WKRP in Cincinnati: As progressive as I remember?
I watched the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati in high school, and I rather enjoyed it at the time. Airing from 1978-82, it’s a sitcom about a struggling Top 40 radio station and the various oddballs that run it. While it never dominated primetime, it became surprisingly successful in syndication. I found it fascinating how the show pricked with certain mature themes and gave explicit commentary about them. “Les on a Ledge,” the second episode of the first season, is a good example. It’s the one episode I’ve always come back to, mostly for its well-executed comedy. The episode’s topic is non-heterosexual gender and sexuality, and I watched it again to see if it was as progressive as I remember.
The short answer is not really. While the show has its explicit commentary of the issues, emphasizing that being gay is ok, it has no representation of homosexual characters. Both the A and B plots center around false accusations of non-heterosexuality, which are later revealed to be rumors. One character explicitly mentions that being gay doesn’t matter, and such a person would function perfectly well in the workplace. Of course, this message would be much more powerful if there was actually a gay character in the show, even for a standalone episode like this. To use a cliché, the show talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.
This isn’t to dismiss the efforts, however. I would say it’s a notable effort for its time to push for inclusivity, even though the ultimate message of the episode mere banal positivity. Ultimately, I enjoy the episode much more for its comedy than for its progressive values. It’s worth a watch, considering the episode, along with the rest of the first season, is on Hulu, so you’ve got nothing to lose.