Tim Reid Biography
Benefited from Atmosphere at Black College, Observed Directorial Techniques, Directed Film, Selected works
Actor, director, producer
Since his years in the role of disc jockey Venus Flytrap on the series WKRP in Cincinnati in the late 1970s, actor Tim Reid has been a familiar presence on prime-time and syndicated television. Reid got that part because he challenged the producers of the series to improve on their original stereotypical conception of the character, and over the rest of his long career he has tried to create films and television programs featuring realistic images of African Americans and African-American life. That effort led him to star in and produce an acclaimed but short-lived television series (Frank's Place), to step behind the camera as a director himself (for Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored), and finally to open a studio of his own near his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia.
Born on December 19, 1944, in Norfolk, Reid had mixed memories of growing up in the segregated South. He loved the atmosphere of the city's Church Street black business district. "Church Street was a community," he told Mal Vincent of the Virginian Pilot. "There were successful businessmen. There was a good life. Of course, when you crossed out of that community, a young man was taught to change. When you crossed over, you had to wear the mask." Reid learned to dream of becoming an actor as he attended one of the six movie theaters in the neighborhood, meeting white cowboy stars who came to visit and seeing the all-black "race films" of which white America was never aware. He also spent part of his childhood with relatives in rural Whaleyville, Virginia.
Benefited from Atmosphere at Black College
With a home life marred by domestic abuse—his stepfather was addicted to heroin and often beat his mother, chasing her down the street as she tried to escape—Reid was definitely a teenager at risk. His high school grades were poor and, he told B. Denise Hawkins in a Black Issues of Higher Education interview, "I was slick. I was a street kid who really knew how to maneuver and do things to get by." At historically black Norfolk State College, old-school faculty members turned him around. "They didn't let me slide one bit. I think they were harder on me than anybody has ever been and I thank God for that," he told Hawkins. In all, Reid said, "I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't gone to Norfolk State and a Black college." He graduated from Norfolk State in 1968 with a business degree.
Reid headed to Chicago after college and got a job with the DuPont corporation as a photographic supplies salesman. Bored, he began trying out his skills in standup comedy on the side. That led to a job appearing in a Sears department store commercial and a desire to do more as an actor. During filming on the Sears commercial he met actress Daphne Maxwell, but the relationship didn't jell at that early meeting. Reid married someone else and had two children, Tori and Tim Jr., both of whom went into the entertainment industry. Reid moved to Los Angeles in 1974. He took some acting courses, paying the bills by doing comedy routines at a topless club, and by 1976 he had made his television debut in the series Easy Does It … Starring Frankie Avalon.
Soon after that, Reid auditioned for a new situation comedy set at a radio station, WKRP in Cincinnati. Disgusted by the character he was auditioning to play, he told director Hugh Wilson, a white Southerner, that he thought Venus Flytrap was a shuck-and-jive stereo-type of blacks. Wilson responded, according to an interview with Reid in the News & Record of North Carolina's Piedmont Triad, by saying, "Let's find that guy together." He got the part, transforming Venus Flytrap into the hip, spiritual evening DJ at WKRP and becoming part of one of television comedy's great ensemble casts. Though WKRP in Cincinnati ran for only four seasons, it had a long life in syndication. Reid also became reacquainted with Daphne Maxwell in Los Angeles, and the two married in 1982.
Observed Directorial Techniques
Even while starring in WKRP, Reid displayed creative ambitions of his own. "We had those huge floor cameras," actress Loni Anderson recalled to People. "We'd be rehearsing, and Tim would be on camera three or up in the booth. He was just fascinated by the process." He wrote several episodes of the series and continued to write screenplays occasionally for the rest of his career. After the series ended, Reid landed a role as detective "Downtown" Brown on the CBS television series Simon & Simon and looked for ways to make an impact on his own.
The opportunity came in the 1987–88 season, when Reid executive-produced and starred in a series of his own, Frank's Place. The series, set in a restaurant in New Orleans, was groundbreaking in its realistic treatment of African-American characters and in its mixture of dramatic and comic elements; the word "dramedy" was used to describe it. Frank's Place was a critical success and received an Emmy nomination, but it was canceled after one season.
Reid found other work on television, appearing on The Snoops on CBS in 1989 and 1990 and on ABC's Sister, Sister between 1994 and 1996. But he still harbored the ambition to create distinctive new entertainment products featuring African Americans. The number of new television shows with black characters, after rising sharply in the 1970s, leveled off or dropped in the late 1980s and 1990s, with almost none in some years. Reid was frustrated by the situation. "What the dominant culture does is no longer of any great surprise to me," he told Matt Zoller Seitz of the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. "But what surprises me, as a guy who came out of the '60s, is how docile my people have become. I would expect a boycott over something like this, or at least a forceful voice to be raised. There is none." Reid decided to take positive action.
With funding from Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson among others, Reid slowly put together the resources to make an independent film of his own, forming a company called United Image Entertainment. For Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, adapted from a book by Clifton Taulbert, he drew on his own memories of rural Southern black families. The film did not shy away from the virulence of racism in the pre-Civil Rights South, but it included many warm scenes of family life. Reid made the film in 28 days in 1994, getting his crew to glue cotton onto cornstalks by hand so as to stay on schedule despite the spring filming date. Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored won many enthusiastic reviews and enjoyed long runs at urban theaters, but large distributors, as well as the independent Sundance film festival, repeatedly turned the film down for showings and distribution, telling Reid, as he put it to several publications, that it was "too soft."
Though discouraged by that reaction, Reid felt good enough about the film's reception to continue on his independent path. He had made Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored in Wilmington, North Carolina, not far from Norfolk, and returning to his Virginia roots appealed to him. He founded the Tim Reid Celebrity Tournament in Norfolk, bringing in some of his many Hollywood friends to compete in athletic contests and raise money for Norfolk State scholarships. Once again putting his business background to work, Reid began raising money for a $11-million movie studio of his own, located on a 65-acre plot of land in rural southern Virginia, near Petersburg.
Reid's New Millennium Studios opened in the summer of 1998 and got off the ground quickly with a series of television commercials, a Reid-directed documentary on early African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, a film thriller called Asunder starring actor Blair Underwood, and the comedy For Real, which Reid wrote and directed. Reid found that leading black actors readily accepted a cut in their usual fees to play the more complex parts Reid offered. Reid landed the series Linc's, starring Pam Grier, Steven Williams, and Georg Stanford Brown, on the Showtime cable channel, and he began to find international distribution for some of the company's films. Reid signed a deal in 2004 to provide programming for a new African-American-oriented cable channel, TV One, and as of 2005, his independent future looked bright. He came full circle in his television career in 2004 and 2005 when he played a recurring role on the series That '70s Show. The 1970s fashions he wore on the show were familiar, but Tim Reid had come a long way.
Films (as director)
Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, 1994.
For Real, 2003.
For Real, 2003.
Also wrote episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, Frank's Place, and Linc's.
Television (as actor, unless otherwise noted)
Easy Does It … Starring Frankie Avalon (also known as Easy Does It), CBS, 1976.
WKRP in Cincinnati, CBS, 1978–1982.
Simon & Simon, CBS, 1982–1987.
(And executive producer) Frank's Place, CBS, 1987–1988.
(Co-creator and executive producer) The Snoops, CBS, 1989–1990.
(Creator and producer) The Tim and Daphne Show, syndicated, 1991.
Sister, Sister, ABC, 1994–1996, The WB, 1996–1999.
(Co-creator, co-producer, and occasional director) Linc's, Showtime, 1998–2000.
That '70s Show, Fox, 2004–05.
Austin American-Statesman, May 17, 1996, p. B6.
Black Issues in Higher Education, January 11, 1996, p. 18.
Jet, January 16, 1995, p. 36.
Mediaweek, October 28, 1996, p. 39.
News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), September 29, 1996, p. 5; March 17, 2005, p. 4.
People, September 7, 1998, p. 103.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 2004.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 11, 2004, p. L3.
Seattle Times, September 22, 2004, p. F5.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), June 12, 1999, p. 35.
Video Business, December 9, 2002, p. 37.
Virginian Pilot (Norfolk, VA), March 9, 1996, p. E1; March 10, 1996, p. A1; October 16, 1996, p. E1; May 20, 1999, p. E1; August 3, 1999, p. B1; April 7, 2000, p. E1; May 3, 2002, p. B2; October 13, 2004, p. E2.
Washington Times, February 24, 2003, p. B6.
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