WKRP in Cincinnati
|WKRP in Cincinnati|
Series title card
|Created by||Hugh Wilson|
|Theme music composer||Tom Wells|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||88 (90 in syndication) (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Hugh Wilson|
|Running time||24–25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||MTM Enterprises|
|Distributor||Jim Victory Television (1982-1987)
MTM Television Distribution (1987-1997)
20th Television (1997-Present)
|Original run||September 18, 1978– April 21, 1982|
|Followed by||The New WKRP in Cincinnati|
WKRP in Cincinnati is an American situation comedy television series that features the misadventures of the staff of a struggling fictional radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. The show was created by Hugh Wilson and was based upon his experiences working in advertising sales at Top 40 radio station WQXI (AM) in Atlanta. Many of the characters and even some of the stories (including the season 1 episode 7 "Turkeys Away") are based on people and events at WQXI.
As was typical of most MTM productions, the humor came more from running gags based on the known predilections and quirks of each character, rather than from outlandish plots or racy situations, since the show has a realistic setting. The characters also developed somewhat over the course of the series.
WKRP premiered September 18, 1978 on the CBS television network, and aired for four seasons and 88 episodes through April 21, 1982. During the third and fourth seasons, CBS repeatedly moved the show around its schedule, contributing to lower ratings and its eventual cancellation.
When WKRP went into syndication, it became an unexpected success, despite not reaching the desired number of 100 episodes for daily stripping. (90 half-hour episodes were available for syndication, due to two of the first-run 88 episodes being an hour long.) For the next decade, it was one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication, outperforming many programs which had been more successful in prime time, including all the other MTM Enterprises sitcoms.
Jump, Sanders, and Bonner reprised their roles in a spin-off/sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1991 to 1993 in syndication.
The station's new program director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, oily sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters, and spaced-out veteran disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey from New Orleans, Venus Flytrap. Lurking in the background and making an occasional appearance is ruthless business tycoon Mrs. Carlson, the station's owner and the mother of Arthur Carlson.
- Andy Travis (Gary Sandy). For the most part, program director Andy Travis serves as the straight man for the eccentric staff of the station he has been hired to run. Before coming to WKRP, he had an unblemished record of turning around failing radio stations, but meets his match in his wacky staff members, of whom he becomes distressingly fond. The show's opening theme song is about Andy and his decision to settle down in Cincinnati. In the episode "The Creation of Venus", Andy echoes the opening theme lyrics in talking about his past ("Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial").
- Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), occasionally called the "Big Guy", is the middle-aged general manager, whose main qualification for the job is that his mother, a business tycoon, is the owner of the station. His bumbling, indecisive management style is one of the main reasons the station is unprofitable, although he is ultimately a principled, kind, decent and sometimes surprisingly wise man. (Coincidentally, Gordon Jump in real life had been a Dayton, Ohio, radio personality.)
- Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is a burned-out veteran disc jockey from Los Angeles, who came to WKRP after being fired from a major station there when he said "booger" on the air. After the station changes format, one of his first on-air words (after being told he would not be fired for saying it) is "booger". Cynical and neurotic, Fever is usually in one sort of trouble or another. (Halfway through the first season, he would get hired by the top competitor of the radio station in L.A. that fired him, only to be fired again not for saying "booger" (which can be said now), but for something else that was censored in the show.) Though the character's real name is John Caravella, Fever occasionally uses other air names, notably including Johnny Cool, Johnny Duke, Johnny Style, Johnny Midnight, Johnny Sunshine, Professor Sunshine, Rip Tide and Heavy Early. This role is possibly Howard Hesseman's signature role as an actor (he had been a disc jockey for a brief time).
- Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the fastidious, bow-tied news reporter, approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite being almost totally incompetent (a fact to which he is completely oblivious). For instance, he mispronounces golfer Chi-Chi Rodríguez's name as "Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweeze". His best friend is fellow employee Herb Tarlek. As a running gag, Nessman wears a bandage in a different spot each episode. It is suggested that these bandages are the result of repeated attacks by Phil, Nessman's monstrous dog (who is never seen but is heard growling in another room in Nessman's apartment). In fact, the bandages are a running in-joke. During taping of the pilot, Richard Sanders bumped his head on a studio light and had to wear a bandage to cover the cut. From then on, Sanders decided that the character would always wear a bandage. Other gags are Nessman's winning the "Silver Sow" award for hog reporting and having masking tape on the carpet around his desk, which represents the "walls" of his non-existent office. Johnny Fever ribs him with wordplay by describing WKRP on the air as "the station with more music and Les Nessman."
- Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the station's gorgeous blonde receptionist and the station's highest-paid employee. Despite people's assumptions that she is merely "eye candy" for the station, Jennifer is informed, wise, and able to handle practically any situation, no matter how absurd, with aplomb. Although very aware of her sex appeal, with various wealthy, powerful men at her beck and call, she is friendly and good-hearted with the station staff. She is very strict about the limits of her job duties: she doesn't type letters (though she is in fact an expert typist), and neither makes coffee nor brings any to the office staff. Her boss accepts this, because like all the other men of the station, he finds her mesmerizing.
- Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), full name Herbert Ruggles Tarlek, Jr., the boorish, tasteless advertising account executive, wears loud plaid suits, with his belt matching his white shoes. He can't land the big accounts, usually succeeding only in selling air time for trivial products such as "Red Wigglers — the Cadillac of worms!" Although a married man (his wife Lucille was played by Edie McClurg), he persistently pursues Jennifer, who has absolutely no interest in him. While Herb is portrayed as buffoonish most of the time, he does occasionally show a sympathetic side. Tarlek was based on radio executive Clarke Brown. Bert Parks appeared in one episode as Herb Tarlek, Sr.
- Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), the soulful, funky evening DJ, runs his show with a smooth-talking persona and mood lighting in the studio. His real name, Gordon Sims, is almost never used and he maintains an aura of mystery. In an early episode, it is revealed that Gordon Sims is a Vietnam veteran who is wanted for desertion from the US Army. In later episodes, Venus's backstory is elaborated upon and it is revealed that after deserting the army he spent several years as a high-school teacher before becoming a radio personality.
- Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), the young ingénue of the radio station, is originally in charge of billing and station traffic. However, having graduated from journalism school with some training in editing, and intent on becoming a broadcast executive, she is later given additional duties as an on-air news reporter, in which capacity she proves much more capable than Les Nessman. As the series progressed, she overcame her shyness by developing self-confidence. Beginning with the second season, she occasionally becomes linked romantically with Johnny Fever. The dynamic between Jennifer and Bailey has been likened to that between Ginger and Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. Jan Smithers was one of the few WKRP cast members who was the first choice for the role she played (Gordon Jump being the other one). Creator Hugh Wilson said that despite Smithers' lack of experience (she had never done a situation comedy before), she was perfect for the character of Bailey as he had conceived her: "Other actresses read better for the part", Wilson recalled, "but they were playing shy. Jan was shy."
- Mrs. Carlson (Sylvia Sidney in the series pilot, Carol Bruce afterward) is Arthur Carlson's ruthless, domineering mother and the owner of WKRP. An extremely successful and rich businesswoman, her only regret is that her approach to parenting (the "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" school of child-rearing) backfired as her son ended up indecisive, weak-willed and afraid of her. In the final episode of the series, it is revealed that she had always intended WKRP to lose money (for the tax writeoff), which explains why she allows the incompetent employees to continue working at the station. The only one who is regularly able to get the better of her is her sarcastic butler, Hirsch (Ian Wolfe).
- Three other DJs at the station are mentioned, but (with one exception) never seen: Moss Steiger has the graveyard shift after Venus and is mentioned as having attempted suicide at least twice; Rex Erhardt (who was seen in the fourth season episode "Rumors", and played by Sam Anderson) hosts a program after Dr. Johnny Fever's morning show; and "Dean the Dream" has the afternoon drive slot. Another DJ, Doug Winner (Philip Charles MacKenzie), is hired and fired in the same episode ("Johnny Comes Back").
- Series writer Bill Dial occasionally shows up as engineer Bucky Dornster.
- Longtime actor William Woodson (though not credited) served as the announcer of the series (imploring the audience to stay tuned for the tag scene, in the episodes that had one) and did various voice-over roles during the run, including the pre-recorded announcer of the intro/outro to Les' newscasts, and the narrator of the trial results in the first season episode "Hold Up".
Timeslots and success
The show started out performing badly; placed in a tough timeslot,[clarification needed] it got poor ratings and was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away". But due to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that accurately portrayed the radio business in a realistic manner, CBS decided to bring WKRP back without any cast changes.
WKRP was given a new timeslot, one of the best on the network, following M*A*S*H. This allowed creator Hugh Wilson to move away from farcical radio-based stories, which is what CBS mostly wanted at the beginning, and start telling stories that, while not necessarily serious, were more low-key and character-based. To allow the ensemble cast to mingle more, the set was expanded. A previously unseen communal office area ("the bullpen") was added to accommodate scenes with the entire cast.
Partway through the second season, the show was moved back to its original earlier time. CBS executives wanted to free up the prized post-M*A*S*H slot for House Calls (with former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers). They also felt that the rock and roll music and the sex appeal of Loni Anderson were better-suited to the earlier slot, which at that time was thought of as mostly aimed at young people. The mid-season timeslot change didn't affect the show's success; WKRP finished at #22 in the ratings for its second year. For the next two seasons, however, the writers and producers often had to fight CBS over what kind of content was appropriate for a show in the so-called "family hour".
During the third and fourth seasons, CBS moved WKRP around repeatedly, so much so that cast and crew members claimed that even they didn't know when the show aired. When the show became a hit in syndication, some cast members joked that the reason for its success was that viewers finally knew where to find it on the schedule.
After the fourth season, the network decided not to renew the show. The final first-run episode of WKRP aired on April 21, 1982, and ranked #7 in the weekly Nielsen ratings for all series, specials and sporting events. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, because when it was produced, cast and crew had expected the series to be renewed. Prior to the broadcast, however, the series had already been cancelled.
Fact vs. fiction
The "Real" WKRP people
While Andy Travis received his name and some personality elements from a cousin of creator Hugh Wilson, he was based primarily on innovative program director Mikel Herrington, who also was the inspiration for the character Jeff Dugan in the 1978 film FM, written by Ezra Sacks who had worked at KMET. Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI/790 in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968). WKRP writer Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial's inspiration for the show. Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including seven in Atlanta. In 1997, Bobby Harper told WSB's Condace Pressley, "He went on record as pointing out which ones, including myself, that he based the characters on. It [that recognition] was a nice little thing. You know? That was nice. I appreciated that." 
The "Real" Cincinnati Connection
The transmission tower seen at the beginning of WKRP in Cincinnati actually belonged to Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, WLWT. The tower has since been dismantled. The building shown as the home of WKRP and referred to as the Osgood R. Flimm Building was the Cincinnati Enquirer Building at 617 Vine St. in downtown Cincinnati.
WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show. The opening theme, called "WKRP In Cincinnati Main Theme", was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and performed by Steve Carlisle. An urban legend had circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to Carlisle) had actually recorded the song. Wilson stated in the commentary for the first season's DVD set that this was simply not true. (Sanders would later "sing" the lyrics in a promo spot on VH1 for The New WKRP in Cincinnati in a parody of the U2 song, Numb)
A full-length version of the original theme song was released in 1979 on a 45 rpm vinyl single on the MCA Records label. It peaked at 65 on the Pop Singles chart in 1981 and at 29 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1982. The lyrics refer to the life of character Andy Travis.
The closing theme, "WKRP In Cincinnati End Credits", was a hard rock number composed and performed by Jim Ellis, an Atlanta musician who also recorded some of the incidental music for the show. According to people who attended the recording sessions, Ellis didn't yet have lyrics for the closing theme, so he improvised a semi-comprehensible story about a bartender to give an idea of how the finished theme would sound. Wilson decided to use the words anyway, since he felt that it would be funny to use lyrics that were deliberate gibberish, as a satire on the incomprehensibility of many rock songs. Also, because CBS always had an announcer talking over the closing credits, Wilson knew that no one would actually hear the closing theme lyrics anyway. In one pop-cultural nod to the closing theme, a character performs the song in the film Ready to Rumble. The closing theme is also played at the end of the syndicated morning radio show The John Boy and Billy Big Show.
The show's use of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was widely credited with helping the song become a major U.S. hit, and the band's record label Chrysalis Records presented the producers with a gold record award for the album Parallel Lines, on which the song appeared. This gold record can be seen hanging on the wall in the "bullpen" where Les, Herb, and Bailey worked in many of the episodes in the second, third, and fourth seasons.
The songs were often tied into the plot of the episode, and some pieces of music were even used as running gags. For example, the doorbell to Jennifer's penthouse apartment played "Fly Me to the Moon" (which was later replaced by "Beautiful Dreamer" due to copyright reasons).
Music licensing deals cut at the time of production were for a limited amount of time (approximately ten years). Once the licenses expired, later syndicated versions of the show did not feature the music as first broadcast, but rather generic "sound-alikes" by studio musicians to avoid paying additional royalties. In some cases (when the music was playing in the background of a dialogue scene), some of the characters' lines had to be redubbed by sound-alike actors. This was evident in all prints of the show issued since the early 1990s, which included its late-1990s run on Nick at Nite.
As a result, production on a WKRP DVD was delayed for years because of the expense of procuring music license. However, as was done with many other television series, the DVD release of WKRP in Cincinnati — Season One has much of the music replaced by generic substitutes. In addition, some scenes have been cut or truncated and voice-overs used to avoid using unlicensed musical content. Other scenes that were originally edited for television and thus never before seen were added back into the episodes to give viewers the backstory which further explained a later scene. According to TV Guide magazine, creator Hugh Wilson said he was "satisfied" with the final product for DVD release.
A 2009 syndication package of the show, however, aired as part of "Outta Sight Retro Nights" on WGN America (with promos voiced by Casey Kasem) which appeared to have all of the original music intact.
Digital broadcast network Antenna TV added WKRP in Cincinnati to its programming schedule on April 8, 2012, and some of the episodes appear to have the original music intact.
|DVD Season||Ep #||Region 1||Region 2||Comments|
|Season 1||22||April 24, 2007||"Do My Eyes Say Yes?" featurette, "A 'Fish Story' Story" featurette, two commentary tracks featuring creator Hugh Wilson and cast members Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner|
- "Turkeys Away: An Oral History".
- Kassel, Michael B., ''America's Favorite Radio Station: WKRP in Cincinnati'' Popular Press (1993) ISBN 0-87972-584-2, ISBN 978-0-87972-584-6. Google Books. June 26, 2003. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
- WKRP in Cincinnati TV.com Show Summary, retrieved 05-21-2013.
- "Brown To Receive BCFM's Lifetime Achievement Award".
- "Radio's Call To Arms".
- Evanier, Mark (January 13, 2006). "WKRP in Cincinnati". Old TV Tickets.
- Michael B. Kassel, America's Favorite Radio Station: WKRP in Cincinnati (Popular Press, 1993):6–7.
- "Deaths", Billboard (December 6, 1997):64.
- "Deaths", Billboard (December 6, 1997):64; Michael Learmonth, "Kingdom KOME: Less than two weeks remain until the letters fade away", Metro (June 4–10, 1998), http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/06.04.98/cover/radio2-9822.html; Don Barrett, "Where Are They Now? Los Angeles Radio People, H", http://www.laradio.com/whereh.htm
- "Radio Broadcasting History: Radio People by Name (H)". 440 International, Inc. 2008. pp. entry for Skinny Bobby Harper. Retrieved October 3, 2008.
- Fybush, Scott (January 30, 2003). "Looking for "WKRP": Cincinnati, Part II". NorthEast Radio Watch.
-  WKRP's back on the air, Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday, July 4, 1999 Accessed June 25, 2011.
- Internet Movie Database (IMDB). "WKRP in Cincinnati Trivia". Retrieved February 15, 2011.
- Song Facts. "WKRP in Cincinnati theme by Steve Carlisle". Retrieved February 15, 2011.
- "About WKRP". Retrieved February 15, 2011.
- "Television". Jim Ellis Music.
- Lacey, Gord (March 31, 2007). "WKRP in Cincinnati DVD news: List of 'WKRP' music changes". TVShowsOnDVD.com.
- "Something Old, Nothing New: WKRP DVD Not OK". Zvbxrpl.blogspot.com. March 30, 2007. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
- WKRP in Cincinnati at the Internet Movie Database
- Summary and episode guide from TV Guide
- WKRP in Cincinnati audio and trivia site covering the original and new versions
- Antenna In Google Maps