“This is Les Nessman saying good day, and may the good news be yours,” or so goes Richard Sanders’ sign-off tagline as WKRP’s intrepid reporter. And the good news, for long suffering WKRP in Cincinnati fans everywhere, is that Shout! Factory is issuing the complete series on DVD at last. All four seasons, plus bonus features, are packed into a 13-disc boxed set which hits streets on October 28, 2014. So what about the elephant in the room, the series’ rock and pop-filled soundtrack? After all, back in 2007 20th Century Fox released the first season to widespread shunning, since it contained the sometimes heavily-edited syndication episodes. Fans were outraged, but the complicated music licensing laws that allowed contemporary hits to be aired during the original broadcasts did not allow for their subsequent home video release. Fans of one of TV’s best-loved sitcoms hung their heads and begrudgingly accepted that their favorite show may never see a legitimate, complete release.
Kudos to Shout! Factory for going to great lengths to clear the vast majority of the rights in order to issue a mostly in-tact collection. WKRP disc jockeys Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) frequently referred to the records they were spinning by name and entire dialogue-based scenes sometimes occurred over music. Without proper clearance, these key moments were cut right out of the episodes for syndicated reruns, or lines were redubbed. No, not every bit of music has been included in the new DVD collection and certain alterations have been made. For instance, instances in which Beatles and Pink Floyd songs were used necessitated changes due to the inability to obtain licenses. Blame the music publishers, not the artists themselves and not Shout! Factory. Bring on the cynicism from eternal naysayers, but I happen to fully believe that Shout! made every effort to include it all.
In other words, this is as good as it’s ever going to get and, thankfully, the results are indeed very good. I understand the purist perspective that every episode should be unaltered. But what I can’t understand is anyone passing up the opportunity to revisit one of the most consistently funny and endearing sitcoms of its time based on relatively few music omissions. Originally airing from September 1978 to April 1982, creator Hugh Wilson set his series at the fledgling Cincinnati radio station WKRP. Catering to advanced-age listeners and running a regular rotation of funeral home advertisements, the station gets a shot in the arm when new program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) instantly changes formats. Energized by the new contemporary rock format, morning man Dr. Johnny Fever is revitalized. At night, listeners are treated to a more soul- and R&B-based playlist from Venus Flytrap.
In addition to the aforementioned Hesseman, Reid, Sanders, and Gary Sandy, the ensemble cast is pretty much perfect. Frank Bonner is hilariously sleazy as the tacky, leisure suit-clad ad man Herb Tarlek. Loni Anderson and Jan Smithers add a welcome female presence, the former as receptionist Jennifer Marlowe and the latter as shrinking violet Bailey Quarters. Add in “Big Guy” Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), the station GM and son of its cantankerous owner, and we get a well-rounded cast of colorful characters. This is old school sitcom style, dated and at times corny (check out a season two episode like “Baseball” to see the writing at its laziest), but overall the series exemplifies the format at its best.
The bonus features disc is a bit slim with only three items listed (there are actually four on the disc’s menu). The disc itself is labeled with a running time of 180 minutes, but that’s not the case. There’s about an hour and 20 minutes of content here. The “WKRP in Cincinnati: A Paley Center Reunion” runs about 44 minutes and features show creator Hugh Wilson, Jay Sandrich (director of the pilot episode), Loni Anderson, Jan Smithers, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman, and Asaad Kelada (series director). Great discussion all around, with lots of fond reminiscing. Gary Sandy checks in briefly via phone (he couldn’t be there in person due to work obligations). “A Look Back… with Gary Sandy” is self-explanatory and runs 25 minutes. “Do My Eyes Say Yes?” is a six-minute featurette focused on Jennifer Marlowe. “A ‘Fish Story’ Story” is a short piece (four minutes) about the episode “Fish Story.”
Visit Shout! Factory for a list of artists whose music is included in WKRP in Cincinnati – The Complete Series.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KYCA4QY]