Dave: I know. It wasn't great journalism.
Lisa: No, I'm talking about that you didn't tell me.
Dave Foley (The Kids in the Hall) starred as news director and Only Sane Man Dave Nelson, whose co-workers included pompous anchorman Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman), neurotic overachieving producer Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney), inept roving reporter Matthew Brock (Andy Dick), Sassy Secretary Beth (Vicki Lewis), Eccentric Millionaire station-owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root), Conspiracy Theorist electrician and Homemade Inventions producer Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan), and, for the first three seasons, co-anchor Sassy Black Woman Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander, who left for a bigger role on ER; Tierney joined her after NewsRadio was axed). After Hartman's death, Jon Lovitz signed on for the final season as Bill's Suspiciously Similar Substitute Max Louis.
Characterized by its fast-paced plotting, quick-witted dialogue, heavy amounts of Slapstick, and occasionally surreal, outlandish plotlines. Episodes were generally self-contained, with the few arcs that were present generally being forced upon the writers by NBC and only lasting a few episodes before being quietly dropped. Infamously, the showrunners' reaction to being asked to do a Will They or Won't They? storyline was to have the main characters hook up in the second episode.
Though critically acclaimed, NewsRadio never got the recognition or Ratings it deserved, in part because NBC apparently scheduled it by rolling dice each week.
This show provides examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming:
- Max Louis is initially incapable of learning anyone's name; he repeatedly calls Dave "Doug" and everybody else by a summary phrase (such as "brown-haired journalism woman" for Lisa). The first time he does call Dave Dave, he soon thinks he's made a mistake and apologetically uncorrects himself back to Doug.
- One of the plotlines for the Season 1 episode "Inappropriate" involves Matthew worrying about getting fired and landing WNYX in trouble with the FCC after committing this, repeatedly, during an on-air "Where are They Now" segment about Joey Buttafuoco explanation . Dave informs him of this blunder in this exchange:Beth: Matthew, I think you mispronounced that guy's name a few times.
Matthew: What? It's Joey Buttaf--
Dave: No it isn't, Matthew. It's "Buttafuoco". "Butta-foo-co".
Matthew: What did I say?
Dave: Well, Matthew, of all the possible mispronunciations of that name, you seem to have stumbled upon absolutely the worst one.
- Actor Allusion:
- Dave dressing up as a woman for a Halloween episode was no surprise to anyone who knew of the many convincing female characters Dave Foley had played as a member of the all-male comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall.
- In "The Trainer", the staff is shocked to find out that Dave is actually Canadian. Dave Foley is from Canada.
- "Bill's Autobiography" has a scene where Bill is given a tape recorder to write his thoughts for his autobiography, which includes a tape of Dave singing the song "A Horse with No Name" by America. Phil Hartman, during his time working as a graphic artist, designed three of that group's album covers; while his brother John was the band's manager.
- Joe Garrelli continually espoused his beliefs in conspiracy theories, such as man never landing on the moon; Joe Rogan is similarly known for his comments on conspiracy theories. In addition, Joe and Matthew once faced each other in a no-holds-barred ultimate fighting match and Joe would later attempt to teach Matthew and Max his homemade martial art, "Joe-Jitsu"; Rogan has been a martial artist for most of his life and started working for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1997, a year before the show went off the air.
- Lisa is revealed to originally be from Boston and has a strong Boston accent that she worked with a speech therapist to suppress; Maura Tierney is originally from Boston.
- Addiction Displacement: Bill tries to take up chewing tobacco in order to quit smoking.
- Adoring the Pests: The gang befriends a rat that is roaming the station. Dave doesn't know about this and sets traps for it, which the others set off to keep the rat safe.
- Alien Autopsy: Joe, Beth, and Matthew once act out a fake alien autopsy (with Matthew as the alien) in front of a 24-hour webcam for the radio station's website. Joe also claims to possess a tape of a genuine alien autopsy. In the Halloween episode, his costume is "alien autopsy surgeon".
- The Alleged Boss:
- Station owner Jimmy James is a type 2. While he occasionally comes down for serious business, most of the time he just hangs around and shoots the breeze.
- Dave, the news director, is a type 3. Try as he might, he just can't seem to rein in his subordinates, even when they're actively flouting the rules or simply ignoring what they're supposed to be doing.
- Alphabet Architecture: Jimmy James planned to construct two J-shaped towers in a bid to have his name on something that will live on after he's gone.
- April Fools' Plot: "The Song Remains the Same" has Jimmy pulling April Fools' pranks on the staff...in February.
- Ascended Extra: Jon Lovitz played two one-off characters before taking on a full time role as Max Louis. Lampshaded in that he eventually reveals that "Max Louis" isn't his real name and he takes on a new name/persona each time he changes jobs, suggesting that all three characters may be one and the same.
- Ash Face: One time, Bill tries to escape down the stairwell when fire breaks out in the building, but the stairwell is full of smoke and he comes back covered in soot. Dave has a blackface quip ready:
- As Himself:
- Bob Costas, James Caan, Jerry Seinfeld, George "Goober" Lindsey, Adam West, Chuck D.
- Averted with Scott Adams. He does show up in an episode in which Matthew becomes obsessed with Dilbert, but just as a surly guy in a crowd. The "Scott Adams" who Dave introduces to Matthew is an actor played by an actor.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Dave, in the Halloween episode, laments that he looks better as a woman than a man. Lisa gets mad because she thinks he looks better in her dress than she does. This is also something of an Actor Allusion, as Dave frequently dressed in drag during his days with The Kids in the Hall, where general consensus was that he made the prettiest girl amongst all the troupe members.
- Author Catch Phrase:
- The producers found the word "gazizza" far funnier than the audience did.
- Variations on "That is the policy and it is enforced" are said by many different characters.
- Autobiography: In-Universe example. In "Super Karate Monkey Death Car", Jimmy James's autobiography, Jimmy James: Capitalist Lion Tamer, is selling better in Japan than in the USA. He decides to have it the Japanese edition translated back into English. The changes start with the new title, Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler. It gets worse (and funnier) from there.
- Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: In "Bitch Session", Dave ducks under his desk for a moment to fix his phone cord. The others, seeing his office seemingly empty, decide to stage an impromptu gathering in his office to talk about him and make fun of him. This was based on a real incident among the writers.
- Batman Gambit: During the fifth season, Johnny Johnson manages to become CEO of Mr. James' company and doesn't intend to cede control back to him. Mr. James employs the Batman Gambit by convincing Johnny to let him take any one employee with him from the company. In the end, Mr. James announces his pick: Johnny, who he promptly fires.
- Be Careful What You Wish For
- Beleaguered Boss: Boyish news director Dave Nelson of WNYX has to deal with an office full of squabbling misfits of varying degrees of ineptitude, ego, and disregard for authority, among them his girlfriend/would-be replacement Lisa and bombastic anchor Bill, along with Dave's own boss, Jimmy James, eccentric billionaire station owner. By the end of the series, when all his Midwestern idealism has been chipped away, all that's left is bitterness, snark, and a lasting hatred of Wacky Guy reporter Matthew.
- Benevolent Boss: Jimmy is a friendly and lovable guy who genuinely cares for his staff. He also has a zealous belief in business principles and corporate success. These aspects of his personality clash more than once.
- The Big Board: Only Matthew cares about it, however.
- Book Ends: To the entire series. The first episode features the Only Sane Man Dave introduced to the ensemble of characters who will make his life miserable for the next five seasons; the last episode ends with all of those characters (except Matthew) leaving after the station is sold.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: From "Sinking Ship"Dave: Isn't the ceiling supposed to cave in now?
Jimmy: Yeah, but I think they blew most of the special effects budget on the breakroom scene.
- Bullying a Dragon: Defied in "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show" when the staff learns that Dave is a knife thrower. He expects to be made fun of for it like with all his other interests, but the staff is openly terrified of upsetting him.
- Burger Fool: Lisa in "Lucky Burger", ostensibly to write an expose at first, but her type A personality gets so caught up in doing the job well that she ends up being promoted to assistant manager and can't seem to stop. Dave's speech to Max about how everyone at the station is just as crazy as he is makes note of the fact that Lisa was basically on the verge of throwing away a career in journalism to continue her upward climb through the fast food business.
- Canada, Eh?: Dave is revealed to have been born in Canada. He even lets out an "eh" when he's being defensive.
- Christmas Episode: "Xmas Story" in season two, "Christmas" in season three, and "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show" in season four.
- Clock Discrepancy: Done in a episode when Jimmy decides to sell the station. He's supposed to contact the buyer at midnight to finalize the deal. The staff spends most of the night trying to convince him not to sell. Five minutes before midnight, Matthew reveals he had set the clock back ten minutes and it was actually five minutes after and Jimmy has missed his deadline. Of course since This Is Reality, midnight was just a loose guideline and Jimmy can still go through with the deal.Jimmy: I'm dealing with a corporation here, not magical fairies.
- Converse with the Unconscious: Dave to Mr. James in "Sleeping"
- Crazy-Prepared: Bill, in "Presence", always has his contract in an inside pocket of his suit, just in case.Dave: Wait a minute. You carry around your contract with you?
Bill: At a time like this it doesn't seem so crazy, does it?
- During "The Real Deal with Bill McNeal", Bill has a pre-recorded sound effects for any occasion, including "Hey, good question!", "Hey, don't mention it!" and "Well screw you too!", and keeps extras in his pocket in case the producer takes the loaded ones out.
- Also, in the episode "Security Door", Dave gets fed-up with everyone not following proper security door protocol. Calling a staff meeting, he has an easel and a huge pad of paper with drawings of what to do and not to do while he gives his speech, covering fires, thieving burglars, propping open the door, earthquakes (even explaining that they mainly happen in the 'ring of fire' in the Pacific rim) and... Matthew's questions. They fit EXACTLY what he is saying, and even predicts what the staff will ask him. To wit:Dave: Any questions?
Matthew: Yeah, I have a very serious question.
Dave: Of course, Matthew. [Flips paper over, revealing a picture of a man riding a flying Unicorn.] In the event that a wizard casts a spell on us...
- Crazy Workplace: The series takes place in a New York AM news radio station staffed by eccentrics. When the new newsreader, Max Louis, thinks he's too weird to work there, Dave shows him around.Dave: Here we have Lisa, who today very nearly gave up a career in journalism for a life in the fast food industry. Over here we have Beth, who dresses like a barmaid from Blade Runner. Mr. James, a billionaire who has spent the entire day eating food he knows for a fact to be spoiled. Joe, who earns upwards of 11 dollars working as an amateur surveillance expert — albeit half of it in Monopoly money. And, of course, Matthew (cut to Matthew peeking from under a desk), who appears to have taken the surveillance into his own hands.
- Cringe Comedy: Not used too often, but occasionally pops up. The most notable example being the scene in "Negotiation" where Lisa attempts to interview Anthrax on MTV News while having little to no understanding of rock music.
- Cross-Referenced Titles:
- Bored with coming up with titles for their episodes, the writers resorted to naming the last nine episodes of Season 2 after Led Zeppelin albumsnote . And then in Season 3, they randomly named one episode "Led Zeppelin Boxed Set". See also Idiosyncratic Episode Naming.
- "Catherine Moves On" in Season Four and "Bill Moves On" in Season Five.
- Curse Cut Short:
- From "The Trainer".Matthew: Hey, what part of Africa are you from?
Catherine: Shut up.
Matthew: No, seriously! Say something in African.
Catherine: Shut the f- (show cuts to the next scene)
- Also happens in "Kids" when the teacher that Jimmy's dating insists he set a good example for a student to whom she's trying to teach good manners.Teacher: Take your elbows off the table.
Jimmy: Oh. What the hell.
Teacher: And don't say "hell".
Teacher: And don't say "damn".
Jimmy: All right, but what the f- (show cuts to the next scene)
- From "The Trainer".
- Distinction Without a Difference:Dave: Okay, listen up everyone. This door is to be kept closed at all times, all right? We have a security system for a good reason and I don't want people circumventing it.
Beth: Dave, we're not circumventing it, we're just trying to get around it.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In "The Real Deal", Bill and Lisa try desperately to get Jerry Seinfeld to appear on their show so it won't get cancelled... which bears a suspicious resemblance to the real life situation that NewsRadio was in at the time.
- Downer Ending: Pretty much. Dave refuses to join Lisa, Beth, Joe, Max, and Jimmy in New Hampshire, leaving Dave all alone in the WNYX studio... or so he thought. Turns out Matthew was hiding under his desk and surprised him. So while Dave isn't alone, he's stuck with Matthew as his assistant, a guy who can't do much of anything except play computer solitaire. The Oh, Crap! look on Dave's face pretty much says it all. Word of God states that if the show had been renewed, the entire cast would have been transplanted to the new station in New Hampshire, so if you accept that as canon, you could reason that Dave and Matthew did end up joining the others after all.
- The non-canon "Space" and "Sinking Ship" end with every cast member except Bill and Matthew dead (and in the latter case, it's heavily implied they won't last much longer anyway)
- Dream Sequence: "Daydream."
- Dropped After the Pilot: Greg Lee as handyman Rick only to be replaced by Conspiracy Theorist electrician and Homemade Inventions producer Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan).
- Drunk with Power: Matthew's promotion.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Many traits of the characters and setting weren't established until Season Two, making the Season One episodes a strange viewing experience to those who came to the series later on.
- Jimmy was rather stern in manner during the first season. It wouldn't be until Season Two that his eccentric side would take over.
- Season One contains no mentions of Joe's homemade inventions or his belief in conspiracy theories.
- In the first season, the room behind Matthew's desk is a recording booth. In the Season Two premiere, it suddenly becomes the break room.
- Matthew is still a ditz, but hasn't yet become the slapstick magnet that he would become in Season Two. He also behaves normally toward Bill instead of the fawning admirer he is through most of the series. Heck, Matthew actually goes on the air and is a semi-competent reporter in season one. This is in contrast to how he is portrayed the rest of the series- a computer solitaire obsessed Manchild who can only be described by Mr. James by "The damage he does is pretty minimal in the long run..."
- In a matter not too dissimilar from Cheers, the first season of the show was - outside of The Teaser in the pilot - set entirely within the WNYX offices. The second season started having scenes set outside of it, but usually only if it was particularly called for by the plot. By the third season, it had more or less abandoned the idea of constraining itself to the office.
- Embarrassing First Name: Turns out Bill/William isn't Bill's first name; it's Evelyn.
- Epic Fail: Matthew manages to do this three times in one episode:
- After losing a couple bets with Joe, Matthew asks to bet on the boxing match in the newspaper. Since Matthew knows nothing about boxing, he doesn't realize it is an ad for a rerun of the legendary George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali match which happened 20 years earlier and as a result, he instantly loses by betting on George Foreman.
- Next, Matthew (who has racked up over 5,000 dollars' worth of debt with Joe because he didn't understand what double or nothing meant) is trying to throw a wad of paper into a waste basket across the office. When he actually bets with Joe, he succeeds, but he was in such a hurry to do it, he didn't realize Joe bet that he could do it.
- Finally, with Matthew's debt at over 10,000 dollars, Liza convinces Joe to throw a bet by having Matthew guess which of Joe's hands a pencil is in. Despite Joe making it as easy as possible (the pencil was sticking straight out of his hand), Matthew still picks the wrong hand.Joe: I tried.
Lisa: So did I, you're on your own, Matthew.
- Exact Words: In one Christmas episode, Matthew receives a set of recordings of the old Fibber McGee and Molly radio show. He is initially thrilled, but later gets pissed when he finds out that Jimmy gave everyone else cars. Then he finds out that Jimmy literally gave him Fibber McGee and Molly, as in, he gave Matthew the rights to the series.
- Exploding Closet: Matthew and Dave discuss the tendency of Fibber McGee and Molly to use this trope after Mr. James gives Matthew the tapes and rights to the series as a Christmas gift. Matthew tries to relate a part from the show to Dave, but Dave easily guesses that the closet's contents spill out onto Fibber McGee. It turns out that Matthew thought that something else happens, but admits the trope happening is funnier.
- Fatal Method Acting: The final scene of of "Sinking Ship", where the actors as themselves address the audience, has Andy Dick claim that Dave Foley drowned filming the last scene. (He didn't, obviously.)
- Female Feline, Male Mutt: Beth insists (and Max agrees) that "all dogs are boys, all cats are girls." When Lisa complains that her dog Daisy is "obviously a girl", Max explains that that's just Daisy's sex, and they're talking about gender.
- Flanderization: Jimmy got goofier, Matthew got dumber, Bill got crazier, Dave got bitterer, Lisa got more neurotic, and Joe's fondness for inventions became Gilligan's Island-esque in scope.
- Fauxtastic Voyage: "Balloon"
- Feng Schwing: Bill's apartment, but later revealed to actually be his gigolo neighbor's place
- 555: Subverted, when Mr. James realizes he's been given a fake 555 number.
- Flat "What": Jimmy's reaction when someone expresses their distaste for advertising, followed by a very emotional rant about the glories of advertising.Jimmy James: Let me tell you something little miss. Advertising pays our bills, all right? Advertising pays your salary. Advertising is what made this country great!
Lisa: Well, ok, maybe I misspoke...
Jimmy James: What was the Constitution of the United States?
Lisa: A document...
Jimmy James: No! It is an advertisement! An advertisement for liberty! "When in the course of human events..." I'm telling ya, that's right up there with "Put a tiger in your tank," and "Where's the beef?"
- Flyover Country:
- Dave is from Wisconsin, and is often made fun of for it by the others, especially Bill.Bill: [imitating Dave] You see, I'm from Wis-cahn-sin, where taxi cabs are feared and hunted for the delicious meat under their hoods.
- In "Airport", Dave and Bill are snowed in at St. Louis Airport and Bill complains about being trapped in "the vast cultural wasteland between New York and Palm Springs." He mistrusts Midwesterners for being too nice, and is proven right when he and Dave get scammed by some Wisconsinites.
- Dave is from Wisconsin, and is often made fun of for it by the others, especially Bill.
- "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: "Flowers for Matthew." A drug Joe made for him makes him so smart that he figures out it has no chemical effect and his increased intelligence is from the placebo effect. But now that he knows it's a placebo...
- Foil: Dave and Bill are an excellent example.
- Friend-or-Idol Decision: Not quite a straight example, as Mr. James is already a billionaire, but when an excellent offer for the new station is made (it's at least ten times what Dave thought was a fair price), James is caught between how much he enjoys the station and its people, and his business principles. In an interesting twist, Jimmy is rich enough that he doesn't need the money, but the notion of turning down a big profit goes against his values.
- The Gadfly: Bill, particularly to Matthew. Jimmy also engages in it from time to time.
- Gainax Ending: "Daydream", which, in an obvious parody of St. Elsewhere, ends with Dave & Lisa sitting watching Jimmy James staring into a snowglobe and imagining the events of the series.
- Genius Serum: Matthew was once given a "smart drink" invented by Joe that made him smarter. Unfortunately, Matthew got smart enough to realize that the juice didn't work and he only became smarter due to the Placebo Effect; once he realizes this, he gradually reverts to his ditzy self.
- Ghost Extras: Prevalent in the first two seasons, before being largely reduced and eventually abandoned. The audio commentaries revealed creator Paul Simms's thoughts on the extras: While they did give the feeling of a bustling city radio station, he found the extras to be too distracting and wanted to focus solely on the main cast members.
- A God Am I: Played for laughs. Mr. James bets Bill in a poker game with another radio station. Bill pulls out his contract and says there is no way he has the right to do that. Mr. James then tells him to check the extraordinary circumstances section, saying that the contract does not cover instances of sudden illness, acts of God, etc. Again, Bill protests. Mr. James finally tells him to read his Act of God clause.Bill [Shocked]: "Jimmy James shall be referred to here and in all future instances... as God."
- The Great Whodini: Dave was both the great Throwgalli and the Great Ventriloquodini.
- Halloween Episode: Wherein Bill falls in love with an elderly woman who turns out to be a hot young woman in costume.
- Heads, Tails, Edge: Mr. James trying to pick the new news director.
- Heroic BSoD: Mr. James has one of these when he loses Bill in a poker game.
- He's Just Hiding: Invoked in-universe with Matthew's reaction to Bill's death. Initially, at least. Later, Matthew admits that he knows Bill is truly dead, he's just using this trope so as not to alarm the others.
- Historical Character Confusion: Bill has some... interesting interpretations of the Battle of Little Bighorn.Bill: "Big Chief Custer? No, he scalped many palefaces that day."
- Historical In-Joke: Mr. James' claim to be the informant Deep Throat, not to mention a three-episode arc in which James is accused of being notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper, who is ultimately revealed to be Adam West.
- Homemade Inventions: Joe's forte. In fact it's implied that Joe doesn't use ANYTHING he didn't just make in his garage. This often times applies to the individual parts as well, although he has cobbled together several Frankenstein inventions.
- Human Popsicle: "Space"
- Hypno Fool: How Joe cures Mr. James of his fear of hippies.
- Hypocritical Humor: Bill complains about another broadcaster using the word "penis" on the air, saying that it's highly offensive and should not be allowed. But during his rant, he uses the word several times himself.
- I Know Kung-Faux: Joe Garelli is an expert in "Joe-jitsu".
- I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: What all of Beth's boyfriends told her. Not just that they are a slave to their sex drive, but that they get sick if they don't.
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Lisa's fantasy in "Daydream" is to best Dave with a good comeback to his "In judo, the wise man steps aside" analogy. She gets cheered by the crowd in her fantasy, but when she does it for real, Dave just gives another clever comeback and stymies her.
- Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Jon Lovitz played three separate characters during the show - Fred (no last name given), Mike Johnson, and Max Louis. The first two were one-off extras, only present for a single episode each (the former was an air traffic controller who occasionally fakes insanity to get a free vacation in the local mental hospital, the latter a suicidal ex-employee of Jimmy James), while the latter served as Bill McNeal's replacement following Phil Hartman's death. Lampshaded, and possibly subverted, when Max reveals that "Max Louis" isn't actually his real name. His true name is never revealed, but he explains that he takes on a new name and persona whenever he changes jobs, suggesting that all three characters might actually be the same in-universe person.
- IN SPACE!: The episode "Space" is explictly introduced as "NewsRadio IN SPACE!"Bill: What if the show wasn't set in a news station... but a space station? And what if we didn't deliver the news but the... space news.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: In "Mistake", Dave in a magazine interview refers to Joe as "a so-called electrician who knows more about imaginary flying saucer technology than he does about a simple light switch". Joe is far less offended by the personal insult than by Dave referring to alien technology as "imaginary".
- I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: In "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show", Dave's knife-throwing nemesis Throwdini is played by Dave Foley's former The Kids in the Hall colleague Kevin McDonald. And in "Goofy Ball", Bill's stalker is played by Phil Hartman's former Saturday Night Live colleague Dennis Miller. Hartman was replaced by Jon Lovitz who was another former SNL acquaintace and who had interacted with Hartman playing guest spots on early shows of the series.
- Just One More Level!: Dave retakes his SATs on a dare from Lisa, but unintentionally stays up all night before the exam playing an arcade game that was recently installed on the building (an old favourite, no less). When the results come in, he reveals he did the same thing when he originally took the tests.
- "Kick Me" Prank: Bill puts a "Spaz" sign on Matthew.
- Killer Outfit: In one episode, the action revolves around a person who had just died from having a tie snagged in a copier.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Dave Nelson was once a knifethrower named The Great Throwgalli.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: Oysters...
- Lost Him in a Card Game: Bill in "Presence"
- The Main Characters Do Everything: WNYX is supposed to be a busy New York City radio station, but the eight main characters seem to do every job. The electrician sits in on story meetings and sometimes goes on the air. The show originally had Ghost Extras in the background to suggest that there were other employees, but eventually gave up on that.
- Lampshaded and Hand Waved in "Kids", when Dave calls Joe, Matthew, and Bill into his office to make them confess which one of them has been leaving porn magazines in the break room.Dave: Look, guys, I'm asking you as friends. Please just tell me who it is.
Joe: Dave, did you ever stop to consider it might be one of the 15 or 20 other guys who work at this station?
Bill: Joe's right. How come every time there's a problem, you assume that it's one of us? What about them? What if it was... that guy whose name I don't know? Or the guy who sits by him? Or—
Dave: Because somebody gave those people the impression they're not allowed in the break room.
Bill: Well, Dave, I consider that room to be a private sanctuary where I can escape from all those horrid little people whose names I don't know!
- "Beep, Beep" out right say that the main characters are the only ones in the office who actually work there. Basically, Mr. James had a team of spies pretending to work at the office and monitor the staff's productive until he learns something about Dave and Lisa that makes him believe the whole venture was pointless. He then orders his entire spy team to shut down and every single person who isn't one of the main characters leaves.
- Something of a case of Truth in Television for people who have worked in radio. Most radio stations, especially those run by major conglomerates, tend to be understaffed. Assuming that the station ran a few syndicated programs (which, again, most radio stations would), the visible staff of WNYX would be an entirely reasonable, realistic workforce, missing only a few part-timers, one or two people on the production staff, and the sales people who don't really count anyway (according to the first few minutes of the series, the "Business Offices" were across town, which is where sales people and the like would've been located anyway).
- Lampshaded and Hand Waved in "Kids", when Dave calls Joe, Matthew, and Bill into his office to make them confess which one of them has been leaving porn magazines in the break room.
- Magic Feather: An interesting variation: Matthew is given a "smart drink" by Joe, and is so convinced it will work that he actually becomes smarter... smart enough to understand that the drink was a placebo, which means it stops working.
- Moon-Landing Hoax: The "Balloon" episode has Jimmy James pretending to fly a hot air balloon around the world, but he was filming the whole thing inside a TV studio. Lisa finds out and calls him out on it.Jimmy: It's not like I was faking the Apollo Moon landings, now that was a big deal.
Jimmy: [nervously] Nothing, I gotta go.
- New Job Episode:
- Matthew quits over Dave's refusal to let him do a report on Dilbert to go to work at the coffee shop downstairs. After being fired in a later episode, Matthew is revealed to be a qualified, entirely competent dentist — but his first love is radio.
- "Lucky Burger" has Lisa briefly working at the titular fast food restaurant, at first to do some investigative reporting on the establishment's health code violations, but quickly turning the place around and getting a supervisor position for it.
- New York Is Only Manhattan: Invoked when Bill gives an editorial.Bill: Wake up, Manhattan! Wake up, Brooklyn! Wake up... the other three boroughs!
- Nose TappingBill: It is the wise man who knows there's a lot that he does not know.
Matthew: [tapping nose] I know.
- No Theme Tune: The later seasons just had the title superimposed over the action.
- Not Helping Your Case: In the episode "Twins", after staff find out that Bill caused all the budget problems by negotiating his pay to be increased by a factor of SIXTEEN, Bill continues to make it worse on himself, first by insulting Beth and her job (twice), then by telling Matthew that he was adopted (he wasn't but everyone thought he was).
- Not-So-Innocent Whistle: In "Xmas Story," Bill complains that the Christmas gift for Mr. James he contributed to was nothing more than a shirt in a frame. Mr. James is visibly underwhelmed when he receives the gift, leading Bill to look away and whistle as if to say he didn't have a hand in it.
- Office Sports: The Goofy Ball hot potato game. At one point, Beth runs by Dave while playing it.
- Only in It for the Money: Played with. Jimmy's already a billionaire, but lives by a zealous code of capitalism and business success that requires him to come out on top of any business transaction. He obsesses over losing twenty bucks in a came of three card monty just as much as losing millions in a corporate acquisition. He doesn't seem to care that much about money for its own sake, but is driven to succeed on principle.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Max Louis. Turns out "Max Louis" is just a pseudonym, since "Max" changes names and personas every time he takes a new job. Possibly meant to Lampshade two other characters that Jon Lovitz had played on the show up to Max's introduction.
- Parody Episode: "Sinking Ship", which parodies Titanic.
- Personality Swap: When Matthew gets teased by Bill to the point of tears, it culminates with Matthew punching out Bill (after misinterpreting Dave's advice to stand up for himself). For the remainder of the episode, Matthew becomes a callous Jerkass while Bill becomes a shameless sycophant, effectively swapping their personalities. It ends when Bill accidentally hits Matthew in the face at the episode's conclusion.
- Pest Episode: Subverted in "Rat Funeral": the episode begins with the cast rushing to save beloved office "pet"/mascot Mike the Rat from the traps Dave has had the super set everywhere. Dave eventually relents — only for the snap of a trap to go off in the background. Then double-subverted when it turns out Mike was not one black-and-white rat but many black-and-white rats, and WNYX actually has quite the infestation on their hands. Everyone's a little grossed out after that.
- [Popular Saying], But...: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and then throw it in the face of the person who gave you the lemons until they give you the oranges you originally asked for.
- Previously on…: Parodied in "Who's the Boss Part 2", where the only clip is Bill and Dave eating at the conference table.
- Rap Is Crap: The episode "Rap" has Bill horrified that anybody can just walk into a store and buy a rap album, believing they should only be sold in the classified ads in the back of porn magazines. He plans to do an editorial about how rap is "cancerous to today's youth", ignoring Dave's observation that he's about a decade behind the thousands of other journalists who've made the same claims. Jimmy calls in Chuck D from Public Enemy to appear on Bill's show to offer a rebuttal, knowing that Bill's obsessive need to suck up to celebrities will put an immediate end to his outrage.
- The Rashomon: "Catherine Moves On".
- Real Life Writes the Plot: After Hartman was murdered, his character Bill was made to suffer a fatal heart attack.
- Recursive Translation: In "Super Karate Monkey Death Car", Jimmy has taken the fact that his autobiography, Jimmy James: Capitalist Lion Tamer, is selling better in Japan than in the USA as a cue to have the Japanese edition translated back into English. The results have... lost something in translation, starting with the new title, Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.[at a reading Jimmy is giving at a bookstore, where he is seeing the new edition of the book for the first time]
Jimmy: [opens book to a bookmarked page and begins reading] "I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street. Many days, no business comes to my hut. [confused] My... hut. But... Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no! I never doubted myself for a minute, for I knew that my... [even more confused] monkey strong bowels were... girded with strength, like the... loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... [turns page] dung."
[later; the audience has dwindled to less than half its size, while Jimmy's face, tone of voice, and body language suggest he wants the ground to open up and swallow him]
Jimmy: "Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon, the... super karate monkey death car would... [Dave sighs] park in my space. [vainly attempts to sound energetic] But Jimmy has fancy plans!... And pants to match. [more audience members get up and leave] The monkey clown horrible karate... round and yummy, like a cute small baby chick, would... meet the donkey."
- A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: Jimmy James once referred to himself, saying "I am a cipher—a cipher, wrapped in an enigma, and smothered in secret sauce."
- "Risky Business" Dance: Jimmy James does it at Dave's parent's house, where he is hiding from the police.
- Running Gag: Whenever Joe's last name is mentioned, someone (usually Bill) looks perplexed and says "Your last name is Garrelli?"
- Joe's close personal relationship with the Unabomber (Before Ted Kacynski was caught in real life).
- Jimmy's attraction to Dave's mother could also be considered a running gag.
- Jimmy having a heated argument in Dave's office, wherein Dave asks if it's a tough business deal, to which Jimmy responds with something innocuous like 'No that was your mother, lovely lady,' or 'Nah, wrong number'.
- Beth's absurdly low salary.
- Joe's fondness for conspiracy theories.
- The phrase "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" comes up a few times in different contexts.
- Matthew getting hurt.
- Secret Relationship: Dave and Lisa
- Secret Test of Character Jimmy is a fan of these. At one point, Lisa asks Jimmy if something is "one of your dumbass lessons".
- From the pilot:Dave: I wanted to let you know that I understand now that what you put me through was a test.
Jimmy: Could be. Or it could be that I'm just making it all up as I go along.
Dave: Well, which is it?
Jimmy: You'll never know.
- From the pilot:
- Set Behind the Scenes: of a 1990s New York City radio station.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: "Stinkbutt" has Dave try to argue in favor of freedom of expression while defending Joe and Beth painting "stinkbutt" on the wall of the lobby as a mural. After he gives an impassioned speech in favor of preserving the mural, the building supervisor informs him they've already painted it over.
- Shoo Out the New Guy:
- Andrea, the meddling, overly perky efficiency expert played by Lauren Graham. When the character met with an extremely tepid reception from fans, she was quietly and hastily dropped from the show.
- Jimmy's nephew Walt also met with this fate. He was present for four episodes at the end of Season 4, and was intended to remain as a cast regular in Season 5, but he was never seen past the season's finale, "Sinking Ship".
- Soylent Green in "Space". Wolf and Sheepdog in "Twins".
- Dave gets addicted to the arcade game Defender in "Arcade" (there referred to as Stargate Defender, likely referring to the game's sequel, Stargate).
- The last minute of "Daydream" parodies the infamous series ending to St. Elsewhere, as Jim peers into a snowglobe which contains the WNYX office.
- Show Within a Show: Multiple radio segments, including "The Real Deal with Bill McNeal" and "This Day in History"
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Jimmy has off-screen rivalries with Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, among others, and an onscreen rivalry with Johnny Johnson.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Dave wryly mentions in one episode that rage is an aphrodisiac for Lisa.
- On "Led Zeppelin," Lisa tells Beth that she had to quit the debate team in high school because she was afraid she'd get pregnant.
- Sound-Effect Bleep: In "Complaint Box", the eponymous complaint box outside Dave's office makes a buzzing noise whenever a complaint is filed, leading to the following exchange when he investigates a complaint that Lisa is getting preferential treatment because she is sleeping with him:Lisa: Name one thing I get from you the rest of the staff doesn't.
Dave: Well, for starters, there's my- [buzz]
Lisa: Besides that.
- Spy Cam: Lisa has to win back Bill's contract in a poker game. Joe gives her a Boba Fett action figure for luck, but it actually has a camera that they use to spy on her to make sure she wins. In the end, Lisa throws the figure out the window, and we see Joe, who is seeing the video feed through glasses, screaming for his life.
- Standard Office Setting: It takes place in a New York news radio station. Manager Dave Nelson has his own office, while the others work in an open workroom with desks and a communal table for staff meetings. (One episode has anchorman Bill McNeall install a cubicle for himself, which doesn't last.) There's also a broadcast booth behind soundproof glass and a break room (which was a control room in the pilot).
- Standardized Space Views: One Formula-Breaking Episode is set in space, so its Special Edition Title predictably features replaces the panoramic shots of New York City with shots of the cosmos acquired from NASA.
- Stepping Out to React: When Lisa asks Jimmy to give her away at her wedding, he calmly excuses himself and goes into Dave's office, from which the sounds of loud sobs, as well as a bemused Dave, emerge.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Bitchcakes
- Also in "Office Feud," both Jimmy and Beth believe "Swiss cheese" is an oxymoron.
- Suck E. Cheese's: Dave and Bill take Matthew to one in "The Secret of Management".
- Superficial Suggestion Box: The problem with the suggestion box isn't that Dave ignores the suggestions, it's that the others use the suggestions for jokes and insults.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Dave being the sane man has this reaction a lot. Nicely summed up in "Lucky Burger":Dave: I want you to look around. Here we have Lisa, who today very nearly gave up a career in journalism for a life in the fast food industry. Over here we have Beth, who dresses like a barmaid from Blade Runner. Mr. James, a millionaire who has spent the entire day eating food he knows for a fact to be spoiled. Joe, who has earned upwards of eleven dollars working as an amateur surveillance expert — albeit half of that is Monopoly money. (Matthew peeks out from behind his desk) And of course, Matthew, who appears to have taken the surveillance into his own hands.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Max Louis for Bill McNeal. To be fair, Jon Lovitz agreed to join the cast because he had been very close with Phil Hartman dating back into the early 80s and he wanted to pay tribute to his friend.
- Talent Double: In "Mistake", that clearly isn't Dave Foley tap dancing (note that we don't see Dave's face).
- That's What She Said: In "Led Zeppelin" when the rest don't know Dave and Lisa have broken up:Dave: I know it's a crummy story but someone has to do a piece on the Williamsburg Bridge renovation.
Lisa: Give it to me, Dave. I'll take it.
Joe: That's not the first time Dave's heard Lisa say that.
Dave: Give it a rest.
Bill: I'll bet that's not the first time Lisa's heard Dave say that.
Lisa: Look you really don't want to get into this.
Catherine: I bet Dave's never heard that one before.
Dave: Seriously, this is a very sensitive area.
Beth: That's what she said.
Lisa: Okay, I'm telling them.
Bill: And I'll bet that's not... Actually that doesn't really work, does it?
- Totally Radical:
- Parodied when Catherine teaches Bill some fake black slang. "Gazizza, my dilznoofus!"
- "Seriously, everyone is totally bitchcakes today..."
- True Companions: Sometimes less than obvious, sometimes almost brutally reinforced. Mr. James goes into a Heroic BSoD after he loses Bill in a poker game. Most notable in the episode where Mr. James gets an offer for the station. It's painfully obvious that James does not want to lose the station, or his friends, but it is against his principles to let his emotions guide his business. The end of the episode features the characters sitting around for hours trying to come up with excuses or alternative offers.
- Another example occurs in "Bitch Session." After Dave confronts the staff over badmouthing him behind his back, Jimmy holds a meeting with everyone but Dave and Lisa, telling him he hears them and he's going to fire Dave. The staff take turns defending Dave, starting with Matthew saying he'll quit if Dave is fired, and wrapping up with this by Bill:Bill: Jimmy, Dave is quite simply the best news director I've ever worked with.
Bill: What? No! I really mean it.
Catherine: Well. Bill McNeal shows a little compassion and sincerity. Remarkable.
Bill: Those dimensions are there, they're just unexplored.
- Another example occurs in "Bitch Session." After Dave confronts the staff over badmouthing him behind his back, Jimmy holds a meeting with everyone but Dave and Lisa, telling him he hears them and he's going to fire Dave. The staff take turns defending Dave, starting with Matthew saying he'll quit if Dave is fired, and wrapping up with this by Bill:
- Truncated Theme Tune: Many later episodes.
- Twisting the Words: Bill’s failure to vet his editorials through Dave before going on-air ends up biting him again in “French Diplomacy”, thanks to listeners taking his words too seriously. In his Real Deal editorial, Bill, in suggesting foreign diplomats be held accountable for violating parking laws like everyone else, facetiously suggests they be dragged out of their cars and beaten as punishment, much to the dismay of Dave and Lisa. This forces Bill to issue an on-air apology after receiving word that a listener savagely beat a French diplomat for that reason, in which he rails against vigilantism by suggesting “a certain element of our society named Joe Vigilante” be “dragged out and beaten.” Bizarrely, his use of what he thought was a metaphorical name makes things worse after a man actually named Joe Vigilante is assaulted by another listener, prompting Lisa to have Bill read another editorial/apology she wrote for him that concludes by asking people that “instead of listening to our radio, [we should] listen to our heart.” Soon after, Bill reads a story on-air about a mental hospital patient who inadvertently killed himself by taking the written sentiment to heart (pun intended), much to his and Lisa’s horror.
- Wacky Marriage Proposal: Parodied in "Our 50th Episode", played straight in "Wino"
- Way Past the Expiration Date: Bill buys stale sandwiches from an old sandwich vending machine, on purpose. He likes them because they remind him of his childhood.
- Welcome Episode: The pilot (Dave). Lovitz gets one too when he joins the cast.
- What If?: "Space" and "Sinking Ship"
- Wham Episode: "Bill Moves On", describing Bill's death-by-heart-attack following the real life death of actor Phil Hartman.
- Wham Shot: From that same episode, the final shot of Bill's empty chair, sitting in a darkened news room, is quite a gut punch.
- Will They or Won't They?: Subverted; see Writer Revolt in the trivia section.
- A somewhat more sincere attempt at this was done with Joe/Catherine in the third season, where Joe frequently hit on Catherine and it was implied that Catherine might have some genuine attraction towards him. It was never focused on too much though, and Khandi Alexander's departure early in Season 4 ultimately brought it to an early end.
- Written-In Absence: Maura Tierney doesn't appear in "Twins" due to being off filming Liar Liar, which is addressed simply by Dave mentioning her being off sick. Same with Beth in "Jackass Junior High" and "Sinking Ship", who was filming Pushing Tin - though Vicki Lewis does actually show up in the latter's DVD commentary, and the sequence at the end where the actors address the audience directly has Stephen Root mention she was off "making a movie in Toronto".
- Wondrous Ladies Room: Jimmy turns the men's room into a luxe club after the guys find out how nice the ladies room is. Matthew ruins it by going to the bathroom.
- Zany Scheme: Lampshaded by Dave at one point: "Why is the solution to every problem around here some kind of covert plan?"Joe: That's a secret.
- Zero-G Spot: Dave's sexual fantasy is making love on the Space Shuttle...with a space prostitute. Although this may be true, he supposedly said this to make Lisa really mad, which is also one of his sexual fantasies.