WKRP's Writers

WKRP's Writers

By Jaime J. Weinman

After seeing this document, go on back to my WKRP Page

There are other sites that tell you about the WKRP actors, so this page will provide some information on the less visible but equally important members of the WKRP team, the staff writers who contributed scripts and worked so hard, under the guidance of executive producer and head writer Hugh Wilson, to make the scripts as good as they could possibly be (and as good as they most certainly were).

These mini-bios are based on various sources of information, online and in books such as "America's Favorite Radio Station." If there are any inaccuracies below, or crucial pieces of information I've left out, please let me know.

TOM CHEHAK (story editor, 1978-1979)

Tom Chehak contributed scripts to MTM's production "The Tony Randall Show," and was hired by "Tony Randall Show" producer Hugh Wilson as a story editor on WKRP. Other shows Mr. Chehak has written for include "Alien Nation," "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.," and "Diagnosis Murder" (for which he was executive producer for several years).

BILL DIAL (story editor, 1978-1979; producer, 1979)

Dial wrote for "The Tony Randall Show" and then moved on to WKRP as a story editor and, for the first few episodes of season 2, producer. It was Dial who wrote WKRP's most famous episode, "Turkeys Away." He then moved to MCA/Universal, where he wrote for "Simon and Simon" (which included Tim Reid in its cast) "Foxfire," and "Legmen" (which had Jan Smithers as a guest star in the first episode). Dial then produced and wrote TV movies for Disney, including the first remake of The Absent-Minded Professor. In 1991 Dial became executive producer of MTM Productions' "The New WKRP In Cincinnati," which mixed characters from the original WKRP with new characters created by Dial. The show lasted two years in first-run syndication. Dial then turned to science fiction, writing for such shows as "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" and "Poltergeist: The Legacy," and co-creating the UPN series "Legend." He recently served as the executive producer for the final season of "Sliders."

DAN GUNTZELMAN (story editor, 1979-1980; story consultant, 1980-1981; executive story consultant, 1981; producer, 1982)

Dan Guntzelman was born, coincidentally enough, in Cincinnati, where he got his start as a cinematographer and, later, producer for the local TV station WKRC. From 1970 to 1976 he was a partner in the Alliance Pictures Corporation, producing short special-format films, and in 1976 he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career. In 1979 he joined the staff of WKRP, where he formed a writing partnership with fellow WKRP writer Steve Marshall. After "WKRP" ended, Guntzelman and Marshall created the unsold pilot "Cass Malloy," and then executive-produced the "All In the Family" spinoff "Gloria." In 1985 Guntzelman and Marshall created "Off the Rack," starring Ed Asner and Eileen Brennan, which ran one season. The next year, the two became executive producers of "Growing Pains," where they stayed for five years, as well as creating and executive producing a spinoff series, "Just the Ten of Us." Guntzelman worked solo for a season as executive producer of "Thunder Alley" (starring Asner), and in 1995 Guntzelman and Marshall created and executive produced the drama "Live Shot" for UPN. Guntzelman's feature film credits include Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds In Paradise (written with Marshall) and the direct-to-video Perfect Game, which he also directed. Guntzelman is married to fellow WKRP writer Lissa Levin; they have two children.

BLAKE HUNTER (story editor, 1978-1979; executive story consultant, 1979-1980; producer, 1980-1982)

Like Hugh Wilson, Blake Hunter came to TV writing from the world of advertising, and like most of WKRP's first-season writers, he wrote for MTM's "The Tony Randall Show." Hunter worked on WKRP for its entire run, writing many memorable episodes including "Tornado" and "The Creation of Venus," and specializing in episodes featuring Mr. Carlson's mother and/or wife ("Patter of Little Feet," "The Baby," "Baby, It's Cold Inside," "A Simple Little Wedding"). After WKRP ended, Hunter formed a writing partnership with Martin Cohan (a former producer of "The Bob Newhart Show"), and the two became executive producers of "Diff'rent Strokes," writing the famous "very special episode" guest-starring Gordon Jump as a child molester. In 1984 Hunter and Cohan created the series "Who's the Boss?" and they continued to executive-produce that successful series until it went off the air in 1992. "Who's the Boss?" was also adapted into the British series "The Upper Hand."

STEVEN KAMPMANN (story editor, 1979-1980; producer, 1980-1981)

A native of Philadelphia, Steven Kampmann got his comedy training at the Chicago branch of the famous Second City "comedy factory." In 1977 he moved to the Toronto branch of Second City, where he met up with Canadian Second City members Peter Torokvei (see below) and Martin Short. Kampmann, Torokvei, and Short collaborated on a short comedy film called "The Cisco Kid," which involved dubbing comic dialogue and sound effects onto an old western (sort of like Woody Allen's WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY). The film was later broadcast on Canadian TV as an "extra" episode of the Second City's SCTV show. In 1979, Kampmann and Torokvei went to Los Angeles hoping to get jobs as screenwriters and/or actors. Their "Cisco Kid" film came to the attention of Hugh Wilson, who invited them to come in and pitch WKRP script ideas. Kampmann and Torokvei decided that they wanted a chance to meet Sparky Anderson, so they wrote the episode "Sparky"; it was produced and Kampmann and Torokvei became WKRP story editors and, in the third season, producers. After the third season, Kampmann left WKRP and secured a development deal with MTM Productions, which led to his being cast in the role of cafe-proprietor and pathological liar Kirk Devane on MTM's "Newhart." After two seasons, Kirk was dropped from the show, and Kampmann turned his attention back to screenwriting, teaming with writer and fellow Philadelphian Will Alldis (sometimes billed as Will Porter) and working on the scripts of such movies as "Back To School" and "The Couch Trip." In 1988 Kampmann and Alldis wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical film "Stealing Home," starring Mark Harmon and Jodie Foster. It received generally negative reviews and did not do well at the box office, but has since gained something of a cult following. In addition to writing, Kampmann has acted in several films, most notably Harold Ramis's "Club Paradise."

LISSA LEVIN (story editor, 1980-1981; story consultant, 1982)

Lissa Levin started on WKRP as "production secretary" to series creator Hugh Wilson. In the second season, she wrote the episode "The Doctor's Daughter," and in the third season she joined the writing staff full-time as a story editor. Since WKRP ended, Levin has contributed scripts to many shows, including "Cheers," "Family Ties," "Who's the Boss?" "A Different World," the groundbreaking cable series "Brothers" (for which she received a CableACE award nomination), "Married People," "Thunder Alley," "Live Shot," and "Mad About You." She wrote the book and lyrics for the stage musical TWIST OF FATE (music by Ron Abel), which won her the 1997-98 Kleban award; it also received two L.A. Drama Critics circle awards and L.A. Weekly's musical of the year award. Levin is married to fellow WKRP writer Dan Guntzelman; they have two children.

STEVE MARSHALL (story editor, 1979-1980; story consultant, 1980-1981; executive story consultant, 1981; producer, 1982)

Mr. Marshall's essay "Look Back In Laughter" tells his story better than I could. In brief, though: Before joining the staff of "WKRP," Marshall worked at the Los Angeles radio station KNX/FM, first as a disc jockey, then as program director, creating the first soft rock format (the "mellow sound"). In 1979 Marshall submitted a spec script to "WKRP"; the script, titled "Bailey's Big Break," was produced, and Marshall was invited to join the writing staff. While working on the show, he formed a writing partnership with Dan Guntzelman. After "WKRP" ended, Guntzelman and Marshall continued to work together on many projects; see the entry for Guntzelman, above, for details. Marshall's film credits include Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds In Paradise (written with Guntzelman), and the 1996 short film Insomnia, which he also directed. Recently Marshall and his wife Patty Miller-Marshall edited and published the book "LOL: The Humor of the Internet."

PETER TOROKVEI (story editor, 1979-1980; producer, 1980-1982)

Peter Torokvei is a native of Toronto. In 1977 he joined the Toronto branch of the famous Second City, where he met up with writer/performer Steven Kampmann; see entry for Kampmann, above, for details of how Kampmann and Torokvei were hired for WKRP. Torokvei stayed with WKRP until near the end of the final season, writing many of the show's most memorable and imaginative episodes, including "Real Families," "Daydreams," and "Rumors." In 1983, Torokvei created a sitcom pilot for comedian Martin Mull, which was not picked up. He then turned his attention to writing feature films. Harold Ramis, the famous writer/director/performer and Second City alumnus, became Torokvei's mentor, and together they worked on the scripts for "Armed and Dangerous," "Caddyshack II," and "Back To School." Torokvei also co-wrote the popular 1985 movie "Real Genius." In 1994 Torokvei reteamed with WKRP creator Hugh Wilson on the original screenplay for "Guarding Tess," and in that same year Torokvei co-wrote and performed in the TV movie "Hostage For A Day," John Candy's (sadly posthumous) directorial debut. Torokvei has also done some work as a performer, appearing as a minister in Harold Ramis's film "Stuart Saves His Family."

HUGH WILSON (creator; producer, 1978-1979; executive producer, 1979-1982)

Wilson was born and raised in Miami. After graduating from the University of Florida, he moved to Atlanta, where he worked in advertising, writing commercials for television and, perhaps more importantly, radio. In 1975 he moved to Los Angeles, where he contributed scripts to MTM's "The Bob Newhart Show," excecutive- produced by two former acquaintances from the advertising world, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. In 1976 Patchett and Tarses created "The Tony Randall Show" for MTM, and Wilson was hired as a writer and, eventually, producer. The show ran two seasons. In 1977, Wilson, Patchett and Tarses wrote a pilot called "The Chopped Liver Brothers," starring Patchett and Tarses as two struggling comedians. Wilson also directed the pilot, which was not picked up.

In 1978, Grant Tinker, head of MTM productions, invited Wilson to create a show for the company. Wilson came up with the idea for "WKRP," basing some of the characters on people from the Atlanta station WQXI: Arthur Carlson was based on WQXI manager Gerry Blum (and Gordon Jump was hired in part for his resemblance to Blum), while Dr. Johnny Fever was based on WQXI's disc jockey "Skinny" Bobby Harper. The pilot for "WKRP" was written, re-written, cast, produced, and picked up by CBS, and it ran from 1978 to 1982.

After the untimely cancellation of "WKRP," it was announced that Wilson had signed a development deal with NBC (which by then was being run by Grant Tinker), but while Wilson wrote a pilot script about America's first female Vice-President and her husband, it was never shot. Instead Wilson began breaking into feature films, working on the screenplay for the Burt Reynolds movie "Stroker Ace" (co-starring Loni Anderson). In 1984 Warner Brothers asked Wilson to rewrite a script by Pat Proft and Neal Israel, about a bunch of misfit police trainees. Wilson offered to rewrite the script if Warner Bros. would let him direct as well. To Wilson's surprise, "Police Academy" became a huge box-office success (and led to many ghastly sequels, none of which involved Wilson).

For his next project, Wilson wrote and directed the offbeat comedy- western "Rustler's Rhapsody" (1985). The film did not do well critically or financially, though one recent critic praised it as "deeply weird" and "underrated." After co-writing and directing the Whoopi Goldberg action-comedy "Burglar" (released in 1987), Wilson returned to TV.

Wilson's first project after returning to TV work was to write and direct a pilot for Loni Anderson, called "Easy Street." It was picked up, and the series (with which Wilson was not involved) ran one season. Wilson then re-teamed with another "WKRP" star, Tim Reid. An executive at CBS suggested doing a series set in a New Orleans restaurant; Wilson and Reid liked the idea, and the result was "Frank's Place" (1987-88) created by Wilson, produced by Wilson and Reid, and starring Reid and Daphne Maxwell-Reid (Reid's wife). The half-hour comedy-drama, filmed with one camera and no laugh track, was one of the most critically-acclaimed shows of all time, gained a loyal fan following, and won an Emmy for outstanding writing. But the ratings were low, and after moving the show all around the schedule (as they had done with "WKRP"), CBS cancelled this outstanding show after only one season. "Frank's Place" is still considered one of the greatest TV shows of its time.

Wilson next acceded to CBS's request for something more "laugh-out- loud funny" than "Frank's Place." He created "The Famous Teddy Z" (1989-90), starring Jon Cryer as a young talent agent in Hollywood. The pilot episode of the show received great reviews and the show was pegged as a sure-fire hit, but later episodes were said to be uneven in quality. The show ran into ratings trouble, and CBS apparently lost faith in it (it was said that the show's Hollywood setting was considered too "inside" to appeal to the average viewer), moving it around the schedule in the old familiar way, and finally putting it on hiatus in 1990, a "hiatus" from which the show was never brought back. Still fondly remembered by many of those who saw its best episodes, "Teddy Z" won Alex Rocco an Emmy for his portrayal of veteran agent Al Floss.

After the cancellation of "Teddy Z," Wilson worked on several unproduced TV projects. One of these announced but never- produced projects was a satire on "Reality TV" shows for Fox, which Wilson co-wrote with Peter Torokvei and which would have starred Daphne Maxwell-Reid. Another show, starring Debbie Allen, reached the pilot stage but was not picked up. In 1991 it was announced that Wilson would be a consultant on "The New WKRP In Cincinnati" and direct the pilot episode; as it turned out, Wilson did not direct the pilot, and his involvement with the "New WKRP" was minimal.

In 1994 Wilson returned to feature films with "Guarding Tess," starring Nicholas Cage and Shirley MacLaine and co-written by Peter Torokvei. Critics generally liked the leisurely comedy-drama (though many of those who liked it as a whole disliked the kidnapping plot that was introduced toward the end), but the film did not do well at the box office.

In 1996 Wilson directed "The First Wives Club," starring Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn, and scripted by Robert Harling with uncredited rewrites by Wilson and Paul Rudnick. The film was a surprise box-office hit. Between 1996 and 1999 Wilson worked on some abortive projects, including a planned TV film about Teddy Roosevelt, "Rough Riders," which was eventually re-written and filmed by John Milius (with Wilson listed as co-writer). The Kelsey Grammer vehicle "Down Periscope" was based on a script by Wilson, and credited Wilson as a co-writer and as the writer of the original story. In 1998, Wilson created an unsold pilot partly based on his own experiences of moving to Virginia, where he has lived for the last decade or so.

In 1999 two Wilson-directed films were released, both starring Brendan Fraser. "Blast From the Past," starring Fraser and Alicia Silverstone and written by Bill Kelly and Wilson, was a good-natured comedy that satirized the cultural differences between the early 1960s and the late 1990s; it received some good reviews but was a box-office disappointment. The other film was "Dudley Do-Right," based on the Jay Ward/Bill Scott cartoon and starring Fraser (as Dudley), Sarah Jessica Parker (as Nell) and Alfred Molina (as Snidley Whiplash). The version that was finally released was short (72 minutes) and a critical and commercial failure.

Wilson's most recent project was a pilot for UPN called "The Contender." Written and directed by Wilson and produced by Wilson and Tim Reid, it was a drama about a young man (from a wealthy, white, Catholic family) who decides to skip college and pursue his dream of becoming a champion boxer. Unfortunately it was not picked up as a series.

Wilson was recently announced as the director of Mickey, a baseball movie scripted by John Grisham.

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