Posted by: wolferiver | January 2, 2007

WKRP in Cincinnati

TVonDVD.com has the news the the first season WKRP in Cincinnati is looking like it might finally be released on DVD. If true, then it is high time.

Most people are aware that the reason for the delay has been the near impossibility of getting rights to the many songs that were an integral part of the show. Making the problem even more thorny was that the show’s spoken and musical soundtrack were recorded on the same track, so substituting another song in some spots can pose a large technical challenge, and perhaps even require redubbing the original words. Those who report seeing recent reruns of WKRP have recounted grisly tales of poor or inappropriate songs, and even worse re-dubbing.

According to the article, music substitutions have been inevitable, but Hugh Wilson, the show’s creator, has heard some of them, and is reportedly okay with them.

I’ve spent some hours looking at the comments over at Amazon and at IMDB, and can find no one who didn’t love this show. My personal memories of it are equally fond. There were no shows that captured the zeitgeist of the 70’s as well as this show did. From the white belt and polyester suits of Herb Tarlek, to the nerdy anti pinko-commie rantings of Les Nesman, to the burned out , one-LSD-trip-too-many Dr. Johnny Fever, to the perfect hair on Travis’s, the programming director, head, every character served both as an archetypes, and as trusted friends to let into your house once a week. Radio stations were just beginning to become ultra-programmed automatons or being turned into all-talk-all-the-time formats. Both of these trends were touched on in this show, as were other issues as “the generation gap”, draft-dodging, censoring, or single parenthood. The show also gave the first main-stream media notice to the relatively new “punk rock” movement.

I’ve recently found and downloaded some of these episodes on bittorrent, and found that although by today’s standards, the show’s production values were definitely low, the writing and acting are top-notch, and have held up well over the years. These episodes are all still funny and fresh. It is interesting to note that the classic Thanksgiving episode is done almost completely through the dialog and acting of the characters. There is no money spent on location shots of helicopters, or turkeys “landing on the pavement like bags of wet cement”. Nonetheless, because of the brilliant writing, and the even more brilliant acting and reacting of the actors, the episode is indelibly printed in the minds of its audience. Almost every commentator at Amazon or IMDB mentions this episode, which is a tribute to its powerful imagery, yet we never actually see anything other than the characters in the radio booth, or the lobby of the WKRP.

I am very glad this show is finally making it to DVD. I’ll be curious not only to see how Fox will resolve the problem of the songs, but also what is done to improve the low quality of the original videotape source material. Judging by what I see from the old VHS recordings of this show available on bittorrent, a low quality video would disappoint but not be much of a detriment, but the songs are a key part of the show’s humor and commentary.

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