Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Classic Television {WKRP in Cincinnati}

My favourite sitcom ever! WKRP ran for only four seasons from 1978-1982, but boy! was it ever funny and memorable. WKRP was about an eccentric radio station that had been around for decades but was still the laughing stock of the market but was still determined to become successful. WKRP also dealt with tackling social and cultural issues of the day, such as homophobia, an increasing mechanized society, corporations trying to take over small businesses, marketing of drugs to teens, overcrowding of rock concerts, bomb threats, the environment, women in the workplace and reality television.
But what made the show a success was the characters and how they worked together as a family in order to deal with the problem of the week or the weirdo of the week.

First there was Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson, the station manager who would rather play with his toys and go fishing then deal with work. His mother owned the station and was always disappointed with how her son failed to become a tycoon and was terrified of her. Mr. Carlson is also a very sweet and sympathetic character who could occasionally take charge of things, but most of the time acted as the bumbling Dad type. He also doesn't really like Rock 'n' Roll, but the kids seem to like it and their ratings are improving.
Then there's Andy Travis, the Program Director. In the pilot he changes the station's format from waiting room music to Top 40 Rock 'n' Roll and sets about improving the station's market standing from 16 to 10. He could be a big shot if he moved to a bigger station, but he refuses to leave the station, where he views his position as being a guard at a loony bin. His tight-jeaned urban cowboy wardrobe never changes during the show's run.
This is Jennifer Marlowe. She's my favourite character, but that might be because I was named after her. Jennifer is the receptionist and the station's highest paid employee since she is the one holding everything together and basically runs the joint. Jennifer knows a lot of people, she even calls the President "Ronnie". And she does date a lot of wealthy, older men but mostly as friends and companions since she is not a gold digger. Jennifer wears a lot of monochrome jewel coloured sweater and skirt sets with very subtle gold jewellery and a helmet of hairspray. Towards the end of the series, her wardrobe does move into the early Eighties with lace insets and a bit over the top (but no shoulder pads). Plus, she also lives in a huge penthouse apartment with a doorbell that plays "Fly Me to the Moon".

Bailey Quarters has a degree in journalism and wants to become a broadcasting executive. At the start of the series she was shy and fresh faced and only in charge of billing and traffic but as the series progressed she became more assertive and was put in charge of continuity, contests and some news broadcast. Bailey is the most interesting in terms of character development and how she changed her wardrobe in order to show how serious she was about her career. Gradually she stopped wearing the student wardrobe of jeans, cardigans and over-sized glasses and wore more masculine influenced clothes, like suspenders and tweed jackets while still maintaining the relaxed atmosphere of WKRP instead of going into full-blown Eighties power mode. She represents the movement towards female executives in the Eighties.
Les Nessman is the News Director and he takes his job very seriously, even though he's more concerned with his award-winning farm reports than with the actual news. Les is also accident-prone, paranoid and naive but he wears a bow tie which brings out his haplessness and charm. Les sees himself as the Edward R. Murrow of Cincinnati, although most of the station's visitors think that's he's a little insane. Les wants to be taken seriously in the world of journalism and so he put tape around his desk in order to show where his office walls would be if WKRP were a bigger station with more money.
Herb Tarlek is the Sales Manager. He also wears hideous polyester suits that look like they were once car seat covers and matching white belt and white loafers. Herb is fast-talking, sleazy and acts like a used car salesman but he does know his job, even if the only accounts he can land are for retirement homes and bait shops. He's also sexist and enjoys his three martini lunches with clients and he spends most of his time hitting on Jennifer. He also named his daughter Bunny.
Then there's Dr. Johnny Fever, the early morning DJ. Johnny has been a DJ for most of his life and is very good at his job. But he was in California for the Sixties and took a lot of drugs, now he has trouble remembering his name and what town he's in. He also has the occasional flashback and is an insomniac. Now, he's only addicted to coffee. And he really, really hates disco and being forced to play any of the current Top Ten records. He's also the funniest character and is played by Howard Hessman, who actually was a DJ in the Sixties.
This is Venus Flytrap, the night time DJ. Venus is really cool and happening and wears the most outrageous suits. Venus also wears every trend that happened in the late Seventies, from velour jumpsuits to gold chains, kimonos, and shinny jackets. He and Jennifer are the two characters the others go to for advice.

There used to be a lot of excellent clips on YouTube, but they were all taken down by the Powers That Be late last year. So here are the ones I could find:

These are some clips from the "Bomb Threat" episodes. Obviously Johnny is the only one who saw The President's Analyst.

This is the most famous scene from the most famous episode of WKRP called "Turkey Drop". It's not my favourite episode tho. My favourites are "Fish Story" where Johnny and Venus have an on-air drinking contest with a cop and a giant pig paints the lobby and "Hoodlum Rock" which has a Spinal Tap-like band before Spinal Tap was thought of.

Availability: The first season was finally released on DVD in 2008. Do Not buy the DVD. Do Not rent it. Do Not add it to your Netflix queue. Do Not watch it on hulu. Do Not pass Go and Do Not collect $200. I bought it when it was released and it made me cry. Since WKRP was about a radio station, obviously they played popular music when making the episodes and the music that they played is copyrighted. Rather then pay for the music rights, the DVD releasers instead replaced everything with generic sounds, I hesitate to call it "music". By replacing the original music, the jokes and punch lines don't make sense and in some cases, whole scenes were cut out, like the one below. Instead all four seasons are available as bootlegged versions (now widely available thanks to the internet), which is how everyone has been watching the show since it was cancelled. WKRP is still in syndication in some areas, I just don't know which areas.

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