Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Remember WENN


I had planned to write a book-related post, but then I stumbled across this tumblr post about Remember WENN, a half-hour AMC dramedy from 1996 that takes place in a 1930s radio station.  I love radio drama.  I'm currently loving anything that takes place in the 1930s.  I dove straight in, and I've discovered another favorite show.

The titular radio station, WENN, is a Pittsburgh radio station that runs on a shoestring budget.  In the first episode, Betsy arrives as an intern, and her experience introduces us to the characters that populate the station.  Victor Comstock is the enthusiastic station manager who produces shows with enthusiastic artistic vision and little concern for the limitations of reality.  All of the station's programs--news shows, westerns, soap operas, comedies, etc.--are performed by a troupe of three actors.  Hilary Booth's the aging diva with a big ego and a sharp tongue, Jeff Singer's the handsome womanizer and Hilary's husband, and Mackie Bloom is the sweet and lovable "Man of a Thousand Voices".  Along with the dry-witted secretary, the cheerful organist, and the energetic, silent sound effects man, these people scramble to put out a constant stream of live radio programming in the midst of constant disaster.

With Remember WENN, AMC wanted an original program that fit in with the classic movies aired on the channel, and they got what they asked for.  Remember WENN has the zany plots, off-beat characters and rapid-fire wit of classic screwball comedies.  I'm only nine episodes in so far, but I can tell this is going to be my go-to show when I need a pick-me-up.  The writing is witty, the atmosphere is cozy, and the characters feel like friends.

The radio shows are an added bonus.  I love radio shows--I'm currently listening to "Return of the Jedi" (Star Wars works better as radio serials) and "Cabin Pressure"--and some of the WENN shows are so fun that I wish I could download them.  I mean, Shakespeare adaptations as private eye shows ("Beth and Mac. Murder...with a side of scotch.") is sheer brilliance.

My favorite episodes focus on the madcap insanity of putting together a show while it's on the air, rushing around with scripts and jumping in at the last second to fill in a role and throwing together music and sound effects on the fly.  (Part of me wants to believe that the TV show itself was produced this way--that just off-screen there's a writer typing out script pages and handing them to the actors between scenes).  As a writer, it's a marvelous reminder of the joy and frustration of creation, the insanity of trying to make everything work and the sweet relief when it miraculously does.

For some strange reason, AMC has never released this show on DVD.  It's sold nowhere online.  There's no chance for anyone to make any money off of this, so I feel no guilt in sharing links to watch the episodes for free.   Most of the episodes are on Youtube, and though the quality is poor and a few of the episodes are missing a couple of minutes in the middle, they're worth watching.  Episode 7 is especially fun--the actors are at a convention, and when the recorded radio shows break, the support staff have to go with whatever crazy ideas they can think of just to keep something on the air.

I recommend this show for anyone who enjoys classic movies or period dramas or even The Muppet Show.  There's nothing crass or cynical about the show, just witty, old-fashioned fun.  I already love these characters and their crazy world, and I look forward to exploring it further.

2 comments:

  1. OH my goodness! I liked this show so, so much even though I only saw parts of a few episodes! And no one ever talks about it, it's not on DVD... such a forgotten gem. I am going to bookmark those YouTube eps for after the editing madness has passed.

    I loooooooooooove old radio shows. I listened to a handful as a teen, things my library had on cassette tape or LP record. But after I finished college, I did data entry for a year, and we could listen to internet radio, so I found Brando Classic Old-Time Radio and listened to ever so many wonderful shows. My favorites are The Lone Ranger, The Six-Shooter, Box 13, The Shadow, and Have Gun, Will Travel. I own a lot of those on mp3 now, and have started introducing my kids to them.

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    1. Hooray, another fan! Definitely check it out after editing is done. (I'll probably watch episodes before editing is done, because I seem to enjoy TV shows most when I'm using them to procrastinate.)

      I haven't listened to much classic radio yet. I'd like to, especially because I think a lot of it is free online, but I've mostly listened to modern stuff so far (thanks to the BBC iPlayer and Audible). This show has definitely increased my desire to look into classic radio.

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