5 things you might not know about 'WKRP' and actor Gary Sandy
I've always found Gary Sandy to be quite guarded when talking about his role as program director on CBS' beloved WKRP In Cincinnati.
The Dayton native, and a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts school in New York City, has made it abundantly clear that his four years as Andy Travis on WKRP — with his perfectly coiffed hair, tight jeans and boots — hijacked his plans to be a Broadway or movie star.
As he told a Canadian entertainment writer last fall, "I was pigeonholed. If there was ever a part for a guy in tight jeans and boots, I got it … I never had the career I wanted."
So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the 1964 Kettering Fairmont High School graduate affectionately reflect on the sitcom on the WKRP-Cast podcast released this week by hosts Allen and Donna Stare. The 90-minute episode, recorded on Sept. 19 (the day before the 40th anniversary of CBS' final original broadcast) is full of stories I hadn't heard or read before.
Here are a few:
FAVORITE EPISODE: Sandy says one of his favorite episodes was from the first season — in fact the fourth episode, "Hoodlum Rock" — when WKRP promotes a well-dressed but gleefully violent rock band called Scum of the Earth.
"I thought that the stage direction in the script was one of the funniest things I've ever read. It said: 'Scum enters. They are dressed in three-piece suits and carry briefcases. They are so weird they are straight.' I just thought that was hilarious."
In the show, the band was greeted at the station with a banner reading "Welcome Scum." The writers kept it, and hung it outside their office windows on the CBS/MTM Radford Studio lot.
"When you came through the gate, you could see the (WKRP) offices because the building was right there in front, about three stories up… When all the owners of all the (CBS) stations converged at MTM studios for a (party) on the back lot, the guys hung that sign out of the windows saying, 'Welcome Scum.' "
INSPIRED BY NEWHART: Before WKRP, Sandy often played drug dealers and other ne'er-do-wells on soap operas (As The World Turns, Another World, Somerset, The Secret Storm) and primetime dramas (Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, Barnaby Jones).
But his first performance in junior high school was doing comedy — specifically a Bob Newhart routine — in seventh grade in Dayton. He also revealed he won an "All State Actor" award performing a two-character play in a state competition his senior year at Fairmont High School.
"In seventh grade I did a Bob Newhart stand-up monologue. And the speech teacher said, 'Would you do that for the school assembly?' I remember coming out between the curtains, onto that stage, just like it was yesterday … And the next day, everybody in that school treated me differently. The teachers, the students — everybody. And I thought: 'Wait a minute! I'm on to something!' … A teacher looked at me and said, 'You have a thing called comedic timing. That might be very valuable to you some day.'
"When I went on the soaps, I always played the heavies … On As The World Turns I played a dope pusher. I always played the bad guy. Hugh Wilson's wife knew me from the soaps, and she told Hugh, 'You can't hire that guy! He's nuts!' "
FROM BROADWAY TO TV: After graduating from the American Academy, "I was doing all this stuff in New York — the soaps, and Off-Broadway, and things like that, but what I really wanted to do is Broadway. I finally got a Broadway show before 'KRP — but the parts I wanted on Broadway were being taken away by guys who had television credits. I got ticked off and said, 'OK. That's it, I'm going to California. I'm going to get a TV series and I'm going to come back to Broadway!'
"So I go to California and I do like two or three movies of the week, and guest spots on Starsky and Hutch and all of that, and 'KRP happened."
After WKRP, he returned to Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance. His stage credits include Chicago, The Music Man, Arsenic and Old Lace and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
THE PERFECT PART: When he read the WKRP script in 1978, "I knew what the network wanted. They wanted a young leading man kind of guy, cute, and that's why I did the tight jeans thing. That's why I did the hair thing. What they really wanted was a cute guy. The transition that I made was giving them what they wanted."
A CBS casting executive arranged for his WKRP audition after he was a close second for another situation comedy.
"I had screen-tested a couple of times for some other sitcom, and it was between me and the guy who got it, over at CBS, and the show never went anywhere. But on the strength of that, CBS called the casting guy at MTM and said, 'We want you guys to see this guy.' And the casting guy said, 'I know who he is, and I don't think he's right.' And CBS says, 'Yeah, well, you're gonna see him.' And so CBS pushed me into the audition. And when I went in, I read with the guy who was the casting guy at the time, and I knew it was going well, and he had egg on his face."
Over four seasons, the WKRP writers and cast had fun mussing up Sandy's always perfect longish hair. But it wasn't like his New York days.
"I went to Woodstock and everything, so my hair was a helluva longer than when I did 'KRP."
FOUR DECADES LATER: Despite his comments about WKRP sidetracking his career, he's not surprised we're still talking about the sitcom fictionally set in Cincinnati 40 years later. He thought it would be a great TV series from the start.
"I knew it — and I'm not just saying this — I knew it the moment I read the script. I'm not kidding you … As soon as I read that script, No. 1, I really wanted it; and No. 2, I was positive it would work because I had been hanging around long enough to know. I thought it was interesting because it was about something. It took place in an environment that wasn't just some family sitcom where Johnny breaks his ball bat and what are we going to do about it, you know? It was about something and I thought it was extremely funny."
Sometime after CBS canceled the show in 1982, Sandy and Jan Smithers — who played producer Bailey Quarters — were asked to attend the Rand Easter Show (now called the Rand Show) held annually in Johannesburg. It's the largest consumer exhibition in South Africa.
"A radio station in South Africa brought Jan and me over there for the Rand Easter Show, and we waved in front of 100,000 people because 'KRP was a big hit in South Africa. Who knew?"
The Stares, based in Missouri, started their WKRP-Cast in September 2020. They've done an episode-by-episode review of the beloved CBS sitcom which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982, wrapping up last week with a look at the last original episode broadcast on Sept. 20, 1982. It's available by searching "WKRP-Cast" wherever you get your podcasts, or on Patreon.