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Les Nessman is a fictional character on the television situation comedy WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82) played by Richard Sanders. He reprised his role in the sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati.
Les is the ludicrously incompetent news director of WKRP and has been with the station since 1954. Knowing next to nothing about sports, he makes several glaring errors, for example mispronouncing golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez's name as "Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweeze" and calling a swimming event "breast stroking."
Les is a five-time winner of the fictitious Ohio radio news trophy, the "Buckeye Newshawk Award," the coveted "Silver Sow Award" (for excellence in farm news, particularly hog reports), and the "Copper Cob Award" (also for farm broadcasting). His "finest" on-air moment occurs in the episode "Turkeys Away", where he reports on a disastrous station promotion using many of the same phrases as Herbert Morrison describing the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. This scene from "Turkeys Away" is widely acknowledged to be one of the funniest moments in television history.
Les longs to "move up" to a higher-paying job as a TV newsman, and in one episode he shows a video tape to his station friends of himself reporting the news; unfortunately for Les, the tape is so cheaply and badly made, that Nessman runs out quite embarrassed. In another episode, Les shows Venus Flytrap how he has been dyeing his skin black - a parody of John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me. When Bailey Quarters is promoted as a reporter, Les is jealous enough to attempt to upstage her by plagiarizing one of her news stories, unaware that it is partially fictional and thus puts the station's broadcast license in jeopardy.
The slight, balding, bespectacled man always wears a bow tie (though he wore a standard necktie in the pilot episode) and always has a bandage somewhere on his person, a running gag that began with the actor's first appearance (when he actually needed it). The producers explained that the gag was overlooked by audience members, who didn't remember that Les has a large dog named Phil at his home, and Les often lives in fear of being attacked, or bitten, thus requiring the use of the band-aids.
Les works in the WKRP bullpen, a big room with desks for several of the employees. Les believes that as the news director, he should have his own private office, so he puts masking tape on the floor around his desk indicating where walls would be if he had his own office. He insists that anyone who approaches his desk must knock at an imaginary door and wait for permission to come in. He mimes opening and closing a door whenever he sits down at or leaves his desk; once he even took out a set of keys to lock the nonexistent door. All of his colleagues respect his insistence on maintaining his own private space, and play along with his "walls" charade. Mr. Carlson even "knocks" by clicking his heels together. (Andy Travis once tapped his foot against the floor for the sound effect.) In the second episode of "Filthy Pictures", Andy is shown with a credit card, trying to open Les' imaginary door with it. In one episode, Les dates a pushy news "groupie" who moves into his apartment and takes over his life. He only gets the nerve to break up with her when she dares to call his walls "silly" and removes the masking tape from the floor — Les can put up with a lot of abuse, but he will not stand for someone disrespecting his walls.
Les was raised by his mother and stepfather (whom he thought was his biological father) in Dayton. He has been employed by WKRP since 1954, beginning as an office boy and cub reporter. In the episode "Secrets of Dayton Heights", he fails a security check for a press conference because his real father had belonged to the Communist party. He is shocked, inasmuch as he himself is virulently anti-Communist, an attitude instilled in him by his embittered mother (also played by Sanders). He goes to visit Harvey Moorehouse, his biological father, working as a barber, and finds that he isn't such a bad guy, and that Moorehouse likely gave up his son to spare him the shame of his Communist activities.
A reference to Les Nessman is made by Eminem in the song "As the World Turns":
- Class clown freshman
Dressed like Les Nessman
Fuck the next lesson
I'll pass that test guessin'
Another reference to Les Nessman was made in an episode of the CW series Reaper, where he was used as a fictitious employee the character 'Sock' made up in order to double his wages and receive other benefits, although WKRP in Cincinnati itself was unmentioned in the episode.