Feuilleton: Tim Reid

This is a second-level feuilleton: Reid’s name came up in the posting “Feuilleton: Simon & Simon” of 4/30/15.

From Wikipedia:

Timothy L. “Tim” Reid (born December 19, 1944) is an American actor, comedian and film director best known for his roles in prime time American television programs, such as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati (1978–82), Marcel “Downtown” Brown on Simon & Simon (1983–87), Ray Campbell on Sister, Sister (1994–99) and William Barnett on That ’70s Show (2004-2006). Reid starred in a CBS series, Frank’s Place, as a professor who inherits a Louisiana restaurant.

Two of these shows are great favorites of mine: the very popular WKRP in Cincinnati and the short-lived and little-known Frank’s Place.

On the first, from Wikipedia:

WKRP in Cincinnati is an American situation comedy television series that features the misadventures of the staff of a struggling fictional radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. The show was created by Hugh Wilson and was based upon his experiences working in advertising sales at Top 40 radio station WQXI (AM) in Atlanta. Many of the characters and even some of the stories (including season 1 episode 7, “Turkeys Away”) are based on people and events at WQXI.

The ensemble cast consists of Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner.

The station’s new program director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP by switching its format from 1950s and ’60s easy listening music to Rock and Roll, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, greasy sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters, and spaced-out veteran disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey from New Orleans, Venus Flytrap.

WKRP premiered September 18, 1978 on the CBS television network, and aired for four seasons and 88 episodes through April 21, 1982.

A cast photo:

(#1)

Back row: Richard Sanders (Les Nessman), Gordon Jump (Arthur Carlson), Tim Reid (Venus Flytrap). Middle: Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek), Gary Sandy (Andy Travis). Front: Loni Anderson (Jennifer Marlowe), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever), Jan Smithers (Bailey Quarters).

This was an affectionate sitcom, treating all the characters with sympathy (even respect) and good humor — so unlike the insult-comedy sitcoms (Everybody Loves Raymond, Just Shoot Me!) that I complained about in my 4/20/15 posting.

Reid was one of the very few black actors on tv at the time and felt that keenly.

Venus Flytrap has a Wikipedia page of his own. A few highlights:

“Venus Flytrap” is the pseudonym used by disc jockey Gordon Sims, the evening DJ at the radio station WKRP. His real name is not revealed until late in the show’s first season.

… Like his colleague and friend Dr. Johnny Fever, Venus picks the music himself. He plays a lot of contemporary hits by artists like Kenny Loggins (“This is It”) and Earth, Wind and Fire (“After the Love Has Gone”), but he also sometimes violates Andy’s rock n’ roll format by playing jazz music like “Remembering the Rain” by Bill Evans. His style as a DJ is smooth, soft-spoken and sexy; he calls his listeners “my children” (something he makes up after he accidentally addresses his listeners as if they were a classroom full of students) and says things like “This is Venus Flytrap, here to brighten, tighten and enlighten your starlight hours.” He sometimes punctuates his statements by banging a small gong, and he turns down the lights in the broadcast booth in order to create a more mellow mood for his broadcasts.

… Despite the way he dresses and his occasional use of 1970s vernacular slang like “what’s happening,” Venus is actually one of the more straitlaced members of the WKRP staff.

… Working at a station where all the other employees are white, Venus sometimes worries that he is losing touch with black culture. There are a number of jokes that play on the fact that Venus is rather “white” in his cultural tastes: Dr. Johnny Fever sometimes seems to know more about black performers than Venus does, and in the episode “Daydreams,” when Venus imagines what he would like to be, he becomes a bland, unctuous Las Vegas stand-up comedian in the style of Joey Bishop.

There are synopses of several touching episodes on this Wikipedia page.

Now, on Frank’s Place. From Wikipedia:

Frank’s Place is an American comedy-drama series which aired on CBS for 22 episodes during the 1987-1988 television season [and was canceled way too soon].

Set in New Orleans, Frank’s Place chronicles the life of Frank Parrish (Tim Reid), a well-to-do African-American professor at Brown University, an Ivy League university in Providence, Rhode Island, who inherits a restaurant, Chez Louisiane. In the premiere, Frank travels to New Orleans intending to sell the restaurant. However, waitress Emerita (she waits only on customers of twenty years or more of patronage) of Chez Louisiane — Miss Marie (Frances E. Williams) — has a voodoo spin (curse) put on Frank ensuring that he will come back to carry on his family’s business. Consequently, when Frank returns to New England, the life he’s known there suddenly goes inexplicably haywire. Feeling he has no choice, Frank returns to New Orleans and makes many discoveries about black culture in New Orleans, the differences between northern and southern lifestyles, and himself.

Reid with Tony Burton (playing character Big Arthur):

(#2)

A wonderful, complex, often thoughtful show.

Bonus. The list of sitcoms in Vince Waldron’s 1987 book, Classic Sitcoms: A Celebration of the Best in Prime-Time Comedy: I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, Barney Miller, Taxi, Cheers.

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