween episode, his costume is "alien autopsy surgeon".
- Alliterative Name: Jimmy James, Johnny Johnson.
- Almighty Janitor: Joe is a world class engineer, which is played entirely for laughs. He makes all of his own equipment (even duct tape) and can read binary code.
Catherine: where did you find a camera small enough to fit in an action figure?
Joe: I made it.
Catherine: I mean, where'd you get the parts?
Joe: I made em!
- April Fool's Plot: "The Song Remains the Same" has Jimmy pulling April Fools' pranks on the staff...in February.
- Ash Face: One time, Bill tries to escape down the stairwell when fire breaks out in the building, but the stairwell is full of smoke and he comes back covered in soot. Dave then makes a quip referencing The Jazz Singer ("I think talking pictures will destroy Hollywood").
- Attractive Bent Gender: Dave, in the Halloween episode, laments that he looks better as a woman than a man. Lisa gets mad because she thinks he looks better in her dress than she does.
- Author Catchphrase: The producers found the word "gazizza" far funnier than the audience did.
- Bachelor Auction
- Bad Bad Acting: Mr. James, when he knows he's being filmed by documentary crew.
- Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: In "Bitch Session", Dave ducks under his desk for a moment to fix his phone cord. The others, seeing his office seemingly empty, decide to stage an impromptu gathering in his office to talk about him and make fun of him.
- Batman Gambit: During the fifth season, Johnny Johnson manages to become CEO of Mr. James' company and doesn't intend to cede control back to him. Mr. James employs the Batman Gambit by convincing Johnny to let him take any one employee with him from the company. In the end, Mr. James announces his pick: Johnny, who he promptly fires.
- Be Careful What You Wish For
- Benevolent Boss: Mr. James, of course. Dave, too, considering what he has to put up with everyday.
- James on one occasion, after realizing he got everyone really crappy Christmas presents, gets everyone but Matthew brand new sports cars. Matthew, however, got the rights to Fibber McGee and Molly.
- Mr. James appears to actively seek his good boss reputation, by often times making Dave 'make' the unpopular decisions for the company.
- The Big Board: Only Matthew cares about it, however.
- Brainy Brunette: Lisa.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Several characters, but Jimmy James stands out.
- Joe Garelli and Bill McNeal also stand out, being highly skilled, but either half-crazed or highly obnoxious.
- Burger Fool: Lisa in "Lucky Burger".
- Canada, Eh?
- The Cassandra: Dave is a terrific news director. He's tough, has foresight, good instincts and a lot of common sense, and is a BS detector. Despite this, nobody at the office ever believes his warnings and his authority is roundly dismissed, as much of the staff see him as just a killjoy.
- Christmas Episode
- Cloudcuckoolander: Most of the cast. But especially Matthew.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Joe, full stop.
- Converse with the Unconscious: Dave to Mr. James in "Sleeping".
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jimmy's nemesis Johnny Johnson.
- Crazy Prepared: Bill, in "Presence", always has his contract in an inside pocket of his suit, just in case.
Dave: Wait a minute. You carry around your contract with you?
Bill: At a time like this it doesn't seem so crazy, does it?
- While in his radio booth, Bill has a prerecorded sound effect for any occasion.
- Also, in the episode "Security Door", Dave gets fed-up with everyone not following proper security door protocol. Calling a staff meeting, he has an easel and a huge pad of paper with drawings of what to do and not to do while he gives his speech, covering fires, thieving burglars, propping open the door, earthquakes (even explaining that they mainly happen in the 'ring of fire' in the pacific rim) and... Matthew's questions. They fit EXACTLY what he is saying, and even predicts what the staff will ask him. To wit:
Dave: Any questions?
Matthew: Yeah, I have a very serious question.
Dave: Of course, Matthew. [Flips paper over, revealing a picture of a man riding a flying Unicorn.] In the event that a wizard casts a spell on us...
- Cross Referenced Titles: Bored with coming up with titles for their episodes, the writers resorted at one point to naming all the episodes after Led Zeppelin albums. See also Idiosyncratic Episode Naming.
- "Catherine Moves On" in Season Four and "Bill Moves On" in Season Five.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Jimmy James is deceptively spry. When an ex-employee denounces him on-air, James dives across Dave's desk to hit the kill-switch button (done off-screen).
Lisa: (stunned) I have never seen you move that fast before.
Jimmy: I save energy for times like this.
- Crowning Moment of Awesome: In universe example, possibly. Mr. James justifies his decision to keep the station in exchange for Beth's $200 by saying that million dollar business deals happen every day, but getting a secretary to volunteer to brown bag her lunch for a month? Now that's something you write home about. It's up for interpretation how much this was really true, or if it was just enough for him to justify keeping the station (which he really wanted to do all along).
- Curse Cut Short: From "The Trainer".
Matthew: Hey, what part of Africa are you from?
Catherine: Shut up.
Matthew: No, seriously! Say something in African.
Catherine: Shut the f- (show cuts to the next scene)
- Also happens in "Kids", when the teacher that Jimmy's dating insists he set a good example for a student to whom she's trying to teach good manners.
Teacher: Take your elbows off the table.
Jimmy: Oh. What the hell.
Teacher: And don't say "hell".
Teacher: And don't say "damn".
Jimmy: All right, but what the f- (show cuts to the next scene)
- A Day at the Bizarro: "Space" and "Sinking Ship".
- Deadpan Snarker: Dave.
- The Ditz: Matthew.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In "The Real Deal", Bill and Lisa try desperately to get Jerry Seinfeld to appear on their show so it won't get cancelled... which bears a suspicious resemblance to the real life situation that News Radio was in at the time.
- Dream Sequence: "Daydream".
- Drunk with Power: Parodied, Matthew's promotion.
- Eccentric Millionaire: Bllionaire, actually: Mr. James.
- Embarrassing First Name: Evelyn William McNeal.
- Eye Take
- Failure Knight: Matthew, with regard to Bill.
- Fauxtastic Voyage: "Balloon".
- Feng Schwing: Bill's apartment, but later revealed to actually be his gigolo neighbor's place.
- Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: "Flowers for Matthew".
- Foil: Dave and Bill are an excellent example.
- "Friend or Idol?" Decision: Not quite a straight example, as Mr. James is already a billionaire, but when an excellent offer for the new station is made (it's at least ten times what Dave thought was a fair price), James is caught between how much he enjoys the station and it's people, and his business principles.
- A God Am I: Played for laughs. Mr. James bets Bill in a poker game with another radio station. Bill pulls out his contract and says there is no way he has the right to do that. Mr. James then tells him to check the extraordinary circumstances section, saying that the contract does not cover instances of sudden illness, acts of God, etc. Again, Bill protests. Mr. James finally tells him to read his Act of God clause.
Bill (Shocked): "Jimmy James shall be referred to here and in all future instances... as God."
- Gratuitous English: Mr. James' book Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.
- The Great Whodini: Dave was both the great Throwgalli and the Great Ventriloquodini.
- Heads-Tails-Edge: Mr. James trying to pick the new news director.
- Heroic BSOD: Mr. James has one of these when he loses Bill in a poker game.
- He's Just Hiding: Invoked in-universe with Matthew's reaction to Bill's death. Initially, at least. Later, Matthew admits that he knows Bill is truly dead, he's just using this trope so as not to alarm the others.
- Historical In-Joke: Mr. James' claim to be the informant Deep Throat, not to mention a three-episode arc in which James is accused of being notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper, who is ultimately revealed to be Adam West.
- Homemade Inventions: Joe's forte. In fact, it's implied that Joe doesn't use ANYTHING he didn't just make in his garage. This often times applies to the individual parts as well, although he has cobbled together several Frankenstein inventions.
- Hot Mom: Although she's never seen onscreen, Jimmy James apparently has and believes Dave's mother is this.
- Human Popsicle: "Space".
- Hypno Fool: How Joe cures Mr. James of his fear of hippies.
- If You Know What I Mean: Oysters...
- I Know Kung Faux: Joe Garelli is an expert in "Joe-jitsu".
- I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: What all of Beth's boyfriends told her. Not just that they are a slave to their sex drive, but that they get sick if they don't.
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue
- In Space: The episode "Space" is explicitly introduced as "News Radio IN SPACE!"
Bill: What if the show wasn't set in a news station... but a space station? And what if we didn't deliver the news but the... space news.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: In "Mistake", Dave in a magazine interview refers to Joe as "a so-called electrician who knows more about imaginary flying saucer technology than he does about a simple light switch". Joe is far less offended by the personal insult than by Dave referring to alien technology as "imaginary".
- I Want You to Meet An Old Friend of Mine: In "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show", Dave's knife-throwing nemesis Throwdini is played by Dave Foley's former Kids in The Hall colleague Kevin McDonald. And in "Goofy Ball", Bill's stalker is played by Phil Hartman's former Saturday Night Live colleague Dennis Miller. Hartman was replaced by Jon Lovitz who was another former SNL acquaintance and who had interacted with Hartman playing guest spots on early shows of the series.
- Kawaisa: Dave is an in-universe example of cuteness, much to his frustration and chagrin. He's rarely taken seriously as an authority figure because of his inexperience, idealism and boyishness -- the others largely agree that he looks like a fourteen-year-old in a business suit. A child visiting the station once calls him "the little boy in the blue suit".
- In episode 57, Dave tries to fool Andrea's polygraph test to make her think he's got a criminal record, but the test reveals he's never even thought about shoplifting, and Andrea calls him the cutest thing. He snaps back, "I am not the cutest thing!" and the polygraph goes off. Jimmy enters as Dave storms out, then Jimmy says to Andrea, "Ain't he the cutest thing?"
- "Kick Me" Prank: Bill puts a "Spaz" sign on Matthew.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Dave Nelson was once a knifethrower named The Great Throwgalli.
- Lampshade Hanging
- Large Ham: Oh dear god, Bill.
- Lost Him in a Card Game: Bill in "Presence".
- Magic Feather: An interesting variation: When Matthew becomes smart enough to realize the drug he took was a placebo, the effect immediately wears off and he becomes a spaz again.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: WNYX is supposed to be a busy New York City radio station, but the eight main characters seem to do every job. The electrician sits in on story meetings and sometimes goes on the air. The show originally had Ghost Extras in the background to suggest that there were other employees, but eventually gave up on that.
Dave: Look, guys, I'm asking you as friends. Please just tell me who it is.
Joe: Dave, did you ever stop to consider it might be one of the 15 or 20 other guys who work at this station?
Bill: Joe's right. How come every time there's a problem, you assume that it's one of us? What about them? What if it was... that guy whose name I don't know? Or the guy who sits by him? Or-
Dave: Because somebody gave those people the impression they're not allowed in the break room.
Bill: Well, Dave, I consider that room to be a private sanctuary where I can escape from all those horrid little people whose names I don't know!
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: When Matthew reveals in "The Real Deal" that he is a virgin, the rest of the staff refuses to believe him.
- Must Have Caffeine: Dave.
- New Job Episode: Matthew at the coffee shop.
- New York Subway: "Crisis" - Dave struggles to get Matthew an access pass to a subway tunnel during a transit emergency.
- No Name Given: Beth's last name is never revealed; in "Freaky Friday", she claims not to even have one.
- Nose Tapping
- Only One Name: Beth. See No Name Given.
- Only Sane Employee: Dave Nelson often plays the Straight Man.
- Oral Fixation Fixation: Beth's perpetual gum chewing was a running gag throughout the show's run. Bill's fondness for cigarettes also came up quite a bit.
- Parody Episode: "Sinking Ship".
- Personality Swap
- Plucky Office Girl: Matthew Brock, played by Andy Dick. A very, very, very rare male example.
- Popular Saying, But...: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and then throw it in the face of the person who gave you the lemons until they give you the oranges you originally asked for.
- Put on a Bus: Catherine.
- The Bus Came Back: Khandi Alexander returned for "Bill Moves On", the Phil Hartman tribute episode.
- The Rashomon: "Catherine Moves On".
- Real Life Writes the Plot: After Hartman was murdered, his character Bill was made to suffer a fatal heart attack.
- Recursive Translation: Mr. James' biography sold so well in Japan, he had it translated back into English from the Japanese. The result? "Jimmy James, Capitalist Lion Tamer" became "Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler":
Jimmy: I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street... many days no business come to my hut... but Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no! I never doubted myself for a minute for I knew that my monkey strong bowels were girded with strength like the loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... (turns page) dung....
...Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans... and pants to match. The monkey clown horrible karate round and yummy like cute small baby chick would beat the donkey.
- Repetitive Name: James James: the man so nice, they named him twice.
- A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma: Jimmy James once referred to himself, saying "I am a cipher--a cipher, wrapped in an enigma, and smothered in secret sauce."
- Risky Business Dance: Jimmy James does it at Dave's parent's house, where he is hiding from the police.
- Running Gag: Whenever Joe's last name is mentioned, someone (usually Bill) looks perplexed and says "Your last name is Garrelli?"
- Joe's close personal relationship with the Unabomber (before Ted Kacynski was caught in real life).
- Jimmy's attraction to Dave's mother could also be considered a running gag.
- Jimmy having a heated argument in Dave's office, wherein Dave asks if it's a tough business deal, to which Jimmy responds with something innocuous like 'No that was your mother, lovely lady,' or 'Nah, wrong number'.
- As Beth's absurdly low salary.
- And Joe's fondness for conspiracy theories.
- The phrase "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" comes up a few times in different contexts.
- Sassy Secretary: Beth.
- Secret Relationship: Dave and Lisa.
- Secret Test of Character Jimmy is a fan of these. At one point, Lisa asks Jimmy if something is "one of your dumbass lessons".
- Series Fauxnale
- Shoo Out the New Guy: Andrea, the meddling, overly perky efficiency expert played by Lauren Graham. When the character met with an extremely tepid reception from fans, she was quietly and hastily dropped from the show.
- Shout-Out: Soylent Green in "Space". Wolf and Sheepdog in "Twins".
- Show Within a Show: Multiple radio segments, including "The Real Deal with Bill McNeal" and "This Day in History".
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Jimmy has off-screen rivalries with Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, among others, and an onscreen rivalry with Johnny Johnson.
- Slap Slap Kiss: Dave wryly mentions in one episode that rage is an aphrodisiac for Lisa.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Bill.
- Something Completely Different: "Sinking Ship", "Space".
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Bitchcakes.
- Suck E. Cheese's: Dave and Bill take Matthew to one in "The Secret of Management".
- Surrounded by Idiots: Dave being the sane man has this reaction a lot. Nicely summed up in "Lucky Burger":
"I want you to look around. Here we have Lisa, who today very nearly gave up a career in journalism for a life in the fast food industry. Over here we have Beth, who dresses like a barmaid from Blade Runner. Mr. James, a millionaire who has spent the entire day eating food he knows for a fact to be spoiled. Joe, who has earned upwards of eleven dollars working as an amateur surveillance expert - albeit half of that is Monopoly money." (Matthew peeks out from behind his desk) "And of course, Matthew, who appears to have taken the surveillance into his own hands."
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Max Louis for Bill McNeal.
- To be fair, Jon Lovitz agreed to join the cast because he had been very close with Phil Hartman dating back into the early 80s and he wanted to pay tribute to his friend in what could be considered a real life Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
- Talent Double: In "Mistake", that clearly isn't Dave Foley tap dancing (note that we don't see Dave's face).
- Team Dad: Jimmy.
- Team Mom: Dave, oddly enough.
- That's What She Said: In "Led Zeppelin", when the rest don't know Dave and Lisa have broken up.
Dave: I know it's a crummy story but someone has to do a piece on the Williamsburg Bridge renovation.
Lisa: Give it to me, Dave. I'll take it.
Joe: That's not the first time Dave's heard Lisa say that.
Dave: Give it a rest.
Bill: I'll bet that's not the first time Lisa's heard Dave say that.
Lisa: Look you really don't want to get into this.
Catherine: I bet Dave's never heard that one before.
Dave: Seriously, this is a very sensitive area.
Beth: That's what she said.
Lisa: Okay, I'm telling them.
Bill: And I'll bet that's not... Actually that doesn't really work, does it?
- Totally Radical: Parodied, Gazizza, my dilznoofus!
- "Seriously, everyone is totally bitchcakes today..."
- True Companions: Sometimes less than obvious, sometimes almost brutally reinforced. Mr. James goes into a Heroic BSOD after he loses Bill in a poker game.
- Most notable in the episode where Mr. James gets an offer for the station. It's painfully obvious that James does not want to lose the station, or his friends, but it is against his principles to let his emotions guide his business. The end of the episode features the characters sitting around for hours trying to come up with excuses or alternative offers.
- Tsundere: On Khandi Alexander's last episode, it is revealed that her character Catherine is this towards Joe.
- Ultimate Job Security: One wonders just how Matthew manages to keep his job. He loses it at one point, but gets it back a few episodes later.
- While most characters are usually seen doing their job at some point in the episode, even if only slightly, it's incredibly easy to forget what Matthews job is. Be you don't know, eh?
- In one episode, Matthew is asked what his job is and he doesn't even know. Ironically he was asking for the afternoon off because of how hard work is.
- While most characters are usually seen doing their job at some point in the episode, even if only slightly, it's incredibly easy to forget what Matthews job is. Be you don't know, eh?
- Video Wills
- Viewers are Morons: Super Karate Monkey Death Car.
- Wacky Marriage Proposal: Parodied in "Our 50th Episode", played straight in "Wino".
- Warrior Poet: Between his seventeen-page love letter to Lisa, and his knife throwing skills, Dave is the closest the show will ever get to one of these.
- Welcome Episode: The pilot (Dave). Lovitz gets one too when he joins the cast.
- What If: "Space" and "Sinking Ship".
- Will They or Won't They?: Subverted; see Writer Revolt in the Trivia section.
- Wondrous Ladies' Room: Jimmy turns the men's room into a luxe club after the guys find out how nice the ladies room is. Matthew ruins it by going to the bathroom.
- You Look Familiar: David Cross, Brian Posehn, Bob Odenkirk all appeared as different characters in different seasons.
- So did Toby Huss, Dave "Gruber" Allen, and David Anthony Higgins. Not to mention Jon Lovitz- Max Louis was the third character he played on the show.
- Zany Scheme: Lampshaded by Dave at one point: "Why is the solution to every problem around here some kind of covert plan?"
- Zero-G Spot: Dave's sexual fantasy is making love on the Space Shuttle... with a space prostitute.
- Although this may be true, he supposedly said this to make Lisa really mad, which is also one of his sexual fantasies.
- Zeroes and Ones: Joe claims to know how to read binary code.