|WKRP in Cincinnati|
|Created by||Hugh Wilson|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||88 (90 in syndication)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original run||September 18, 1978 – September 20, 1982|
|Followed by||The New WKRP in Cincinnati|
WKRP in Cincinnati is an American situation comedy 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 as a client of a classic album-oriented rock radio station. The ensemble cast consisted of Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner.
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 88 episodes (90 in syndication) 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 Enterprises sitcoms.
New programming director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly-incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, oily sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters, and spaced-out veteran disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey from New Orleans, Venus Flytrap. Lurking in the background and making an occasional appearance is ruthless business tycoon Mrs. Carlson, the station's owner (and Arthur Carlson's mother).
In the pilot episode, Andy Travis comes to the station as the new Program 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 domestic turkeys, which 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 as 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 at which series creator Hugh Wilson worked while in the advertising business.
The show started out performing badly; placed in a tough time slot, it got poor ratings and was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away". But due to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that really understood the radio business, CBS decided to bring WKRP back without any cast changes.
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 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 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?.
Characters on the show were based on real people, including those known by executive producer Hugh Wilson. The character of Arthur Carlson was based on an actual person, as was Dr. Johnny Fever. The real Arthur Carlson managed a group of radio stations across the country under the name Susquehanna Radio. Based in York, Pennsylvania, it was one of the first radio "chains" to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Susquehanna was owned by the Appell family, and is now known as CMPSusquehanna, the "CMP" standing for Cumulus Media Partners after a 2007 merger with Cumulus. Carlson also was a past president of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB).
Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI-AM in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968). WKRP writer 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." 
Bailey Quarters was based on Hugh Wilson's wife, who was also extremely shy, very intelligent and remarkably beautiful.
The first assignment of the callsign was in September 1979, to a new, daytime only, AM station in Dallas, Georgia, in the metro Atlanta area. At first, the FCC denied the call letters to the new station, stating that MTM had a 'hold' on the callsign. When the station's lawyer pointed out to the FCC, "MTM is neither a licensee, nor a permittee. Therefore, MTM has no legal basis to reserve the WKRP callsign", they allowed the assignment. In August 1989, the station switched to its current calls, WDPC.
The call letters WKRP (supposedly a pun on the word "crap") were assigned to a low-power TV station in Washington, DC until 2005; it is now WDDN-LP. Currently, they are 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 original and current frequency for Cincinnati-based WCKY). Coincidentally, Cincinnati boasts the similarly-named WKRC radio and WKRC-TV, which were co-owned entities (under the Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting and its successor companies, and eventually Clear Channel) until the early years of the 21st Century. At the time of the original series' airing, the CBS-TV affiliate in Cincinnati was WCPO-TV.
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 - and was also co-owned with WKRC-AM/TV at the time. This station is also referenced (among many now defunct Cincinnati stations) in the episode "The Airplane" as a direct competitor to the fictional WKRP.
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 (which is the operating power for WKRC-AM).
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.
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.
In November 2008, Cincinnati low-power television station WBQC-CA changed its branding to "WKRP-TV", and the station's owner, Block Broadcasting, has registered "WKRP" and "WKRP Cincinnati" as trademarks. It is of no relation to the Alexandria, Tennessee, station.
Also the call letters of WKRP's main competing station in the show, WPIG, are now those for a country station based in Olean NY.
WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show. The opening theme, called "WKRP In Cincinnati Main Theme", was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and performed by Steve Carlisle. An urban legend had circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to Carlisle) had actually recorded the song. Wilson stated in the commentary for the first season's DVD set that this was simply not true.
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 to use the words anyway, since he felt that it would be funny to use lyrics that were deliberately gibberish, as a satire on the incomprehensibility of many rock songs. Also, because 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'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 album Parallel Lines, on which the song appeared. This gold record can be seen hanging on the wall in the "bull pen" 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. One of the most popular examples was "A Date With Jennifer", where Les was dressing in the bullpen for his date with Jennifer that evening, with Foreigner's then-current hit "Hot Blooded" playing on the station's speaker monitor, with Les moving to the music as he was getting ready. This song was cut from the episode on the DVD release and replaced with a generic sound-alike.
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 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. Other scenes that were originally edited for television and thus never before seen, were added back into the episodes and giving viewers the backstory which further explained a later scene that appeared in the episode. According to TV Guide magazine, creator Hugh Wilson said he was "satisfied" with the final product for DVD release.
A 2009 syndication package of the show, however, aired as part of "Outta Sight Retro Nights", a flashback TV block aired Sunday nights on the national WGN America cable TV service with promos voiced by Casey Kasem, which appears to have all of the original music intact according to published references about the original 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, two commentary tracks featuring creator Hugh Wilson and cast members Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner|
|Season 1||6||yes||"As God as my witness...", when Carlson sneaks up on Johnny in the booth, the music playing in the original broadcast was Pink Floyd's song "Dogs" from their Animals LP (album cover shown in the scene), but in the DVD release, it is not.|
Venus Flytrap (born 1950) is a character on the television situation comedy WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), played by Tim Reid. He is the evening and early night-time disc jockey at WKRP, and during the course of the series he also becomes the assistant program director.
"Venus Flytrap" is the pseudonym used by disc jockey Gordon Sims, the evening DJ at the radio station WKRP. His real name is not revealed until late in the show's first season. The background of his character is complicated, but can be pieced together from various episodes.
Gordon Sims is from New Orleans. His parents were divorced and his grandmother raised him. At the age of 22, he was drafted into the U. S. Army and served in the Vietnam War. After seeing another soldier called Weird Larry go crazy and commit suicide, Gordon had enough of the war and deserted (with only a month remaining on his tour of duty and declining combat at the time); he spent the next several years hiding out under assumed names, which explains why most of his colleagues at WKRP didn't know his real name at first. While he was on the lam, Gordon became a New Orleans schoolteacher and worked part-time as a disc jockey under the name "The Duke of Funk." He became frustrated with his inability to reach his students (whom he described as "hoodlums") and quit.
Eventually, Venus turned himself in to military officials at the urging of Mr. Carlson; as he only had a month left when he deserted, Venus was given a general discharge and served out his remaining month, in the words of Andy Travis, "peeling potatoes."
Sims accepts an offer from Andy Travis, a friend who was impressed with Gordon's talent as a DJ, to come and be the new evening/night-time man at WKRP, where Andy has just taken over as program director. However, Andy decides that Gordon needs to change his image: new clothes, new style, new name. He convinces a reluctant Gordon to dress in outlandish, multi-colored clothes (on the basis that it will help him act cooler and become a better radio personality) and gives him a new name, based in part on the planet that rules his astrological sign: "Venus".
"Venus is a GIRL's name!" laments Gordon to Andy. "You know, that real white lady with no arms?" When it comes time to pick his last name, Andy simply says "Flytrap". Gordon dismisses it as a plant that eats bugs. They come to agreement on "Venus Rising," but Andy slips up when he introduces his new nighttime DJ to the station owner.
Andy lies when he introduces Gordon as "Venus Flytrap" to Mama Carlson, as "the number-one night-time DJ in this country." Venus goes along and tells her that his audience in New Orleans was "the biggest." Mama Carlson's research soon uncovers who Venus really is, but she decides not to say anything. The Flytrap surname, much to Venus' chagrin, sticks.
When station manager Arthur Carlson learns Venus's secret of running from the military, he convinces him to stop running and turn himself in. On the basis of what he went through in the war, as well as the fact that he was near the end of his tour of duty and therefore wouldn't have seen any more combat, the investigating officer decides not to initiate a court-martial but instead recommends a general discharge.
(In a continuity error, when Venus first talks about Gordon Sims, Venus describes him to Andy as a friend. However, Andy sees right through it and knows that Venus is talking about himself. In a future episode "The Creation of Venus", Venus and Andy reminisce with Mama Carlson about when Venus first came to WKRP and when we see them meet, Andy knows that Gordon Sims is Venus' real name.)
Like his colleague and friend Dr. Johnny Fever, Venus picks the music himself. He plays a lot of contemporary hits by artists like Kenny Loggins ("This is It") and Earth, Wind and Fire ("After the Love Has Gone"), but he also sometimes violates Andy's rock n' roll format by playing jazz music like "Remembering the Rain" by Bill Evans. His style as a DJ is smooth, soft-spoken and sexy; he calls his listeners "my children" (something he makes up after he accidentally addresses his listeners as if they were a classroom full of students) and says things like "This is Venus Flytrap, here to brighten, tighten and enlighten your starlight hours." He sometimes punctuates his statements by banging a small gong, and he turns down the lights in the broadcast booth in order to create a more mellow mood for his broadcasts.
Venus also takes advantage of his working hours -- he's on the air after almost everyone else at the station has gone home -- to entertain women in the broadcast booth. This gets him into trouble eventually, as one of these women (played by Tim Reid's real-life wife Daphne Maxwell Reid) later is arrested as a conspirator in a jewelry robbery. To save her own skin, she fingers Venus, who bears a strong resemblance to the real robber. Venus is in jail for about a week until the real robber (briefly played by Reid via a split screen effect) is finally arrested.
Despite the way he dresses and his occasional use of '70s vernacular slang like "what's happening," Venus is actually one of the more straitlaced members of the WKRP staff. He is somewhat conservative on social issues; he is against "hard drugs," sometimes expresses disapproval over the sexual content in modern song lyrics and television shows ("I saw, at eight o'clock, two adults arguing about abortion -- now, is that right?"), and his theory of parenting is that "there's nothing wrong with [discipline] as long as it's tempered with love." And unlike the perpetually cash-strapped Johnny, Venus is good at managing money; he is very knowledgeable about playing the stock market.
Also unlike Johnny, who is more or less content being a DJ, Venus is determined to go on to bigger things: "I can't spin records all my life." When he turns 30 in the second season, he looks at his wardrobe and asks himself "does a grown man dress like this?" Wanting to make more of his career, he considers accepting the job of program director at WKRP's urban contemporary-formatted competitor, WREQ, an all-automated station where all the programming decisions are made from corporate headquarters. He turns down the job when he finds out that the station only wants him so it can have a token black employee.
Venus is close to both Andy Travis (the two having been friends prior to working at WKRP) and fellow DJ Johnny Fever (Venus offers Fever financial and personal advice, and Fever is close enough to Venus to crack friendly jokes about Venus' "blackness" at times when the issue became of concern to Venus, helping to ease Venus' feelings that sometimes he was falling out of touch with black culture). Venus also has a strong friendship with Bailey Quarters and often flirts with Jennifer Marlowe in the same manner as Johnny (namely, in a friendly and humorous fashion).
Working at a station where all the other employees are white, Venus sometimes worries that he is losing touch with black culture. There are a number of jokes that play on the fact that Venus is rather "white" in his cultural tastes: Dr. Johnny Fever sometimes seems to know more about black performers than Venus does, and in the episode "Daydreams," when Venus imagines what he would like to be, he becomes a bland, unctuous Las Vegas stand-up comedian in the style of Joey Bishop. In the episode "Real Families" Venus is stunned to find out that co-worker Herb Tarlek has tried to score points with a TV Show by claiming that he and Venus attend NAACP meetings!
In the episode "Changes," when Venus learns that he is going to be interviewed by a reporter from a militant black magazine, he fears that the article will expose the fact that "All I know [about black culture] is what I see on The Jeffersons." He tries to fool the interviewer by adopting what he thinks of as a more typically African-American wardrobe and way of speaking. To his surprise, the reporter (Reid's former standup comedy partner Tom Dreesen) turns out to be white: the only white employee at an otherwise all-black magazine. Before the interview starts, the reporter explains his situation, which parallels Venus's exactly, and pours out his feelings and, by extension, Venus's: he cares for the people he works with, but he feels a little uncomfortable at being the odd man out. The reporter laments that there are two gorgeous women co-workers, but because they are black and he is white, he doesn't feel he could ever ask them out; Venus does his best to look nonchalant at the humorous inversion of his own situation.
Another episode dealing with racial issues is "A Family Affair," whose script is credited to Tim Reid. The episode touches on the relationship between Venus and Andy: they are friends who like to assume that they have "put all that black-white junk behind us," but when Venus goes out with Andy's sister Carol, Andy gets angry without fully being able to explain why. In the end, Andy has to grudgingly admit over drinks that there was a racial motivation to the way he reacted, and goes overboard trying to prove that he does not, in fact, object to Venus dating his sister, forcing the two of them to dance together at the bar just so he can show that he doesn't have a problem with it. Andy and Venus finally patch up their differences by teaming up to punch out an unapologetic racist objecting to Carol and Venus dancing.
A very popular episode focusing on Venus is "Venus and the Man" (originally called "Venus Flytrap Explains the Atom"), an episode written by series creator and showrunner Hugh Wilson. In it, Cora Isley, the station's cleaning woman, tells Venus that her son Arnold (Keny Long) is planning to drop out of high school, and Venus offers to talk to the boy.
Arnold comes to the station to see Venus, and turns out to be the huge, muscular leader of a street gang. Venus has to figure out how to make him believe that education is worthwhile when Arnold is already making more money than he could at any "respectable" job. He explains to Arnold that everything in life is a matter of either "survival" or "conquest," and that Arnold, who is mostly interested in conquest, hates school because it has "conquered" him. Arnold admits that he hates the feeling of being weak and powerless that he gets when he can't understand something in school, but Venus offers to prove to him that it doesn't have to be that way: he bets that he can teach Arnold the basics of the atom in two minutes, and Arnold agrees to go back to school and finish out the year if he can.
In a memorable sequence, Venus explains the structure of the atom by pretending that the protons, neutrons and electrons are rival gangs competing for control of a neighborhood that consists of "block after block of nothing." Before Arnold realizes it, he is able to recite all the features of an atom. He then admits that it feels good to know something most other people don't, and Venus explains that the learning is itself a form of conquest. Arnold keeps his part of the bargain and goes back to school, but Venus warns Cora that the odds are against Arnold continuing in school after the year is out. The episode is also a moment of triumph for Venus, who proves himself as a teacher (a profession he failed at earlier) and earns the respect of a boy who had accused him of "sounding white" on the air.
Venus appeared in one episode of the "revival" series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati. "Venus, We Hardly Knew Ya" reveals that Venus has become a successful broadcasting executive (specifically with BET), dropping his on-air alias in favor of his real name of Gordon Sims, and is not very interested in talking about or remembering his years as Venus Flytrap. This episode was written and directed by Max Tash, who was a stage manager and associate producer for the entire run of the original series.