WKRP inside WKRP

My family were inveterate fans of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati, which originally aired from 1978 to 1982, and then in syndication for years afterward.

Because we lived in a television reception sweet spot, there was a time where we could watch one episode on CFTO Toronto at 5:00 p.m. and another on CKCO Kitchener at 5:30 p.m.

By the time The New WKRP in Cincinnati launched in 1991, a reboot of the original sharing the premise, the set, and some of the original cast, I’d lived away from home and didn’t have a television, so until it started showing up in my YouTube feed, I’d never seen an episode.

From the episodes I’ve watched so far, the reboot never found the magic of the original: it was an AfterMASH, not a Frasier.

But one episode did catch my eye: episode 42, Johnny Goes Hollywood, was original cast member Howard Hesseman’s final one, and aired February 20, 1993.

The plot was eerily similar to the Seinfeld episode The Pilot that aired 3 months later to the day: Hesseman’s Johnny Fever character is offered a spot in a TV sitcom set in a fictional version of the (fictional) WKRP, with a cast of fictional colleagues playing his (fictional) colleagues. In the end Johnny quits the show and walks off into the sunset, and is replaced in the role-within-a-role by French Stewart (playing “Dutch Stevens” playing Johnny Fever).

In a move that was perhaps a wink and a nod to the Seinfeld sitcom-within-a-sitcom to come, Jerry Seinfeld himself makes a cameo in Johnny Goes Hollywood, running into the gang from WKRP as they arrive on the Hollywood set.

The New WKRP in Cincinnati was not great television; neither was Johnny Goes Hollywood. But if you’re going to watch only one episode of The New, it’s the one you should choose.

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