Baby, did you ever wonder?
Wonder whatever became of me?
I’m livin’ on the air in Cincinnati.
I'm not sure when I first watched WKRP in Cincinnati. I was only two years old when the show first aired, so I'm pretty sure I didn't watch the original broadcasts until the later seasons and possibly not until it was in syndication, but it was definitely prior to the airing of The New WKRP in Cincinnati in the early 90s. All this is to say, I was pretty young when I was watching the show, so the details are perhaps more fuzzy for me than my older fellow fans.
This show was one of my favorites in the 80s. I don't remember why, but it could have been because I liked rock music and was fascinated with radio stations from a young age. Also, I felt like this was my TV show, since I lived in southern Ohio at the time. This is the perspective that I brought with me when I sat down to watch the recently released first season DVD set.
After watching the first disc, I sat back in amazement at how relevant and un-cheesy it was, and most of the rest of the season is at the same level of quality. I wonder how many of the sitcoms from the past fifteen years will have that kind of staying power? From the scripts to the acting to the camera angles, everything comes together in a way that is still entertaining after nearly thirty years.
I was also amazed at how they were able to get away with dealing with controversial issues like racism, gender identity, and homosexuality. The latter two were addressed in the first episode after the pilot ("Les on a Ledge"), and I doubt that the episode could air in its entirety today without some right-wing group demanding the network be shut down.
Don't be mistaken — the serious moments are few and far between in this sitcom. However, unlike many modern situational comedies, the melodrama contains an element of sincerity and no trace of cynicism. In the commentary done by Frank Bonner, Loni Anderson, and producer Hugh Wilson, they note that the actors got along very well with each other and would spend time together outside of work. This bond comes across in the show and adds another layer of audience appeal. By the time I finished watching the season, the characters were like old familiar friends that I looked forward to seeing again and again.
There are not many extras on the DVD set, but that's not unexpected, given the age of the show. There are two featurettes included on disc three: "Do My Eyes Say Yes?" is a short bit all about Loni Anderson's character, Jennifer Marlow. "A 'Fish Story' Story" is all about the oddest episode in the season, "Fish Story." This is the penultimate episode of the season, and the entire episode was written by Wilson as a way of thumbing his nose at the CBS executives who wanted to have more slapstick and cheap jokes (read: less melodrama or serious character development). Ironically, it was one of the highest rated episodes of the season.
Other than those to featurettes, the only other extras are audio commentary for the first part of the pilot and for the episode entitled "Turkeys Away." The latter episode has the oft-quoted line "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly," and according to the actors in the commentary, it's one of the few episodes that fans remember the most. Wilson notes in the commentary that the events of the episode are based on events that happened to a friend of his in the radio industry. One other tidbit that came up in the commentary is that when they went to film the Cincinnati scenes that are used in the first season opening and credits, Jerry Springer was the current mayor of the city. He was scheduled to meet with the producers, but unfortunately this was shortly after the scandal involving a prostitute.
One thing that dedicated fans will notice about the DVD set is that some of the music is different from what was originally aired. (A list of the changes has been compiled by Jaime J. Weinman.) I completely missed this until I did a bit of research on the show, so it didn't effect my enjoyment of it at all. However, there is a bit of a hue and cry over this among the fans, so if you're a stickler for this kind of detail, be forewarned. Fox says they had to change the music because the licensing fees for the music used originally are too high for them to put it on the DVDs now. I'm not privy to the details, so I am reserving judgment on that.
Aside from the fashion (i.e. Herb Tarlek's leisure suits), and the occasional reference to a current event, the show does not feel too dated for me. I still get most of the jokes, and I will probably go back and watch favorite episodes whenever I'm in the mood for them. WKRP in Cincinnati was and still is a funny and touching show that is suitable for viewers of all ages. As I noted, those who may be bothered by the music changes will probably find the DVD set lacking, but for the rest of us, it's a good collection of episodes from an entertaining sitcom, and well worth buying.
originally published on Blogcritics