"Newsradio" stands out, in my opinion, as one of the most underappreciated sitcoms of the 90's, and maybe ever. The series took a little while to get going, but once it did, the show's incredible ensemble, which featured a set of comedians with their own styles, really became remarkably funny. The series ran from 1995-1999, but suffered a loss with the tragic death of Phil Hartman.
The pilot episode had Dave coming to New York from Wisconsin to take over the position of news manager at WNYX. He faces some problems, though: billionaire owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root, in a classic performance as a boss who does whatever he wants because he has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it) has not told the staff that Dave is coming to work there as their boss. He also expects Dave to fire the man that he's going to be replacing. "Newsradio" started in 1995 as a mid-season replacement, with a total season of only 7 episodes. By the time the opening run had wrapped up, the series had begun to come together, with the cast getting into their roles and the writing getting sharper and funnier.
While I thought the show's first and second seasons started to get rolling as they went on, it's the third season where "Newsradio" makes the jump from wonderful to brilliant. Despite never gaining the ratings that it deserved, the show was somehow able to keep going under-the-radar for the few years it was on (probably one of the last shows to be able to do so - today it wouldn't get a chance), which appears to have resulted in more creative freedom than the average sitcom.
"Newsradio"'s fourth season not only kept up the kind of comedic excellence seen in the third season, it actually managed to build upon it at times. As superb as the "Space" (same show situation, only set in space) episode was in the third season, the show tops that with "Sinking Ship", an absolutely classic bit of television that moves the "Newsradio" workplace to the Titanic.
Some of the best episodes of this season continue the show's streak of creating situations that are a bit bizarre, yet perfectly play to the strengths of the actors and build great humor off the characters. The best example of this is "Balloon", where Dave uncovers the truth behind Jimmy's round-the-world balloon flight. The episode was another in a long line of episodes (Season 3's "President" being another good example) that had the writers getting huge laughs from Root's mogul character putting his money to hilarious and rather creative use.
There's certainly other highlights throughout the season as well, including: "Jumper" (Bill tries to make himself look like a hero by stopping a man - played by Jon Lovitz - from jumping off the ledge outside Dave's office), "Super Monkey Karate Death Car" (Jimmy's book starts to seem a little odd when it's translated from English to Japanese and back again), "Look Who's Talking" (Bill suddenly wants to adopt a child and Jimmy turns to Beth for help with a charity auction), "Chock" (Dave's old singing partners suddenly arrive looking to reunite their old acapella singing group 'Chock Full o' Notes'), "Security Door" (Dave tries to get the staff to properly use the new security door), "Pure Evil" (Dave attempts to get his old position back by unleashing a campaign of "pure evil" that includes allowing Bill to have fake presidential interviews), "Who's The Boss?" (With neither Dave or Lisa wanting to be director, they make Bill the boss, with unexpected results) and "Big Brother" (Matthew joins the "Big Brother" program and ends up becoming a "Little Brother" instead.)
Sadly, this was also the final season with Phil Hartman, who was tragically killed by his wife in 1998. This was also the final season for co-star Khandi Alexander, who left about midway through the season ("Catherine's Last Day"). Hartman was replaced briefly by Jon Lovitz for the show's fifth season, but the series was cancelled after that season ended.
4th Season 1997
54. 4- 1 23 Sep 97 Jumper
55. 4- 2 30 Sep 97 Planbee
56. 4- 3 28 Oct 97 The Public Domain
57. 4- 4 4 Nov 97 Super Karate Monkey Death Car
58. 4- 5 11 Nov 97 French Diplomacy
59. 4- 6 18 Nov 97 Pure Evil
60. 4- 7 25 Nov 97 Catherine Moves On
61. 4- 8 16 Dec 97 Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show
62. 4- 9 1 Jan 98 The Secret of Management
63. 4-10 6 Jan 98 Look Who's Talking
64. 4-11 13 Jan 98 Chock
65. 4-12 20 Jan 98 Who's the Boss? (1)
66. 4-13 3 Feb 98 Who's the Boss? (2)
67. 4-14 24 Feb 98 Security Door
68. 4-15 3 Mar 98 Big Brother
69. 4-16 18 Mar 98 Beep, Beep
70. 4-17 25 Mar 98 Balloon
71. 4-18 8 Apr 98 Copy Machine
72. 4-19 15 Apr 98 Monster Rancher
73. 4-20 29 Apr 98 4:20
74. 4-21 6 May 98 Jackass Junior High
75. 4-22 12 May 98 Sinking Ship
VIDEO: "Newsradio" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Video in 1.33:1 full-frame. Despite the fact that 22 episodes are presented across three discs, the picture quality here actually was quite good. Sharpness and detail were above average throughout the episodes, with only slight occasional softness. Some minor shimmering and a few traces of pixelation are apparent briefly on a few occasions, but the picture is generally up to broadcast quality, if not slightly better at times. Colors remained bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing. Overall, the image quality was quite similar to the prior sets.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack was perfectly fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Commentaries from members of the main cast and crew are included on: "Jumper", "Planbee", "The Public Domain", "Super Monkey Karate Death Car", "Catherine Moves On", "Chock", "Who's the Boss? Pt 2", "Copy Machine" and "Sinking Ship" in the set. As with the first set, the commentaries are a great deal of fun, as the cast members joke about behind-the-scenes stories and working on the episodes. Everyone shares favorite lines and moments, and has a great deal of fun looking back on the episodes after several years. Additionally, one of the commentaries announces the email "[email protected]" as an address to send questions to that will potentially be answered on season 5. No idea of that email is working or official, but just passing the information along.
Also included are a gag reel for the season and the season 4 version of "One Man Newsradio", as well as previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Newsradio"'s fourth season is equal to the fantastic third season and at some points, actually manages to top it. The DVD set once again provides a very nice set of supplements, as well as fine audio/video quality. Highly recommended.