The Way We Were

by Irv Letofsky

As our memories fade, one begins to wonder how good the "good ol' days" really were. The new sitcom Remember WENN fondly recalls a golden age of radio that probably never existed. The year is 1939, before scream-in callers, Rush, or Howard, and the setting is Pittsburgh AM station WENN. The series is American Movie Classics' first foray into original programming, and like the network itself, it isn't afraid to warm our hearts with nostalgia. But with an ensemble cast of New York theatre folk, it comes off as a sparkling recollection of the misadventures of early radio, romanticized as they may be.

The creative force behind WENN is Rupert Holmes, who is one of those multifaceted phenoms: his musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood won several Tony awards; his thriller Accomplice won the Edgar mystery award; and "Escape" (better known as "The Piña Colada Song") was a monster hit in 1979. The WENN cast includes John Bedford Lloyd as Victor, the conniving boss, struggling to keep his station on the air; Christopher Murney as Mackie, the man of a thousand voices; Melinda Mullins as fading actress Hilary; and Amanda Naughton as bright-eyed Betty, just in from Indiana. In the introductory episode, Betty learns to improvise when the drunk writer of a radio drama, Valiant Journey, passes out without finishing the last pages of the script. Next time out, Victor comes up with the idea for a call-in show too many years before its technological time.

Despite the nostalgic setting, Holmes' series has a sparkling freshness to it, not unlike some of the better moments of the late WKRP in Cincinnati. But, whereas much of today's television humor seems to be intended to annihilate, at WENN in Pittsburgh, the humor has a warmth, even in its gentle barbs. For half an hour, it's nice to imagine that this was the way we were.

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