See the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati in their earliest television roles
Image: The Everett Collection/David L. Wolper Productions/Sony Pictures Television
It says a lot that the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati stood out in the Seventies, when some of the best ensemble casts were being put together.
Hugh Wilson's hit workplace sitcom took chances, casting Howard Hesseman as Johnny Fever only after the actor had to convince them and taking a chance on relatively fresh new talent like Jan Smithers, Tim Reid and Frank Bonner. Every risk paid off, as the show that was initially built to be one big sight gag evolved into a hilarious character study of all its uniquely funny personalities.
Of course, it helped having the seasoned Gordon Jump at the helm, with the beauty Loni Anderson manning his desk. Once Gary Sandy jumped on board, the singular 1970s series had its lead, and viewers were singing along with the theme song in no time.
But, my babies, have you ever wondered where all this talent actually came from? We've traced the roots of WKRP in Cincinnati's outstanding cast to take you back to the first time you saw these actors on television. Take a spin with us and go back in time below!
Gordon Jump – Arthur "The Big Guy" Carlson
Gordon Jump's first TV role came in 1965 on the Western show Daniel Boone. He played Clements, a thief who was part of "The Devil's Four," a crew of criminals whom Boone's responsible for transporting. Later in the episode, when asked what drove him to crime, Jump portrays his character as a sensible banker who became a thief to win the heart of a woman he was bewitched by. "I have no regrets," Clements said, showing a bit of the naivete we'd come to love Arthur Carlson for on WKRP in Cincinnati.
Image: 20th Television
Howard Hesseman – Johnny Fever
Howard Hesseman first turned up onscreen in Mayberry! On The Andy Griffith Show, Hesseman found his first two TV appearances in 1968, both credited under a different name (Don Sturdy). We saw him first as a counter boy handing Goober a hot dog in "Goober Goes to an Auto Show." The eyeroll he gives Goober's fast-talking friend certainly found its way into Dr. Johnny Fever's expressive character.
Loni Anderson – Jennifer Marlowe
On WKRP in Cincinnati, Loni Anderson plays the lovely receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, who it's noted again and again earns more money than anybody else at the station. Her beauty is a source of humor, but mainly in contrast to her sharp wit, but in her first TV role ever, it was all about the looks. In the S.W.A.T. episode "The Steel-Plated Security Blanket," Anderson plays Miss Texas. (Fun fact: In the same episode, Farrah Fawcett plays Miss New Mexico.)
Image: Sony Pictures Television
Richard Sanders – Les Nessman
We're definitely accustomed to getting the news from Les Nessman, the nerdy news announcer who Richard Sanders plays on WKRP in Cincinnati, but his first TV role ever saw Sanders delivering a much more shocking update than Nessman ever did. In the TV movie They've Killed President Lincoln!, it's Sanders' character who announces to a crowd, "President Lincoln died today."
Image: David L. Wolper Productions
Gary Sandy – Andy Travis
When Andy Travis arrives to shift the format on WKRP in Cincinnati, he's there to fix what's broken. In one of Sandy's earliest roles, though, he appeared on Movin' On as a trucker who doesn't trust Sonny Pruitt not to jump him when he pulls over. He raises a socket wrench menacingly at Pruitt who says, "I'll hijack your fat head if you don't come down and untie me!" Just like that, Sandy's character befriends Pruitt, and together they chase after his stolen truck. It's kinda like Sandy always shows up at just the right time, in any role!
Image: Peter Rodgers Organization
Jan Smithers - Bailey Quarters
Jan Smithers played the shyest one in the office on WKRP in Cincinnati, but eventually she became the love interest of Johnny Fever. In her career, it all began with romance when the actor appeared on Janet Leigh's dramatic anthology series Love Story in 1973. In it, she played a college student in love with Kurt Russell, trying to figure out how to navigate shifting moral standards on campus. (Maybe eventually The Doctor told her the cure for that?)
Image: The Everett Collection
Tim Reid - Venus Flytrap
Tim Reid became a sitcom star after WKRP in Cincinnati, appearing first on That's My Mama as a reverend trying to help Clifton keep the faith after a streak of bad luck. A couple years later, we saw him talking Rhoda down as a kitchen helper during the Rhoda episode "Guess Who I Saw Today." Seems like Reid's a smooth talker in any scene!
Image: Sony Pictures Television
Frank Bonner – Herb Tarlek
On WKRP in Cincinnati, it's hard to ignore Herb Tarlek in his loud suits and with his even louder opinions. But in one of Frank Bonner's earliest roles, we find his character oddly quiet. On Mannix, Bonner appeared in an early uncredited role as a man who is hypnotized onstage. Mannix and Peggy watch as Bonner's character plays a fake game of tennis, then awakened by the hypnotist, staggers away sputtering but wordless. (You have to imagine Jennifer would've preferred this version of Herb.)
See also: Can you name these characters from WKRP in Cincinnati?
Spoiler: Fever and Flytrap were not their given names. TAKE QUIZ.