Think of L.A. Law with a nastier edge, Knots Landing with a little less suds, Lou Grant without the soapbox, and you’ve got WIOU, the season’s swiftest, smartest, sexiest new drama. WIOU is the nickname for WNDY, a failing big-city TV station. The station’s news show hires a fresh news director (John Shea) to turn the station around in the ratings, and we meet WIOU‘s large cast through his eyes. If WIOU were just about television, though, it would be boring, a late-breaking Broadcast News rip-off. What the series is really about, however, is office politics, the way some people get ahead and others flounder. The show is great at depicting degrees of ambition in the workplace.
If WIOU is a hit, it may finally make a star out of Harris Yulin, who plays the show’s mean, lecherous, million-dollar-salaried anchorman. Sticking out his hand to introduce himself to Shea, Yulin murmurs, ”Neal Fraser, your worst nightmare,” and he ain’t kiddin’. Stuffed into a sleek suit, his eyes sly slits, Yulin looks like a cross between Walter Cronkite and Gore Vidal; he exudes paternal smarminess and malevolence. WIOU is filled with vivid characters like this, including the black reporter (Phil Morris) who has designs on the co-anchor position and takes to wearing blue contact lenses (”Aquamarine,” he says, ”the same as Brokaw”). Performers you may have given up on — like Mariette Hartley, as the show’s executive producer, and Dick Van Patten, as a buffoonish weatherman — revitalize their careers on this show. WIOU is serious in its implied criticisms of TV news, yet rude and funny in its executions of them — a satisfying combination. A