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||90 (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 release||September 18, 1978– April 21, 1982|
|Followed by||The New WKRP in Cincinnati|
WKRP in Cincinnati is an American sitcom that featured 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 in Atlanta. Many of the characters and even some of the stories (including season 1 episode 7, "Turkeys Away") are based on people and events at WQXI.
Like many other 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, appearing as regular characters in a spin-off/sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1991 to 1993 in syndication. Hesseman, Reid and Anderson also reprised their roles on this show as guest stars.
- 1 Premise
- 2 Characters
- 3 Episodes
- 4 Timeslots and success
- 5 Production
- 6 Fact vs. fiction
- 7 Music
- 8 DVD releases
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The station's new program director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling easy listening radio station WKRP by switching its format from dated easy listening music to Rock and roll, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, greasy sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey: New Orleans native Venus Flytrap, and allows spaced-out former major market DJ Dr. Johnny Fever, (already doing mornings in the easy listening format as John Caravella) to be himself. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe and enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters. 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. It is revealed in at least two episodes that Carlson was an Officer in the United States Marine Corps during WWII, and saw some combat in the Pacific Theater. Despite this, Carlson is deathly afraid of his strong-willed mother. Mr. Carlson has far more interest in fishing than he does in the radio station, often trying to prevent people from coming to see him about business. (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 WKRP changes its format, one of Fever's first on-air words (after being told by Travis "you can even say "booger" if you want to") is "booger." Cynical and neurotic and an occasional insomniac who consumes large amounts of coffee, 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 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 (as 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). 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 putting yellow lines on the floor around his desk, which represent 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.
- 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 but is effective in selling air time, usually for comically trivial products such as "Red Wigglers — the Cadillac of worms!" Although a married man (his wife Lucille was played by Edie McClurg) with children, 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 Tarlek's father, 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 in New Orleans while working part-time as 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 she proves more capable than Les Nessman. As the series progressed she overcame her shyness by developing self-confidence. Beginning with the second season two-part episode "For Love or Money", 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, with Gordon Jump being the other. 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."
- Lilian 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 write-off), 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).
- Carmen Carlson (Allyn Ann McLerie) is Mr. Carlson's sweet-natured wife. Though happily married, they are so anxious to avoid hurting each other's feelings that they rarely tell each other what they really think. They have a son, Arthur Carlson, Jr., whom they've sent off to military school. During the second season Carmen has a surprise pregnancy and during the third season gives birth to a daughter, Melanie.
- 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 Bucky Dornster, WKRP's station engineer.
- 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's newscasts, and the narrator of the trial results in the first-season episode "Hold Up".
Timeslots and success
WKRP in Cincinnati debuted in 1978 in CBS’s Monday 8 p.m. timeslot, competing against ABC’s Welcome Back, Kotter and NBC’s top 20 show, Little House on the Prairie. Initially receiving poor ratings, WKRP was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away". But owing to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that realistically portrayed the radio business, 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
"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. [That recognition] was a nice little thing. You know? That was nice. I appreciated that." 
Studios and offices
In the show, WKRP's offices and studios are in the Osgood R. Flimm Building, an art deco office building. When mentioned, the exact floor varies: in Season 1's episode "Les on a Ledge", WKRP is on the 9th floor, but in season 4's episode "Fire", it's on the 14th, the entranceway door is shown as 1412. Other businesses mentioned in the Flimm building include a restaurant on the 1st floor, a podiatrist on the 3rd, a wholesale jeweler on the 4th, and a dance studio on the 15th. The building shown during the show's opening credits is actually the Cincinnati Enquirer Building at 617 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati.
A real WKRP radio station
Having successfully lobbied the FCC for the famed call sign (unlike WBQC-LD, mentioned below), on November 30, 2015 a low power FM radio station in Raleigh, North Carolina, WKRP-LP (FM) signed on the air as the first FM station to use the WKRP call sign.
A recent WKRP Cincinnati TV station
In 2008, an unrelated independent television station in Cincinnati, WBQC-LD, took advantage of local nostalgia for the sitcom, promoting its conversion to digital broadcasting by rebranding as "WKRP-TV Cincinnati".
WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show.
The opening theme, a soft rock/pop number called "WKRP In Cincinnati Main Theme," was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and was performed by Steve Carlisle. An urban legend circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to Carlisle) had 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, which parodied 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 Billboard Hot 100 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 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. Because CBS always had an announcer talking over the closing credits, Wilson knew that no one would hear the closing theme lyrics. 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 number of years. Hugh Wilson commented that WKRP was videotaped instead of filmed because when the show was originally produced, a loophole in music licensing deals reduced fees for using songs in videotaped programs. The loophole was intended to accommodate variety shows. When the show initially went in syndication shortly after its 1982 cancellation, the original music remained intact because the licensing deals were still active at the time. 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.
The expense of procuring licenses for the original music in the series delayed any release of a DVD set for years. When it finally was released, much of the music was replaced by generic substitutes. Some scenes were shortened or cut entirely, and voiceovers were used to avoid using unlicensed musical content. However, some scenes that were originally edited out for television (and therefore never seen before) were added back into the episodes to give viewers the back story which further explained a later scene.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Region 1 in April 2007. Due to poor sales, Fox released no further seasons. In May 2014, Shout! Factory acquired rights to the series for DVD release. Shout! Factory planned to include all of the music that aired originally on the show, but was only able to obtain rights for 111 of the original musical artists. Shout! Factory's disclaimer stated, "In a few cases, it was simply impossible to get the rights." Fans of the show compiled lists documenting that the re-release included 80% of the series' original music.
The complete series was available online at shoutfactory.com in September followed by a wide release in October 2014. In March 2015 Shout! released individual sets for Seasons 1 & 2. Season 3 was released in July 2015 and the final season was released in November 2015.
|DVD Season||Ep #||Release date|
|Season 1||22||March 17, 2015|
|Season 2||24||March 17, 2015|
|Season 3||22||July 14, 2015|
|Season 4||22||November 10, 2015|
|Complete Series||90||October 28, 2014|
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Block began plotting the change two years ago, tied to TV stations' transition nationwide from analog to digital broadcasting scheduled for Feb. 17. Although low-power stations aren't required by law to switch to digital next year, Block made the investment so viewers here with digital TV converter boxes could continue to see his stations next year.
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