- - Thursday, March 30, 2017

To many Tim Reid will always be the supersmooth, wide-lapel-dud-wearing DJ Venus Flytrap from the hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” on which he starred for four hilarious seasons. Beyond that sitcom role Mr. Reid had a stint as the dad on “Sister Sister,” and he also worked as an actor and producer on the underrated “Frank’s Place” and “Linc’s.”

Never one to just entertain, Mr. Reid spends his days now mentoring a new generation of creatives. During a rare appearance at The Hollywood Show, an autograph convention in L.A., Mr. Reid reunited with a pair of his “WKRP” castmates, Loni Anderson and Jan Smithers. We talked about his time as Venus and what advice he has for a new wave of talented actors and filmmakers trying to break into the biz.

Question: What it like to meet your fans?

Answer: It’s hard to explain to people who have never been to one of these the psychology of it. I would call these “extreme fans.”

It’s interesting to see the effect of the work you’ve done and how people have taken it as part of their [own] lives. What you’re getting here are not just people who want your autograph, these are people who remember your lines. They followed your life. It’s a bit humbling.

Q: What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked to sign?

A: I’ve been asked to sign pictures they found of me. It’s always a surprise when they bring something you have not seen in 10 or 20 years.

I think it’s a good thing to do these at this point in my career. It’s kind of a look back on things I’ve been involved in and how they affected people. A young lady came up to me a few minutes ago and said, “You know you raised me, right?” Because of “Sister Sister.” She said, “Whatever you told the girls became a mantra for me carrying on with my life.”

Extreme fans.

Q: Do you get to reunite with your “WKRP” castmates on a regular basis?

A: I see Loni more than I see any of the others. And Jan [Smithers] and Howard [Hesseman]. But the rest of them I have not seen since the big guy’s funeral (castmate Gordon Jump).

We have a certain bond between us that will never go away.

Q: What is the lasting appeal of the show?

A: “WKRP” was one of the great ensemble comedy shows in the history of television. You look at “MASH,” “Barney Miller” and “WKRP.” The shows of that era have yet to be topped in terms of the ensemble.

There was something about that era, coming out of the Vietnam situation and civil rights activity that allowed us to explore things a little differently. Race, gender, homophobia. Things that we could finally talk about. It was just the beginning of that.

There was a little naivete and revolutionary spirit that is missing in shows today.

Q: When you look back on your career, do you have a favorite role?

A: I think “Frank’s Place” for me was the most culturally interesting role I ever played because of what the show meant to me and what we were trying to do with it. We were trying to introduce the black culture in way that had been very rarely seen in television. 

Q: Were there any roles you regretted turning down?

A: Not really. When I say, “No, I don’t think that I would be good for that,” it’s usually for cultural reasons. Usually because I don’t want to go back. I just look at the cultural significance.

At this point in my life it has to be about something besides the money.

Q: After Venus Flytrap, were you typecast?

A: What happened back then — not so much now — was that film actors would not do television. If you did comedies, you very rarely could do a drama; you got stereotyped. If they stop doing comedies, you’re out of work.

After “KRP” was this lull in comedies. Comedies were out. I was trying to get into one-hour dramas. And everybody says, “No, you do comedy.” Luckily, a friend of mine who was a writer for “Simon & Simon” knew of my work. I became Downtown Brown. I wrote some episodes. I have always tried to write and produce.

Then I got stuck in the drama label. Comedies came back. They said, “No, you do drama.” (Laughs) I said, “The hell with them. I’m gonna write my own!” That’s why we developed “Frank’s Place.”

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have an organization that I created about 11 years ago called Legacy Media Institute. The idea was to work with the new emerging filmmakers around the world. I started working with primarily young Afro-American filmmakers [and] bringing them to my studio in Virginia. Then I expanded it. I went to London and partnered with the British Film Institute.

It’s been great for me because it has reinvigorated my passion for filmmaking and storytelling. We do a lot of documentaries. I have a great film coming out called “93 Days” with Danny Glover.

Q: What advice do you give actors and filmmakers starting today?

A: If you don’t have passion, if you’re not willing to sacrifice, then do something else. It takes its toll.

People don’t tell you what happens in the downtime. If you can keep it together between work, you can have a long career. I’ve been in it for 40-some years. And it wasn’t what I did on camera so much as what I did when I wasn’t on camera.


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