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 90 episodes through September 20 1982. During the third and fourth seasons, CBS repeatedly moved the show around its schedule, contributing to its eventual cancellation.
When WKRP went into syndication, it became an unexpected blockbuster. For the next decade, it was one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication, outperforming many much bigger prime time hits, including all the other MTM sitcoms.
Les has an anti-Communist obsession, and regularly makes dire warnings in his radio broadcasts against the "Communist threat" which he believes is infiltrating America. His anti-Communist broadcasts are reminiscent of a 1950's Red Scare fearmonger. The source of this obsession is revealed in one episode, when Les learns that his real father was a Communist who deserted his mother before Les was born. His mother grew to hate all Communists, and passed this obsession to her son.
As a running gag, Nessman wears a band-aid in a different spot each episode. It is suggested that these band-aids are due to repeated attacks by Phil, Nessman's monstrous dog (who is never seen but is heard growling offstage in another room in Nessman's apartment). In fact, the band-aids are a running in-joke. During the filming of the pilot episode, Richard Sanders bumped his head on a studio light and had to wear a bandage to cover the cut. From then on, Sanders decided, Les Nessman would always wear a bandage on his head.
In the pilot episode, Andy Travis comes to the station as the new programming director, hired to improve the dismal ratings of the beautiful music station, run by weak-willed Arthur Carlson. Travis abruptly changes the programming format to rock music, but WKRP's ratings fail to improve significantly in the Cincinnati market (although even the mild rise that does occur is considered wonderful by the other employees), mostly because of his unwillingness to fire the existing personnel when he takes over; their idiosyncrasies are more to blame for the station's fortunes than its format.
One of WKRP in Cincinnati's best-known and most-loved episodes ("Turkeys Away") is a comic account of a disastrous promotion initiated by Carlson. As a publicity stunt, the station drops live turkeys out of a helicopter over a shopping center as a Thanksgiving Day giveaway. The turkeys, who cannot fly, plunge to their deaths as shoppers run for their lives. The entire event, however, occurs entirely off-screen, as the viewer only sees and hears Les Nessman describe the scene in words reminiscent of Herbert Morrison's reporting of the Hindenburg disaster. A shaken Arthur Carlson later remarks, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." It was named by TV Guide as one of the greatest episodes in television history. This episode, along with the "dancing ducks" episode, is based on real events occurring at WQXI in Atlanta, a station that series creator Hugh Wilson worked at while in the advertising business.
WKRP was given a new time slot, 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 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 n' 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. For the next two seasons, 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. After the fourth season, the network decided not to renew the show. The final first-run episode of WKRP to air was seventh in the weekly Nielsen ratings for all series, specials and sports events. Prior to the broadcast, the series had already been cancelled.
In the opening credits for the episode titled "Fish Story", Hugh Wilson went under the name of Raoul Plager. He was under pressure by CBS to write a more broad comedy, but since he didn't want to be credited for work that he believed that was beneath him, he used the alias. The episode turned out to be the highest rated in the show's run.
Los Angeles disc jockey Steve Marshall of KNX-FM submitted a spec script for WKRP (back when they were actually accepted by studios) which was bought by the producers. He later joined the writing staff of the show (briefly holding down both jobs simultaneously).
Producers Dan Guntzelman and Steve Marshall also created and produced Just the Ten of Us, which featured Frank Bonner in a supporting role as a Catholic priest. Blake Hunter co-created Who's the Boss?.
Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI-AM in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968). WKRP creator Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial's inspiration for the show. Hugh Wilson was an Atlanta ad man then, before going on to create WKRP in Cincinnati. Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including 7 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 call letters WKRP (supposedly a pun on the word "crap") are currently assigned to a low-power TV station (WKRP-LP) in Alexandria, Tennessee. The call letters are not currently assigned to any AM or FM radio station, and any potential user would have to obtain permission from the TV station owners and the FCC. These call letters were most recently assigned to an AM station in North Vernon, Indiana, about 60 miles from Cincinnati, but the call sign was changed to WNVI in 1997 (the station's calls are now WJCP). Another television station, WLPX-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, held the "WKRP" calls from 1988 to 1998, when the call letters were changed to its present calls. However, the calls were never used on-air -- the station did not sign on until August 31, 1998, after the calls were changed.
Though WKRP was never identified by frequency in the original series (although it was on the AM dial), it was identified as being at AM 1530 in the 1991 series remake (which, in reality, was the frequency for WCKY). Coincidentally, Cincinnati boasts the similarly-named WKRC in Cincinnati. Except for almost identical call letters and currently being CBS affiliates, there is no known connection between the two entities. At the time of series' airing, the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati was WCPO.
WEBN, a Cincinnati radio station, originally had a classical and jazz format but eventually changed format to album-oriented rock, a format which continues to this day. In real life, the transition to rock-and-roll was gradual, unlike the fictional WKRP where the rapid change was played up for comedic effect in the opening two episodes.
Cincinnati also has a very popular rock/pop station called WKRQ (aka Q102) which was on the air during the show.
WKRP's signal power was displayed in a radius on a framed picture of the Midwest in the front lobby. The poster on the pilot episode stated that WKRP had a 50,000 watt signal, but all later episodes downgraded the station's power to 5,000 watts.
In the 1980s, a radio station in Salt Lake City, KRPN (now KMRI) identified itself on-air as "WKRP in Salt Lake City, The Oldies Network". For legal purposes, the calls were actually read as "W KRPN Salt Lake City", with everything after the "W" complying with FCC standards for station identification.
The building shown as the home of WKRP and referred to as the Flimm Building was The Enquirer Building at 617 Vine St. in downtown Cincinnati. The real Cincinnati Enquirer relocated its offices in the early 1990s to 312 Elm St.
Just before "WKRP in Cincinnati" left the air, a small AM station in the Cincinnati market flipped from a Country format to a Rock format. In 1981, 500 watt daytime station WCLU-AM 1320 based in Covington, Kentucky became "Cincinnati's AM Rock." By 1983 it had evolved into a straight Top 40 station and remained so until April, 1987. The on-air studio was very similar to that shown on "WKRP", with its rotary pot console and turntables covered in green felt. This station eventually changed call letters to WCVG and became the nation's first "All Elvis" station in 1988. It is now one of Cincinnati's two AM Gospel stations.
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 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 sang nonsense words to give an idea of how it would sound. Wilson decided it would be funny to use lyrics that were deliberately gibberish, as a satire on the incomprehensibility of many rock songs. Also, since 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 Big Show with John Boy and Billy.
The show was one of the earliest to extensively use contemporary music by big groups and artists of the time such as Blondie, Pretenders, The Clash, Foreigner, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Eagles, Styx, Supertramp, Elvis Presley, The Kinks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Deep Purple, The Knack, Joe Walsh, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Doors, Donna Summer, ELO, and Talking Heads to name a few .
The show's use of Blondie's Heart of Glass was widely credited with helping the song become a major US hit, and the band's record label Chrysalis Records presented the producers with a gold record award for the band's album Parallel Lines, which the song was on. This gold record can been seen hanging on the wall in the 'bull pen" where Less, 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. Music licensing deals cut at the time of production were for a limited amount of time (approximately ten years). In addition, the show was videotaped rather than filmed because it was cheaper to get the rights to rock songs for a taped show. 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 in order 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 brief 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 licenses. It was feared that fans would reject edited versions. Sales of first-season DVD sets of Roseanne and The Cosby Show suggested that viewers prefer original, uncut episodes. 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. According to TV Guide magazine, creator Hugh Wilson said he was "satisfied" with the final product for DVD release.
|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, 2 Commentary Tracks featuring Creator Hugh Wilson and Cast Members Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner|