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Overview for Neil Bonnett
Neil Bonnett

Neil Bonnett


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The once-and-future Herb Tarlek from "WKRP in Cincinnati" (CBS, 1978-1982), Frank Bonner was a comic actor and director who came to personify the worst aspects of salesmanship on the critically acclaimed television comedy. Based on a real-life sales executive and acquaintance of series creator Hugh Wilson, Herb's desperation and crass behavior made him the butt of numerous jokes on the series, and endeared Bonner to television audiences. After the show came to an end, he found regular work in sitcoms as both performer and director, but Herb Tarlek would remain Bonner's calling card for decades to follow.

Born in Little Rock, AR on Feb. 28, 1952, Frank Woodrow Boers, Jr. was the son of musicians; father Frank Boers was a saxophonist, while mother Grace Marie Dobbins was a singer. He made his screen debut under his real name in "Equinox" (1970), a student-made horror film that was later expanded for feature release. The eventual cult classic was largely forgotten during its release, but Bonner, by that time now working under his nom du screen, moved quickly into minor roles in films and television.

His big break came in 1978 when was cast on "WKRP in Cincinnati." Though Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman commanded much of the show's publicity, his Herb Tarlek quickly became an audience and critical favorite due to his obvious and overpowering character flaws, which were exploited for maximum humor. Inept at his job, with only a loose grasp of common sense and most moral decisions, Herb was the epitome of the sleazy, double-dealing ad salesman, from his fondness for kickbacks and blackmail for payments to his outrageously awful outfits. The show's writers openly professed that they enjoyed writing scripts for Herb, who could be put through near-Biblical trials and still retain his inflated sense of self-worth. On occasion, Herb showed a glimpse of humanity beneath his polyester exterior; he was devoted to his wife Lucille (Edie McClurg), and valued his love-hate friendship with station newsreader Les Nessman (Richard Sanders). Herb's popularity transcended the show to enter pop culture on numerous levels; a Michigan-based band was named after the character, while the Canadian outfit the Rheostatics featured a song about him called "The Tarleks." Bonner apparently liked the song so much that he reprised the character in its music video.

In addition to boosting his profile, "WKRP" also launched Bonner's directorial career. He directed six episodes of the series between 1980 and 1982, and after its cancellation in 1982, he worked steadily behind the scenes on a number of popular series, including "Family Ties" (NBC, 1982-89) and "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94). Bonner also directed numerous episodes of the sitcom "Just the Ten of Us" (ABC, 1988-1990), on which he also had a recurring role as the headmaster of a Catholic school, and every episode of the teen-friendly series "City Guys" (NBC, 1997-2001). On two occasions, he reunited with "WRKP" alum Howard Hesseman and Frank Reid to helm episodes of their series "Frank's Place" (CBS, 1988) and "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991).

While maintaining his directorial career, Bonner continued to act, mostly on episodic television like "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" (CBS, 1983-87) and "Night Court" (NBC, 1984-1992). There was a brief return to work as a series regular on "Sidekicks" (ABC, 1986-87), a ridiculous police/family drama about a cop (Gil Gerard) who becomes the caretaker of a 10-year-old martial arts master (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) before Bonner reprised Herb Tarlek on the short-lived "New WKRP in Cincinnati" (syndicated, 1991-93). He was joined by Gordon Jump and Richard Sanders, both of who revisited their roles from the original series.

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