Surely one of the most unusual comedies of the 1980’s, Buffalo Bill flouted a basic rule of series TV – that the leading character must, if nothing else, be likable.
Bill Bittinger was arrogant, insensitive, and a thorough cad. As the garrulous host of an inexplicably popular local TV talk show in Buffalo, New York, he regularly played the role of “star,” shamelessly used everyone around him, and blamed others for anything that went wrong. He did all this, it must be said, with style.
Bill, as played by the talented Dabney Coleman, was a fascinating character, even if he did make you squirm at times. And, honoring one of TV’s other basic rules – that good must win out in the end – he usually failed to get his way. Practically everybody was on to him, and Bill spent many a lonely night after his latest scheme or attempted amorous conquest had fallen through.
Among the people Bill worked with at WBFL-TV was Jo Jo, the beautiful director of his show, with whom he had an on-again, off-again romantic involvement. She harbored no illusions about his nature, however. Once he had proposed to her, with the gallant comment, “You’re better than 90 percent of the bimbos out there.” Woody was his mousy stage manager, who seemed incredibly naive (he worshipped Bill) but underneath it all, understood everything. Just to rub it in, the little guy happened to be extremely successful on the side, owning an auto dealership and Bill’s apartment building! Karl was the nervous station manager at Channel 12, constantly beset by lawsuits brought on by Bill’s outrageous on-air comments. Wendy was the ingenuous research assistant, and Newdell was the show’s makeup man who took no grief from anyone – Bill included! Seen occasionally was Bill’s daughter, Melanie, portrayed by Pippa Pearthree.
Some rather sensitive subjects were dealt with in this comedy setting, including Jo Jo’s abortion (after Bill had pompously decided for her that she should have the child), and Bill’s racist dream, after he had had a run-in with Newdell (who happened to be black). The dream was filled with Zulu warriors, pushy black hookers, and other outrageous stereotypes, all in pursuit of Bill, accompanied by the music of Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road, Jack.”
USA / NBC / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 31 May 1983 – 5 April 1984
Dabney Coleman as Bill Bittinger
Joanna Cassidy as Joanna “Jo Jo” White
John Fiedler as Woody Deschler
Max Wright as Karl Shub
Geena Davis as Wendy Killian
Meshach Taylor as Tony
Charles Robinson as Newdell Spriggs
Pippa Pearthree as Melanie Wayne
Claude Earl Jones as Stan
Martin Landau as Hayden Stone
Janet Adams as Naomi Stone
Susan Ruttan as Katherine Shub
Sam Whipple as Karl Shub, Jr.
Leighton Greer as Tracy Shub