Dave Nelson (Dave Foley)
The news director at WNYX. A Naïve Newcomer
in the pilot episode, he quickly realizes the kind of place he's dealing with
- Benevolent Boss: Most of the time. He's somewhat embittered by the end of his tenure.
- Book Dumb: He's intelligent and has a good vocabulary - enough for his "big words" to sometimes annoy the other characters - but almost all of his cultural references come from movies and TV. In conversation with Lisa he reveals that the last book he read was Goober in a Nutshell, the autobiography of The Andy Griffith Shows George Lindsey.
- Canada, Eh?: In "The Trainer," the other characters find out he was born in Canada and react accordingly. This is an Actor Allusion. (In one outtake, Dave Foley really does tack an accidental "eh" onto the end of a line.)
- The Cassandra: Dave is a terrific news director. He's tough, has foresight, good instincts and a lot of common sense, and is a BS detector. Despite this, nobody at the office ever believes his warnings and his authority is roundly dismissed, as much of the staff see him as just a killjoy.
- Character Development: While the other characters were pretty much Flanderized in typical sitcom style, Dave had more of an arc: first he was alarmed by the craziness of his coworkers, then he got used to them and learned to manage them, and in the final season he simply got sick of it all until he didn't want to make the move to New Hampshire in the series finale.
- Closet Geek: Stargate Defender. Also, when Matthew buys him a sword, he waits until he's alone in the office and then pretends to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Hidden Depths/New Powers as the Plot Demands: His continually growing list of secret talents was a mild Running Gag (though mostly contained in the episode "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show"). He speaks Spanish, can tapdance, was involved in 4H, starred in Grease in high school, sang in an a cappella group in college, and can throw knives and his voice.
- Kawaisa: Dave is an in-universe example of cuteness, much to his frustration and chagrin. He's rarely taken seriously as an authority figure because of his inexperience, idealism and boyishness — the others largely agree that he looks like a fourteen-year-old in a business suit. A child visiting the station once calls him "the little boy in the blue suit".
- In episode 57, Dave tries to fool Andrea's polygraph test to make her think he's got a criminal record, but the test reveals he's never even thought about shoplifting, and Andrea calls him the cutest thing. He snaps back, "I am not the cutest thing!" and the polygraph goes off. Jimmy enters as Dave storms out, then Jimmy says to Andrea, "Ain't he the cutest thing?"
- Minnesota Nice: Wisconsin. Despite the revelation of his technical Canadianness, there were many more Wisconsin jokes from the other characters over the course of the show.
- Must Have Caffeine: When trying to get Bill to quit smoking, Dave gives up coffee at the same time to prove the point. They both fail.
- Nice Guy
- Not So Above It All: He does become unhinged occasionally, notably in "Security Door."
- Only Sane Employee
- Straight Man
- Team Mom
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Bill, according to the letter in "Bill Moves On"
The star anchor and a constant thorn in Dave's side.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He's apparently fairly famous and his segment is the most professional-sounding bit of the show we usually hear.
- Catch Phrase: The toast "salud!" (which makes another appearance after he dies) and "Good times…" (always said after telling a story that sounds like the opposite of that).
- Embarrassing First Name: Evelyn William McNeal.
Bill: It's pronounced "Eeee-ve-lyn."
- The Gadfly: His main method of annoying Dave. More than once he adopts a new habit just for attention. This was also a big part of his rivalry with Catherine.
Dave: Why the cane?
Dave: The cane. The walking stick.
Bill: Oh, you mean my cane!
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: As revealed through the many anecdotes he mistakenly believes are heartwarming, or at least normal.
- Jerkass: Especially toward Matthew.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Misattributing quotations (thinking Keats said everything) and exhibiting Global Ignorance, Historical Character Confusion, and Delusions of Eloquence, always in the most condescending tones possible.
"We could all be burned alive, like those people on the Titanic!"
- Large Ham: No one could yell like Phil Hartman.
- Obnoxious Snarker: Stentorian and theatrical rather than deadpan.
- Pet the Dog: Very occasional and often leading to a punchline, but still, they're there.
- Small Name, Big Ego
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Dave, according to his final letter in "Bill Moves On"
- Waistcoat of Style: He usually wears a three-piece suit, which makes him look very professorial. He isn't.
Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney)
A reporter who believed she was headed for Dave's job until he came along
. Also his on-again-off-again love interest.
The Eccentric Millionaire
who owns WNYX and sure seems to devote a lot of his time to it
. He enjoys playing God with the station and is often responsible for whatever Zany Scheme
or Secret Test
drives the episode, but also clearly cares for the people who work there.
- Alliterative Name, Repetitive Name
- Benevolent Boss: He tries, anyway. On one occasion, after realizing he got everyone really crappy Christmas presents, he tries it again a bit more personally, but apparently runs out of steam after giving Matthew some tapes of Fibber McGee and Molly and just buys everyone else brand-new Mazda Miatas; in a Double Subversion, it turns out that in addition to the tapes, Matthew got the rights to the show. He also sometimes appears to actively seek his good-boss reputation, by making Dave make the unpopular decisions for the company.
- Big Fun
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He might be literally insane, but you can't fault his business instincts.
- Cloud Cuckoolander
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The shady nature of his business dealings and political connections is a Running Gag. If he had turned out to be D.B. Cooper, would anyone have been surprised?
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Jimmy James is not only deceptively intelligent but deceptively spry. When an ex-employee denounces him on-air, James dives across Dave's desk to hit the kill-switch button (done off-screen).
I have never seen you move that fast before. Jimmy:
I save energy for times like this
- Large Ham
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Johnny Johnson certainly underestimates him.
- The Obi-Wan: To Dave.
- Southern-Fried Genius
- Talks Like a Simile: With varying success.
Lisa has decided that she wants to have a baby, but that she doesn't want to get married. Now I know that if you were awake
you'd probably say something like, "Well, son, why milk the cow when you've got a fridge full of steaks?"
And I would probably say, "That makes absolutely no sense, sir," and then you would say, "Well, it sure sounded like it made sense when that guy Chuck Connors said it in that movie Chinatown
," and then I would be forced to say, "Sir, Chuck Connors wasn't in the movie Chinatown
- Team Dad: Or Team Cool Uncle.
Beth (Vicki Lewis)
Matthew Brock (Andy Dick)
- Adult Child
- Butt Monkey
- Cloud Cuckoolander: More than anyone else in the office, which is saying a lot. By the end of the series he believes in magical creatures such as unicorns.
- The Ditz
- The Klutz: Say what you will about Andy Dick, but the guy can fall down.
- The Load: There was a whole arc where the other staffers tried to keep his job for him, then get it back when he lost it, even though they could make pretty much no case that he really deserved it (and even though he was revealed to be a qualified dentist in the meantime). When Jimmy did agree to take him back, it was with the reasoning that "the damage he does is pretty minimal most of the time" and with several caveats about the others cleaning up after him.
- Love Martyr: At some point he becomes obsessed with Bill and believes he's the greatest man in the world, while Bill continues to look at him as a source of sick amusement, if at all.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: He is, until "The Real Deal." When Dave finds this out, he drops his supportive facade and openly laughs at him: "You're twenty-eight!"
- Plucky Office Girl: A male example.
- What, Exactly, Is His Job?: He's a reporter, but after the first season or so you'd never know it. He himself doesn't know at one point when asked.
Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan)
The station's electrician.
Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander)
Co-anchor with Bill until she leaves for a London radio station in season four.
Max Louis (Jon Lovitz)
The new anchor who replaces Bill in season five.
A business rival of Jimmy's who takes over the station while Jimmy is briefly in jail in season five.