Yesterday I wrote about Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) from WKRP, the woman who used charm and beauty to get what she wanted. Today I’m continuing with Bailey Quarters, the woman who uses her brains.
Bailey had a well-earned degree in journalism, and she was stuck working for a complete fool (Les Nessman, played by Richard Sanders) who, like several of the station employees, probably couldn’t get hired anywhere else. She was smart, skilled, but a little naive and definitely the quiet type. Sometimes Les took advantage of her, and she wasn’t sure how to fight him on it. But as the show progressed, she learned. She became more assertive and learned to be quite deliciously sneaky when it was required. All important skills for a journalist.
She was undoubtedly the contrast to Jennifer Marlowe, the glamour gal. Bailey was competing in a men’s field – Jennifer competed with no one. Unlike Jennifer, Bailey had no interest in dating guys based on what she could get out of them – in fact, she was attracted to Johnny Fever, the epitome of the Bill the Cat “sold my soul for rock ‘n’ roll” wreck of a deejay. Jennifer loved having nice things – Bailey loved doing journalism. Jennifer was content to reach her own goals – Bailey wanted to win the recognition of her peers, up to and including a Pulitzer.
At no point was Bailey reduced to a stereotype. Like a real person, she learned and grew from her experiences while still remaining herself. She was quiet and superficially unassuming, but underneath she was very ambitious and even had a bit of a dark side. Her desire for success was something we could relate to. So was her attraction to Johnny: she saw him for what he was, warts and all, and it just so happened she liked what she saw. Even though this was an ongoing, apparently unreciprocated (or did he just feel she was too good for him?) crush that spanned the length of the series, it was “just one of those things” as opposed to Bailey’s entire reason for existing.
When Bailey failed to be assertive early on, it wasn’t because she was female – it was because she was young and hadn’t developed those skills (a point which was reinforced in dialog, lest the audience misinterpret the message). All of the characters advised her on how to become more assertive and sneaky – even Les, who was too oblivious to realize he was exactly the one she needed to use those skills on.
Bailey is a prime example of just how easy it is to write a good, believable female.