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.