"I’ve got so many lawyers standing in line to see me now you’d think I had tobacco leaking out of my breast implants."

– Jimmy James ("French Diplomacy" [4-5])


"You don’t drop a piranha in the kiddie pool and stick around to watch the bubbles."

– Jimmy James ("Planbee" [4-2])

If this cast seems to have a surfeit of subtle actors then let us compound the preponderance with the name of Stephen Root. Root’s immense talent becomes immediately obvious to those who have seen him out of character. Jimmy James is such a thorough creation that people are often surprised by how different he is in real life compared to his boisterous Floridian billionaire, Jimmy James. Lacking the physiognomy to be a leading man, he is a latter day Edward Arnold who is fascinating in every supporting role he does. His performance as Jimmy James was as refined as they come, allowing him to behave insanely without ever seeming less than human.

Despite his eccentricities, Jimmy’s role was that of the lovable father of the staff. The Dave-Jimmy relationship, which was largely a case of Jimmy playing father figure to the boyish-looking Dave, was, as previously mentioned, one of the three cardinal relationships on the show. The relationship between Dave and Jimmy grows so strong during the course of the show that when Lisa steps into the News Director job in season four she becomes jealous of Dave and Jimmy’s camaraderie (leading to the hilarious "The Secret of Management" [4-9]). Furthermore, it requires consummate characterization for one grown man to call another "pumpkin" and carry it off (Jimmy picks up this term of endearment from Dave’s mom in "Bitch Session" [2-12]). Also especially touching was Jimmy’s relationship with Beth, which increasingly became like father and daughter during the course of the series. In "Spooky Rapping Crypt" [5-10] the paternal relationship receives outright treatment as Jimmy’s professional need to be a "hard-ass" and turn down Beth’s proposal for profit sharing leads to Jimmy’s emotional distress. While Jimmy was most obviously a father figure to Dave and Beth he was a paternal figure to all the staff. In "Wedding" [5-17] a clever gag even allows Jimmy to give away Lisa in lieu of her parents.

With his eccentric decisions, Jimmy was often the instigating force that propelled the staff on to a crazy trajectory for the episode, creating problems that they have to deal with. Classic examples are the episodes where Jimmy plans to sell the station ("Station Sale" [2-11], "Retirement" [5-21], "New Hampshire" [5-22]), where attending to the budget results in the loss of free snacks ("Massage Chair" [3-3]) or office furniture ("Twins" [3-18]), or where a poker game leads to loss of both office equipment and Bill McNeal ("Presence" [2-19]). Then there are the episodes where they have to cope with another bizarre Jimmy James escapade: "Balloon" [4-17], "Jail" [5-6], "The Lam" [5-7],"Clash of the Titans" [5-8], "Towers" [5-13], and "President" [3-1] — the ultimate Jimmy James showcase in which he runs for President of the United States. However, even more importantly it was Jimmy’s role to bring the family home. Despite the frequent frenzies caused by his eccentricities, at the end of the day Jimmy stabilized the relationships of the staff after each anarchic escapade. This was the ultimate value of the Dave-Jimmy relationship, and we see its nature clearest in "Bitch Session" [2-12], in which Dave, wounded by his staff’s bitching, turns to two people for solace — his Mom and Jimmy James. Also, after Dave offends everyone on the staff through his interview in "Mistake" [3-23] it took Mr. James to restore him to the WNYX family (although not without paying a price in humiliation).

Stephen Root was the fourth pillar of the NewsRadio cast. Of the four pillars, Dave Foley’s comedy was the most incisive, Phil Hartman’s was the most acute, Maura Tierney’s was the most efficient and elegant, and Stephen Root’s tended to be the most complex. The rapid-fire dialog between Jimmy and Dave in the men’s room in "The Breakup" [2-4] provides an example of Root’s comedic style.

Jimmy: "Hey, Dave!"

Dave: "Hey, Mr. James."

Jimmy: "Something troubling you?"

Dave: "Yeah."

Jimmy: "Work-related?"

Dave: "No."

Jimmy: "Girl?"

Dave: "Yes."

Jimmy: "Lisa?"

Dave: "Between you and me?"

Jimmy: "Yeah."

Dave: "Yes."

Jimmy: "Problem?"

Dave: "Big fight."

Jimmy: "Due to?"

Dave: "Argument."

Jimmy: "Issue?"

Dave: "Temper."

Jimmy: "Hers?"

Dave: "Mine."

Jimmy: "Hit her?"

Dave: "No!"

Jimmy: "Throw something?"

Dave: "No."

Jimmy: "Call her a name?"

Dave: "Yes."

Jimmy: "What?"

Dave: "B word."

Jimmy: "Bitch?"

Dave: "Yes."

Jimmy: "Hot dog. Now you’re talking."

The conversation and comedy are sustained for another thirty seconds….


7 Edward Arnold was a famous character actor who appeared in numerous comedies of the Thirties, typically as the mercenary banker or businessman. Despite his formidable talent, which was at least as great as any leading man at the time, he lacked leading man looks and was used mostly in supporting roles.