Johnny Fever knows the reason why WKRP in Cincinnati paid tribute to Dragnet

Howard Hesseman played a hippie first on the police procedural.

In the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati, there's an episode called "Hold Up" that finds Johnny Fever held at gunpoint while doing a live radio broadcast from a stereo store. The episode is notable because it introduces a rarely seen ninth WKRP employee, Buckey Dornster, the station engineer who shows up to help Johnny set up his remote broadcast. (The only other episode to feature Buckey was "Baseball.") But for fans of Howard Hesseman, who played Johnny Fever, the episode also contains an Easter egg for those who stuck through the credits and saw the very end.

After the credits roll, Johnny Fever walks out onto a blue background, as if he is part of a criminal line-up. An announcer's voice comes on and says, "John R. Caravella, also known as Johnny Fever, Johnny Style, Johnny Cool and Dr. Johnny Fever, was released from custody after questioning. Police are now looking for a new suspect, known only as Bob Boogie." The voice goes on to say a composite drawing based on Johnny Fever's testimony has been done, at which point Hesseman unleashes the punchline and presents a sketch of Richard Nixon:

This little bit fits perfectly into the style of WKRP in Cincinnati, but it likely perked up the ears of fans of a much older show, Dragnet. The influential crime drama often presented criminals in a line-up, breaking down their crimes and aliases, and the scene with Johnny Fever is clearly a tribute to the classic series. But listen closely, fellow babies, because there's much more to it than that.

You see, before Hesseman landed the role of Johnny Fever, he played a hippie on Dragnet 1967, one of the actor's first TV roles ever. On Dragnet, Hesseman's hippie character definitely didn't take as many chill pills as the Doctor, though, because in his scene with Joe Friday, Hesseman's character has little patience for the policeman on his panel. At one point, he even throws a "Make love, not war" button at the famous TV detective, who reads it and chucks it right back at the hippie.

It was this early moment in Hesseman's career that led to the WKRP tie-in, making Johnny Fever the link between two very different TV worlds. Going further, serious fans of Dr. Fever could even make a case that the DJ was this same hippie from Dragnet, just 10 years later, swapping tiny sunglasses for aviators.

Save with
Enjoy even more classic shows on-air! Find where to watch MeTV in Washington D.C.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

10 Comments

Post a comment
Click here to learn about MeTV's new commenting system!
Hippychild 1 month ago
Why in the world would you cancel this fantastic show to replace it with crap like green acres that is already on Saturday mornings... WHAT A WASTE!!!!
BRING BACK JOHNNY!!!
BRING BACK JOHNNY!!!
BRING BACK JOHNNY!!!!!!
AgingDisgracefully 4 months ago
You didn't mention the name Howard was billed as in the Dragnet episode: Don Sturdy.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0565642/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_151
Also, throw in the fact Jack Webb declined the role of Dean Wormer in Animal House because it might upset his police friends.
Finally, watch Steelyard Blues. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070731/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Pre-Fever Hesseman. Much funnier than current comedy product.
That's all. Talk amongst yourselves.
Michael 4 months ago
Howard Hessman was part of The Committee, an SF comedy group, not too different from Second City or the rest.

But it's presented as counterculture history, so I assume hipper at the time. Hamilton Camp was there, so when the group intersected with Quicksilver Messenger Service, there wasn't a chasm, since they'd recorded his song "Pride of Man". Del Close was there too. Mimi Farina, Joan Baez's sister, was there for a while after her husband Richard died in a motorcycle accident. She married Milan Melvin, record producer and underground radio DJ, who maybe was with The Committee. Leigh French, of The Smothers Brothers fame was there. Other familiar names got their start there. I suppose they played for "straight" crowds, but they were right there in Haight-Ashbury, performing for the counterculture, maybe a more upscale version of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

So I guess they became "rent-a-hippies" for tv and movies. They likely didn't need whigs, or costumes.
So Hamilton Camp was on "He & She" about the same time he was playing to the counterculture. Howard Hesseman got and movie roles, beyond ability, there weren't many who looked the part and could act. Leigh French was on one of the last episodes of Gomer Pyle, playing a hippie, it was on recently and I missed it again.

I should point out that Howard Hesseman was a real DJ when underground radio in San Francisco started out.

The WKRP remote episode is interesting since it brings in Hamilton Camp as the owner of Dell's Stereo, which is surely a reference to Del Close.

Michael
harlow1313 Michael 4 months ago
He was very much the hippie in a small part in "Billy Jack." I believe he did some "street acting" in a segment of the film, but I may be misremembering.
Barry22 harlow1313 4 months ago
No, your memory is good. He did some street comedy bits in that movie.
Barry22 4 months ago
And if I am not mistaken, Hesseman was going under a different name then also. That was a good episode of Dragnet. I always liked the ones where Friday went up against the "hippie culture". Jack Webb had such contempt for them, and it showed.
harlow1313 Barry22 4 months ago
I particularly dug The Blue Boy, who buried his head in the dirt while on acid, and the episode with the Timothy Leary knock-off (The Church of the Expanded Mind).
The Blue Boy episode was the first for the revivatated Dragnet.
The laughs were only beginning.
As was the, "How's That?" drinking game.
Jack had already established his comedy credentials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYhiMdQCrkA
harlow1313 4 months ago
Darn hippies. All that screwin' and groovin'...
DarioWiter harlow1313 4 months ago
😁😁😁😁😁
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?