Thursday, June 07, 2007

WKRP in Cincinnati: the Complete First Season SGM Review

When I was between the ages of 6 and 11, the kitchen in our house was too small for my entire family to sit at the dinner table, so we ate in the living room and of course watched TV. WKRP is one of the shows that I associate with that time period. It probably aired on TBS, but I think everything was on TBS back then, much like how in my childhood I thought Foreigner recorded every rock song you'd hear on classic rock radio. Foreigner and Journey, actually.

The three most memorable aspects of the show were, in order: the opening theme song, Loni Anderson, and Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever. Speaking of the opening theme, WKRP had a different the closing theme, more of a typical 70s rock song, which, according to Wikipedia, did not have actual lyrics. They were jibberish that the composer recorded as a guide for the vocal melody (Kurt Cobain does the same on most Nirvana demo songs, evidenced by the Box Set) and were left intact because it actually sounds cool. One word that you can pick out is "bartender." Yadda yadda bartender, hooda hooda whatsat, a'ight. Fuck if I know.

Going in to watching this DVD, I expected to be greatly disappointed by something that I once liked inevitably not aging well. The Dukes of Hazzard did age well; the song "Turtle Power" from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie did not. Surprisingly, WKRP did age well. Like any good sitcom, it relied on tight writing and an ensemble cast. Everyone played their character right; the bumbling GM, the sleazy sales manager, the burnout DJ, the clueless newsman, the shy but pretty female producer, the relatively sane programming director-as-ringmaster and the hot whore with the heart of gold. In retrospect, Gordon Jump was the best performer in the series as the spineless general manager Arthur Carlson, getting the most laughs with his reactions and ability to play within the scenes, but Loni Anderson had the looks and Howard Hesseman had the hipster, so there's your memories. The typical format of the show is about the constant struggle of the station to stay afloat after the format change from oldie standards to rock 'n' roll, although the station wasn't successful before the format change.

It's also cringe-inducing to watch the pilot episode of just about any series as you get a convoluted plot that just happens to allow each character to introduce themselves in brief. If I ever write a TV show the pilot will just have every character take turns talking about themselves (actually, I just remembered there was some crappy show that did something similar, got canceled and tried a revival on YouTube, so nevermind). WKRP sets the series up more conveniently and convincingly by having the new programming director, Andy Travis, arrive and find out about each character as he familiarizes himself with his new co-workers. After eight episodes the series went on hiatus while the network decided whether or not to greenlight more episodes. The network chose to go ahead with the series, so we get the contrived clip show where the station owner demands to know how the new format change is going so that Carlson and Travis can tell funny stories about funny things that happened in the lead up. Most memorably, Carlson decides to drop live turkeys from a helicopter as a Thanksgiving stunt because he thought turkeys could fly. If you're wondering, turkeys cannot fly. They can, however, drop from the sky.

One thing I was interested in was how Fox handled the music in the show. The original show used licensed hit music of the time appropriate for a contemporary rock station, but the licensing at the time didn't include future use in home video (or DVD) releases. (Wonder Years hasn't been released on DVD for that reason. Considering Wonder Years was chock full of classic rock baby-boomer anthems the licensing of that show would cost so much they'd have to sell a copy of each season to every man, woman and child in the United States just to break even.) Fox didn't relicense the original songs and chose to dub in rock-sounding stock music over the original tracks. Fortunately this was done seamlessly without damage to any dialogue that was spoken over the music, which was a fairly common occurence in the series.

The video quality of the episodes is also high. One or two sequences have odd color bleeds, but it transfers well for a TV show shot on video in the late 70s.

The featurettes are interesting looks into how hot Loni Anderson was in 1978 and how the series creator was opposed to writing a slapstick comedy (episode "Fish Story"), which turned out as the highest rated episode of the season (although not as funny in retrospect as various other episodes).

And finally, Jan Smithers was severly underrated in terms of attractiveness as shy director Bailey Quarters.

I give WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season a 2 3/4 count. If you're a fan of sitcoms or WKRP specifically, this is a quality product.


Ron said...

This is the greatest review of any product I have ever seen. If we could just get a marketing person to send us the first season of Happy Days I'd be set.

Rev. Joshua said...

Are you mocking?

Ron said...

No. That was a really good review. I probably should have included "on this blog" so as not to seem too hyperbolic.

Rev. Joshua said...

Glad you liked it. I think my Wrestlemania review from last year turned out better in terms of actual critical review, but this one had better non-sequiturs like the Foreigner and Journey mention.

Nate said...

I was very impressed with this review. Very good; thanks Rev.