Ensemble cast thrives on being different from ''Friends''

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”It’s aggravating to be shifted around,” admits Phil Hartman about the time-period juggling that NewsRadio has endured to become an important player in NBC’s killer-sitcom lineup. After airing on Tuesdays and then on Sundays, the adroitly written ensemble show about shenanigans at an all-news radio station moves to Wednesdays at 9. There the network hopes it will lure more viewers to the less popular series now preceding it (The John Larroquette Show) and the new sitcom after it (Men Behaving Badly, starring Hartman’s former Saturday Night Live colleague Rob Schneider). ”We wanted to put together comedies that would fit together, that would be somewhat broad, zany, and with a little bit more male appeal,” says Preston Beckman, NBC senior VP of programming. ”And we felt NewsRadio could anchor the night. It has always done a good job of holding whatever young audience it was given — it generally built on that audience. And going into its second full season, there are still no signs of erosion — unlike its competition, Grace Under Fire, which lost, like, 30 percent of its audience last year.”

Hartman, who plays news anchor Bill McNeal — ”a stupid but articulate man,” as the actor describes his character — says he hasn’t noticed any big changes in the smart, intricate tone of the new NewsRadio scripts he’s seen so far this season. ”I guess there was a worry that, in order for us to become an even bigger hit on Wednesdays, we’d have to make it more ‘accessible,’ whatever that means, or start emphasizing one character instead of the ensemble.” Hartman pauses. ”So far none of that has come to pass. In the show we just finished taping, Bill is described as ‘adequate’ in a review, and he tries to turn it into a great compliment, going around saying things like, ‘I’ll be doing things with my usual adequisivity’ and ‘I’m bursting with adequatulance.’ So obviously, Bill is as aggressively stupid as ever, and I’m happy.”

NewsRadio‘s creator-executive producer Paul Simms, says a few things will be rejiggered. ”We finished last season thinking that we’d spent too much time on the romantic relationship between Dave [Dave Foley] and Lisa [Maura Tierney]. There are about 15 other places on television where you can see that kind of thing. So this year, they’ll still be a couple, going out, but we won’t make a big deal out of it all the time.”

Any other office romances that will be a big deal?

”Yeah, we also wish we’d given more time last season to Catherine [the coanchor, played by Khandi Alexander] and Joe [the stalwart electrician played by Joe Rogan]. So this year, they’ll have a fling.”

Behind the scenes, NewsRadio will get a new regular director — Tom Cherones, who oversaw so many memorable adventures of Seinfeld during his five-year tenure. ”Last year it seemed like we had a different director every week,” says Simms. ”Tom did three episodes last season, and he has a real feel for the show, so we’re lucky to have him guiding things.” Simms also notes that there’ll only be ”one or two” new writers: ”It’s a small staff, and I like to keep all veteran sitcom hacks far away. One new guy wrote briefly for that Tea Leoni thing before he came to his senses, but that’s it.”

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