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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

More "WKRP" with Hugh Wilson

I had a terrific converation with "WKRP in Cincinnati" creator Hugh Wilson the other day, and not all of it could fit into my Sunday stories. So here are more comments. And you folks who are tired of reading about "WKRP" can skip this blog and come back another day...

--WKRP in Rochester?: Wilson considered all kinds of cities to set the radio station.... Rochester, Indianapolis, they just didn't click. Then he thought of Cincinnati, a city he had never seen. "It just sounded right-- WKRP in CINCINNATI."

--No 'KRP: Execs at either CBS or MTM first nixed the title, because Cincinnati already had a WKRC-AM and WKRQ-FM. (WKRC dates back to the Kodell Radio Co. ownership in the early 1920s.) Wilson said: "I remember in the beginning a note from the legal department saying we couldn't use WKRP because there was a WKRC in Cincinnati. And someone got in touch with them (WKRC), and they said, "Hell no, that's not a problem." And that's how the TV show got it's title. Long-time residents will recall that WKRC-AM, owned by Taft Broadcasting (owners of Kings Island and "The Flintstones," "Scooby-Do" and other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, reworked the TV theme to "WKRC in Cincinnati." Wonder if anyone at the station still has the ID? Wonder if we'll hear it again with all the renewed attention to "WKRP?"

--Cincinnati sentiment: Wilson was thrilled with the support from Cincinnati folks for the show 1978-82. "Anytime we asked anybody in Cincinnati for help, they said, 'Right away!' I hadn't been to Cncinnati, but I figured everybody there was nice folks. I always felt Cincinnati was full of nice people. I even liked Marge!" When I told him of Schott's practice of rubbing Schottzie hair on Reds players and managers for good luck, he said, "I would have used that in a hearbeat!"

--Springer break: Wilson says he came to Cincinnati only once or twice during the four-year production. He came to town to scout before the show premiered. During that trip he was supposed to meet the mayor -- Jerry Springer -- "but he was busy, and couldn't see us."

--Turkeys away: As an Atlanta advertising exec, Wilson began thinking of creating a pilot about a inept radio station. He contacted an Atlanta radio station manager, toured the station and
went to lunch with him to pump him for story ideas. They guy said he didn't have much... but did mention that he had worked at a station in Texas where they gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving by dropping them over a shopping center from a helicopter. That's when the station manager realized that "the @#&# things can't fly," Wilson said. Which inspired WKRP GM Arthur Carlson's famous line, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

--Off the air: I've often heard people say that WKRP was canceled too soon by CBS. Over four years, CBS moved it to 12(!) time slots, and it only made the Top 25 one season (#22 for the second season, 1979-80). It also was nominated three times in those four years for a best comedy Emmy. Yet Wilson wasn't surprised when CBS pulled the plug.
"Our (ratings) numbers wouldn't seem to go (up) anywhere. I knew we were dead in the water. I was disappointed, but not surprised."

--Caught on tape: "WKRP" was shot on tape, when all of the other Mary Tyler Moore Productions (Mary Tyler Moore, Newhart, etc.) were on film, because the music rights were much cheaper. Being on tape, the half-hour sitcom fell under classification of a TV variety show, with lower costs for music. But to release on DVD, the cost of using original 1970s and '80s rock was prohibitive, he says. "Music license fees have gotten out of sight. They just can't afford to pay the license fees," he says.

--Programming WKRP: Howard Hesseman and Tim Reid picked much of the music their characters played on the show. (They were actually programming WKRP!) Howard first asked to do it, and then Tim heard about it and made the same reuqest. "They were really into music, and did a good job, and had good taste in music. And I wanted to keep them happy. I'm a scribbler (writer). I was usually up in the writers room. So anything that would make the actors happy was OK with me."

Now for my questions: I've seen some comments on chat boards complaining about the generic music on the "WKRP" DVD. Obviously, some consider "WKRP" a music show with some comedy. I've always considered it a comedy show with some music. So which is it? It is an outrage that the original music has been deleted? Or is it a comedy show in which the music was secondary?

And one more question, if you're still with me. (I apologize for the long blog today, but wanted to wrap up all the "WKRP" stuff in one hit.) What's your favorite episode? And if you say "Turkeys Away," what's your second favorite?

You've been a wonderful audience. Thank you very much.


at 4/21/2007 8:59 PM Blogger Jaime J. Weinman said...

So which is it? It is an outrage that the original music has been deleted? Or is it a comedy show in which the music was secondary?

I would say the answer is both.

Of course WKRP was a comedy show, not a music show. But some of the comedy revolved around music. When Fox cuts out nearly all the songs, they're cutting out a lot of jokes -- like Johnny and Mr. Carlson talking about Pink Floyd, or Les singing "Heartbreak Hotel," or Johnny lip-synching to Van Morrison's "Caravan." So the biggest problem with what Fox has done here is that some of the jokes are gone.

My favorite episode would probably be the two-part "For Love Or Money" that opened the second season, where Johnny is threatened with a lawsuit by his ex-girlfriend. That has it all: great semi-improvised comedy with Howard Hesseman and guest star Julie Payne; great comedy scenes for Jennifer, Herb and Les, and a brilliant musical scene with "After the Love Has Gone" by Earth, Wind and Fire (there's a song that can't be cut without ruining the episode).

at 4/22/2007 12:47 PM Anonymous Brinke Guthrie said...

Like the show but could never get over some of the technical errors- like 'where are the headphones' and the door that slammed shut in the studio! Since I was at WKRQ for 13 years, I got asked about WKRP all the time. I think Gary Sandy lived over in Mt. Adams for a time when he was doing Playhouse in the Park, if I recall.

at 4/22/2007 2:15 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a list of all of the songs that were cut. I'm tempted to search for a bootleg of the originals. I'm dissapointed.

WKRP in Cincinnati, Season 1 DVD
List of Music Replacements and Cuts

“Queen of the Forest" by Ted Nugent replaced with generic music.

Pilot Part 2
“That Old Time Rock n’ Roll” by Bob Seger replaced with generic music.

Les on a Ledge
Song at the beginning replaced.

Hoodlum Rock
The songs (by the band Detective) are intact, but the episode is a cut 22-minute syndication version. The original full-length version is available at the Museum of Television and Radio.

All songs replaced.

Bailey’s Show
All but one song replaced. Footage is cut from two scenes.

Turkeys Away
“Dogs” by Pink Floyd replaced. Much of the scene has been cut out entirely.

Love Returns
Rock songs replaced. Part of a scene has been cut.

Mama’s Review
The clip of Venus in the booth, which was the only "cutaway" clip taped especially for this episode (this is a clip show) is cut and replaced with a clip from the pilot.

A Date With Jennifer
“Hot Blooded” by Foreigner replaced. 22-minute cut syndication version.

The Contest Nobody Could Win
All songs replaced. Someone has re-dubbed the people calling in about the song identification contest, so that they're now identifying fake songs and groups.

Elvis Costello song "Goon Squad" replaced. Some footage cut.

Goodbye, Johnny
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys replaced.

Johnny Comes Back
All songs replaced with generic music.

Never Leave Me, Lucille
“Everybody Rock n’ Roll the Place” by Eddie Money replaced, with some dialogue cut. The episode originally started with Les singing “Heartbreak Hotel”; that scene has been cut.

I Want to Keep My Baby
All songs replaced except one Bob Marley song. Some footage cut from several scenes.

A Commercial Break
All rock songs replaced. Johnny singing "So Long for a While" has been cut.

Who is Gordon Sims?
One song replaced.

I Do… I Do… For Now
Jennifer’s doorbell, which played “Fly Me to the Moon,” is replaced with a public-domain song.

Young Master Carlson
All songs replaced, even the theme from Patton, a Fox film. Some footage cut from one scene.

Fish Story
All songs replaced. A scene of Venus singing is cut.

All songs replaced.

at 4/22/2007 3:45 PM Blogger dawgsfan47 said...

I loved watching the show but I think because it was set in Cincinnati. John, do you have any info on its ratings here versus the rest of the country?

And I don't think it would be the same show without the music included.

at 4/22/2007 6:34 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

john or whoever else knows with wkrc and the cincw getting new owners, will that have any effect on their being carried by the local cable companies or will it just be business as usual until the contracts run out

at 4/23/2007 11:47 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turkeys away and Who concert, Phone Cops, and Not sure which one it was when Johnny could not get drunk on the air

at 4/23/2007 12:21 PM Blogger John Kiesewetter said...

The episode with Johnny not being able to get drunk on the air is "Fish Story," in the first season DVD set. In same show, Herb as KRP carp fights with WPIG pig. CBS wanted more physical comedy, so Hugh Wilson wrote it under a pen name ("Raoul Plager").

at 4/23/2007 1:47 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hate to say it, but these DVDs are a ripoff without the music . Damn shame too, as I was excited about buying them. Won't buy them now.

at 4/23/2007 2:33 PM Anonymous Greg said...

The first season is already available on Netflix. I just added it to my queue

at 4/23/2007 2:56 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in agreement with Anon 1:47 about the music. (or lack thereof) Sounds pretty cheap of Hugh Wilson to keep sticking to the story about how much royalties cost for the original music. I would like to know what keeping the music in them would have done to the price for the set. If it added 10 bucks I am guessing they still could have gotten it. what's the real story on this, John?

at 4/24/2007 1:08 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is why this city will never be a major player....all people do here is relive the old days. Time to move on people. I know, I know, you were born here, you were raised here, and you will die here. Go to a real city and see how they do things. $50 million on a square renovation? you're right. Bars and restaurants do not attract anyone. Now we have the NAACP complaining. Might as well start a riot.

at 4/24/2007 3:53 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anon 1:08 PM, for sucking all the fun out of another topic. If you are so upset about Cincinnati never being a "major player", don't let the door hit you where the good lord split you, OK?

at 4/26/2007 1:01 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geez, why does this site have to have such buzzkills....This place used to have nicer posters more active...the snarky comments towards other posters is a bit much...why even POST THEM? If we have to go thru an editor..might as well leave off the hateful comments if they are totally un-necessary...

I think it's terrible the ORIGINAL music was removed or the shows edited to remove scenes revolving around a song. Indeed, HOW MUCH would it cost? Is it the musicians? the families, the music companies? What is the deal?
I need some music person to explain and breakdown the costs of this?

I remember about 10 years ago, I used to watch a certain had a scene with a montague of a main character getting shot in the rain, outside a church at the end of the had Judy collins singing AMAZING GRACE making the scene quite powerful. That evening I caught the repeat on SOAPNET and some boring generic instrumental (not even CLOSE to Amazing grace) was substituted. It killed the ambience imo.

ABC that had the soap, ABC owns SOAPNET but the music was not allowed? Later that got changed but i soon gave up on the soaps due to the changes in the show itself.

But music can be HUGE in certain elements of a show. It can also get too much 'play' in modern shows.....I do not understand the way music has taken over shows today...I do not watch grey's anatomy but apparently I read they were going to do a ONE HOUR MUSIC VIDEO of the show?! Well, that's ridiculous...but since KRP was about a music station, it's a shame some of the music and scenes were altered due to music conflicts.

The same thing happened in syndication or at least they had soundalikes...I guess music rights only last about 10 years?

Still, it's a shame and I may rent this from the library but would not invest.

Sophia Fairfield

p.s. I do like the short bits of music used in Boston Legal..maybe the show has better taste in music..if only they would've stayed CONSISTENT in the writing in the third season but I digress.

Will be intersting to hear everybody's impression of the DVD once seen w/o the orig music.

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