Sunday, June 24, 2007

Livin' on the air (and DVD) in Cincinnati

Complete the sentence: As God is my witness I thought _________________________.

If you said "turkeys could fly" you must be a fan of WKRP in Cincinnati. The television situation comedy about the goings on at a small AM radio station in the Midwest.

The first season of WKRP in Cincinnati has been released on DVD and as a fan I received my box set with eagerness in anticipation of reliving some of the pleasant moments of my teen years. I was not disappointed.

For those of you too young to have seen the show during its original run and who missed it in syndication it is about a small money losing, AM radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the pilot episode a new program director, Andy Travis (played by Gary Sandy) arrives, hired by the station's somewhat clueless general manager, Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) - who does not actually remember hiring him - to turn the station around. Travis plans to accomplish this by changing the station's format from music which was new when the doughboys were marching off to fight the Kaiser to top 40 rock and roll.

On the way we are introduced to the station's other employees. Jennifer Marlow (Lonnie Anderson) the beautiful, and gold-digging, receptionist, Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) the on-the-make advertising director and Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) the nerdy news director. We also meet spaced-out disc jockey Johnny Caravella (Howard Hessman), who was fired from a 100,000 per year job on a large Los Angeles station for saying the word "booger" on the air (when the station adopts the rock and roll format Caravella takes the name "Dr. Johnny Fever") and new nighttime disc jockey, ultra-hip Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid). We also meet Mr. Carlson's domineering and ill-tempered tycoon mother, the station's actual owner, originally played by Academy Award winning actress Silvia Sidney, who was replaced by Carol Bruce because Sidney was so difficult to work with. In the pilot Mrs. Carlson is unhappy with the station's format change and wants to sell it, but is talked into giving Travis some time to prove the station can turn a profit.

The show, an MTM production created and produced by Hugh Wilson, followed the tradition of the Mary Tyler Moore show by using character driven humor and not usually relying on outrageous situations. Although what most fans consider to be the single funniest bit the show ever did occurred in episode 7 (titled: Turkeys Away) in which Mr. Carlson attempted to do a Thanksgiving promotion involving releasing live turkeys from a helicopter - not realising that domesticated turkeys cannot fly. The unfortunate birds hit the ground, in the words of Les Nessman who was covering the event on a live remote, like bags of wet cement. Upon arriving back at the station a visibly shaken Mr. Carlson uttered what became the shows signature line, "As God is my witness; I thought turkeys could fly."

One thing which separated WKRP from other situation comedies of the time was that the characters were allowed to grow and develop to a somewhat significant degree. Over the four seasons the show was on the air the audience was exposed to details of each character's background and came to view them as more than the one-dimensional caricatures common to most situation comedies. As time went by they became human and we came to like them.

Those who have only seen the show in syndication are in for a treat. The syndicated shows each had over five minutes of material cut out to make room for additional commercials. Each episode on the DVDs has been restored to its original length. One disappointment is that it proved impossible to arrange for licensing to include some of the music which was originally part of the show.

Special features included with the DVD set include commentary tracks for some episodes and new interviews with the cast.

This DVD box set will please fans who enjoy having their favorite classic TV shows at their fingertips uncut and commercial free.