An Oral History Of ‘NewsRadio’: The Show That Refused To Play By The Rules

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The story of NewsRadio’s five-season run on NBC is so full of intrigue and drama that it could be its own series. Twenty years ago this week, the employees of the fictional AM news station WNYX found their way into our living rooms, and the show was unlike anything that NBC had aired to that point. Showrunner Paul Simms, just 29 years old at the time, had basically created the anti-sitcom, as he had no intentions using the standard formulas because NewsRadio was going to be the show that did things its own way.

At the same time, NBC had given its sophomore series Friends a prime piece of sitcom real estate as the opener for the Thursday night must-see TV block. A show that played by the network’s rules, Friends obviously went on to become one of the most successful sitcoms in television history. NewsRadio, on the other hand, changed time slots 11 times during its 1995-99 run, which explains why it never had the ratings that NBC executives hoped for when they believed that it, and not Friends, might be the network’s next Seinfeld. Of course, that was capped off with Simms’ epic 1997 interview with Rolling Stone, in which he referred to NBC’s must-see TV lineup as a “big double decker shit sandwich.” That was just the tip of his iceberg of frustration and rage.

The young showrunner’s point was clear. NewsRadio was different from everything else, and it suffered because it took a chance. From Tuesday, it moved to Sunday, then from Sunday to Wednesday, then from Wednesday to the canceled pile. Twenty years later, though, you can mention NewsRadio in a conversation about the best shows in TV history and faces light up. But we wanted to go straight to the heart of the WYNX studio, so we talked to some of the show’s stars — Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney and Khandi Alexander — as well as writers Brad Isaacs and Joe Furey, to find out how they feel about this series two decades later.

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