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WKRP is the show that I may have the toughest time reviewing. I would
to make my love for this show clear without simply stating it was the best
show of all time, but there may be no other way. I Love Lucy, MASH,
Seinfeld, Mary Tyler Moore, and any other sitcom regarded as classic all
pale in comparison to WKRP in Cincinnati. This show focused on eight
characters, rarely devoting too much time to any one individual. The cast
did not change in four years. They didn't even add anybody for a few
episodes to play a love interest or something like that. They didn't have
to. Each one of the eight could have carried the show by themselves.
I was born during WKRP's initial run and I have grown up in an era where almost every sitcom is populated by characters whose personality is exaggerated beyond reality, and who can't seem to laugh at anything that doesn't involve sex. KRP had its share of these types of jokes, but they never dominated the show. There were rarely any episodes trying to figure out who's dating whom. There was never a season ending cliffhanger wondering which two characters were going to get together. In fact, the episodes where this did happen are some of the show's weakest such as Andy's country western girlfriend, and the episode where Johnny stays at Bailey's apartment prompting rumors around the office. That being said, there is not one single episode of WKRP in Cincinnati that isn't funny. Even the two I referenced earlier have their moments.
The character development and subtlety of this show is unmatched. Each character built a relationship with the other seven, and the writers were able to tap into those relationships whenever it was needed. There are episodes that you have to watch several times to get the full effect of what is going on. The union episode is one of the best because of the way Andy deals with the other characters, but this is something that goes unnoticed unless you pay attention to all the little details that you can see watching the episode a second time. Everything down to his wardrobe is just perfectly crafted. Another great KRP moment comes when station critic Norris Breeze refers to Jennifer as a "total airhead" in front of Mama Carlson. The one person Mrs. Carlson considers her equal, and she is called a "total airhead." What a great moment.
The final episode ties everything together perfectly. It was not guaranteed at that time whether KRP was returning, so they made an episode that could be the last, but it didn't have to be. Johnny's explanation of how KRP is supposed to lose money explains why Mrs. Carlson went along with the new format in the first place four years earlier.
There has certainly never been a more socially consious sitcom, and there are many great dramas that didn't deal with as many issues as WKRP. Every political issue that is important even today is tackled in a KRP episode. Abortion, racism, homosexuality, censorship, unions, alcoholism, drug abuse, and education to name a few. There are also episodes involving the rich vs. poor, and a classic involving lying, scheming politicians. I have literally tried to think of an issue that wasn't addressed on WKRP, and I can't do it.
It's unfortunate that none of the eight actors ever made a real splash after WKRP. Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman, and Loni Anderson have had their moments, but none of these actors are considered to be big stars. For four great years, they created a show that a lot of people missed. For those of us who have gotten to see it, we will never forget.
Amid the cookie-cutter, assembly-line sitcoms of the late '70s and
early '80s, "WKRP in Cincinnati" stood out like a breath of fresh air.
It had all the qualities necessary for a classic comedy: the show was
character-driven, not dependent on a never-ending stream of glib and
not-so-glib one-liners (and, thank God, no "cute" kids); the writing
was sharp, clever, and at times absolutely brilliant; the ensemble cast
worked together like a well-oiled machine, with each character having
its own distinctive--and, unusual for television,
three-dimensional--qualities, both good and not so good; and in
addition to wringing laughs out of everyday situations, it wasn't
afraid to tackle more serious subjects, either, such as parental
responsibility, censorship, shady business practices in the industry,
drug use and, of course, one of the most barbaric problems to have
confronted America in this century: the practice of using live turkeys
in promotional campaigns ("As God is my witness, I thought they could
Many episodes stand out, of course, the main one probably being the above-mentioned turkey extravaganza, but there were others that were equally as memorable: the staff's discomfort at being sponsored by a chain of funeral homes and having to come up with a catchy "slogan" for them; the inspired casting of Bert Parks as Herb Tarlek's charming, but even more obnoxious, father; Johnny Fever's "selling out" by hosting a cheesy TV dance show; Les Nessman's being barred from sports locker rooms because of a false rumor spread around that he was gay; a dark secret from Venus Flytrap's past finally catching up with him; and a host of other brilliant episodes dealing with serious and not-so-serious issues.
This is one of the class acts of sitcomdom, and ranks up there with "Taxi", "Mary Tyler Moore," "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" as among the finest sitcoms ever made. Unfortunately, unlike the aforementioned shows, "WKRP" never really got the respect it so richly deserved. But at least we can keep enjoying it on reruns. Thank God for small favors.
Many sitcoms start out with great promise, but over successive seasons settle and turn dimensionally less realistic. Take for example Tony Danza's spiral down in "Taxi" into the "dumb guy." In WKRP in Cincinnati, the complete opposite was true. Two dimensional stereotypes at the beginning (cowboy programmer, dim-witted receptionist, lazy mama's boy manager, city-wise black DJ, etc.) were allowed over the show's course to become psychologically real. The on-going harassment by married salesman Herb Tarlek towards Jennifer the receptionist was finally confronted, and in subsequent episodes he was never quite the pig towards her as before. Alcoholism and drug abuse were addressed, but never in the "hit you over the head" PC style of today. The show could be simultaneously hilarious and of dire seriousness. If you can, catch the episodes in rerun in order. The final season is amazing, especially when the previous years have set you up for it. Carol Bruce (Mama Carlson) episodes are especially stunning. And always look for Les Nessman's roaming band-aid.
WKRP is one of the best sitcoms of all time. It ranks up there with Taxi, early M*A*S*H, MTM, Seinfeld, and the often forgotten, and, IMHO, best sitcom of all time, Barney Miller (mushy, mushy, mushy!). The characters and the stories were well-rounded and believable. And the music on Johnny's morning show was the best. Too bad it can't be found up or down the dial these days. And yes, I'm a Bailey man, too!
Dr. Johnny Fever. Venus Flytrap. The Big Guy. Les Nessman with the news! Remember the WKRP carp fish mascot fighting the WPIG pig mascot in the men's room? In real life things were much more friendly. The cast and crew of WKRP still meet each year which is a remarkable thing.
WKRP has the most vivid (and funny) off-camera moment in the history of TV sitcoms: Herb and Mr. Carlson dropping live turkeys from a helicopter above a shopping center parking lot. "My God, the humanity!"
WKRP was the Cadillac of late 70's sitcoms. Ignored by TV critics and the Hollywood establishment, but much loved by TV viewers and that is what counts. The last first-run episode of WKRP was the 7th highest rated network program for the week it aired.
Only a very few comedies have reached what I consider the height of mixing
pathos, characterization, slapstick, verbal byplay. Night Court, Cheers,
Mary Tyler Moore...and WKRP manages to surpass them all. WKRP comes out
ahead of most of these (except maybe Night Court) because it was a true
ensemble. It didn't focus on just Sam & Diane, or just Mary, but equally
covered each of its cast members, giving them almost-equal screen
These were also folks who had _lives_ that didn't revolve entirely around the office or resolving the problem at the office: families, social lives, etc.
The recent Nick at Nite marathon (40 hours, five nights) just brought back home to me that this show was so funny, and why even some of the worst episodes are still a heck of a lot funnier than most "comedies" on the air today.
Hopefully WKRP will be settling into a long stay on Nick at Nite once the marathon runs its course.
Two TV programs are burned into my humor memory banks...the first from
youth...Ernie Kovacs and his cigar MC-ing the Blackstone Magicians
Convention TV Special in the 50's (before his ridiculous death in that
ridiculous subcompact car). The image of Kovacs (and the cigar)
inserting swords into a cabinet with a studio volunteer inside...the
last thrust...just before a commercial break...accompanied by a gasp
and moan. Kovacs watches as the handle of the sword rises, turns full
face to the camera with a shrug and a complex of wicked humor,
confusion, and phlegmatic acceptance on his face as the screen fades to
black. The second from adulthood...WKRP's Thanksgiving show...Les
Nessman's breathless redux of Pittsburgh broadcaster Herb (damn, sorry
Herb I've forgotten the last name!) report on the Hindenberg
disaster...as he described hapless, live turkeys hurled from a
helicopter hovering above a shopping center parking lot. Herb Tarlek's
anguished, "I swear to God Big Guy, I thought turkeys could fly!" as
the denemois (so much for my recollection of high school French)to the
"horror" and the "audience" response to his promotional gimmick.
I'd just had abdominal surgery 2 days before the Kovac's show so you can imagine my truly experiencing "laugh till you cry." I was preparing a turkey for my annual "y'all come" TG potluck, when the WKRP program aired...the turkey and dressing were everywhere as I thrashed about with unrestrained rib cracking laughter. I've told literally thousands of people about these two shows and would sure like to show them.
Bottomline: Are there DVD's or VCR's of the original shows available?
What can I add to what's already been said in the other comments? With the above quote and the unveiling of the KISS poster, WKRP IN CINCINATTI jumped in with both feet and made viewer (if not critical) history. Real people, losers who refused to be losers, teamed together to help and validate one another in great situations all in the little space of a couple of offices. Big theme and social consciousness issues without the big speech, hit you over the head approach. An ensemble cast with great writing and dialogue. Who cares whether or not it was low-budget? It was GREAT stuff. Favorite moments? Les wanting to commit suicide cuz the rumor is that he's gay. Herb painting his daughter's frog PINK. All the guys pitching in to get back the nudie shots the photographer took of Jennifer. The concert where the kids were crushed against the not yet opened gates. (I couldn't stop crying, watching that one.) Les feeding his dog, wearing the giant dog-trainer glove. The "phone police" blowing up the transmitter station. (That was my Dad's favorite.) But most of all for me, Venus teaching the cleaning lady's kid about the atom, using the analogy of gangs in the hood. The comedy capper on that one was Johnny waking up from behind some shelves and saying something like, "So that's how that works." And, yeah, folks -- Bailey was HOT and should've been showcased more. In closing, "Oh, yeah ... BOOGER!"
This is one of the great sitcoms in television history. The two things that made it great were the great writing and the ensemble cast. One episode that stands out in my mind is not the infamous "Turkey" episode, but the episode where Mr. Carlson runs for city council. When he starts out he is trying to be as honest as possible and looks like a sure loser. However, when he brings out the fact that his opponent is an alcoholic, he feels guilty about bringing the issue up and decides that its better to lose the election. The funniest scene in that episode is when Les gets on the phone and calls the press and tells them that Carlson likes to lounge around in a dress. Carlson then gets upset at Les and tells him to tell the press that he doesn't lounge around in a dress, but that he wears a halter top. Now that was a funny episode and it helped to make this show a classic.
There are few jokes in the best TV sitcoms and films. The funniest
moments happen when well-defined characters are in unusual situations
in which they react as themselves. One of the funniest scenes in "The
Graduate" is Benjamin Braddock trying to avoid drawing attention to
himself when he wants to check into a hotel because he's having an
affair. Or when muggers accosting Jack Benny say "You're gonna give us
$10,000, or we're gonna break both your legs" to which Benny replies,
"Does it have to be both?" (Benny's character in both his radio and TV
shows was that he was stingy and would do anything to avoid giving or
WKRP was lucky to have the kind of writers who also understood the power of character to create comedy. The characters of WKRP rarely make self-conscious wise-cracks. Herb Tarlek would sometimes try to be witty but often with catastrophic results. The chemistry that made WKRP work was the writers' understanding of their characters which in turn manifested dialog that appeared spontaneous yet funny. The humor evolved from the characters simply being themselves without the writers having to force jokes into the script. This is the most effective kind of comedy writing in the narrative style but it depends on interesting and quirky characters.
A few quick examples: when Les Nesman is asked what he thinks about radio stations in Cincinatti playing mostly "rock 'n' roll" music he replies that "it must be some sort of conspiratorial plot." When a visitor asks to see Mr Carlson (in front of Mr Carlson), Carlson (trying to avoid people in general) replies "He's dead." And when Jennifer the receptionist is asked to do some note-taking and filing she says "I don't do typing. I don't do filing. Anything else?"
This was an outstanding comedy that may have been a bit overlooked at that time since it was broadcast at the tale-end of a 20-year run of great television comedy that began with shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeanie, MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Mork and Mindy. The only two sitcoms that were truly great after that were Cheers and Seinfeld. MASH relied more on the wise-cracks but that was an attribute of Hawkeye's character. (I have never felt the writing in "Friends" was that strong relying almost exclusively on wise-cracks rather than situations although it is very popular.) WKRP is one of the few shows that still seems fresh and lively despite having been first broadcast almost 30 years ago. The writers had the uncommon ability to give the cast interesting lines that were funny, unexpected and yet totally believable and within character. And unlike most current TV comedy writing, wise-cracks and jokes were a rarity.
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