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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Music > Radio > Counterculture > WKRP In Cincinnati – The Complete First Season

WKRP In Cincinnati – The Complete First Season


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B



When Mary Tyler Moore’s production company was in full swing, it was best-known for her huge hit, its spin-offs and respectable dramas, the company wanted to go into additional directions.  Based on their success, CBS picked up a sitcom that would be the first MTM program shot on videotape and the tale of a bottom-rated radio station trying to become popular did not have high hopes at the network.  However, when WKRP In Cincinnati debuted in 1978, it was a surprise hit.


One of the reasons it worked is that it was not in the world of Mary Richards, so people did not feel like they were getting a continuation of those characters.  Like the best sitcoms at the time, it was not afraid to deal with issues of mature, adult importance, yet still be hilarious.  Most important, ABC was overtaking CBS with what then was considered more youth-oriented programming and the show was as fresh and openly sexual like Three’s Company.


The Complete First Season is finally arriving on DVD after many years of no sign it was on the way.  Continuously a very popular show, it has been off of TV and not on home video because of its extensive use of hit records and the issue of royalty payments no one could have imagined in 1978 has kept it off the shelves and airwaves.  Only a diehard fan is going to know what is or is not missing from the original broadcast copies, but this critic was surprised how well this held up and the music that remains is still not pretty good and includes some familiar hits.  Of course, the beginning and end theme are here, which is a plus.


The show was lucky to have a fine cast, including Gordon Jump as the head of the failed station Arthur Carlson and son of its owner.  Playing old, tired music, they are in the ratings heap bin.  Mr. Carlson hires Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) to help out, but when his answer is to do the Rock Music format, everyone is apprehensive, including fallen a fallen Rock DJ (Howard Hesseman) who was fired for getting too wild at a previous job in his previous glory.  Andy intends to resurrect “Dr, Johnny Fever” and shake the place up to put it back on top.  Sylvia Sydney plays Mrs. Carlson initially, then is succeeded by Carol Bruce by the Mama’s Review episode.


Of course, it is an AM station which now makes the show even funnier in this age of satellite and digital radio, MP3s and endless gadgets.  However, the show is about people and the rest of the cast is a classic gathering of fine actors in the great roles.  Tim Reid is Venus Flytrap, who Andy brings in to back Johnny, Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is the very serious newsman/nerd who is more than an egghead, Frank Bonner is Herb Tarlek who does sales but cannot sell himself to Jennifer Marlowe.  That role is played by Loni Anderson, whose sex appeal made her iconic of her time and of TV, though more men than many acknowledge tuned in to see Jan Smithers as Bailey.


Creator Hugh Wilson had scored a winning show that was more than just an infantilized laugh fest.  It was part of a true golden age of TV comedy that died in the 1980s and never came back; even when WKRP had an early 1990s syndicated revival that did not work.  These are the first 22 shows of 90 over four seasons that the show was on top.  It also inadvertently reminds us of how great music and the commercial music industry used to be before high CD prices and “non-music fans” and “non-music lovers” running the major labels ran the industry into the ground.



1)     Pilot (in two parts)*

2)     Les On A Ledge

3)     Hoodlum Rock (guest stars Ned Wertimer and Michael Des Barres)

4)     Hold Up

5)     Bailey's Show

6)     Turkeys Away*

7)     Love Returns (guest stars Barrie Youngfellow)

8)     Mama's Review

9)     A Date With Jennifer (guest stars the voice of Brad Crandall)

10)  The Contest Nobody Could Win (guest stars Vincent Schiavelli)

11)  Tornado

12)  Goodbye Johnny (guest stars Edie McClurg)

13)  Johnny Comes Back (guest stars Jeff Altman)

14)  Never Leave Me, Lucille (guest stars Edie McClurg)

15)  I Want to Keep My Baby

16)  Commercial Break

17)  Who Is Gordon Sims?

18)  I Do, I Do... for Now (guest stars Hoyt Axton)

19)  Young Master Carlson

20)  Fish Story (guest stars Lee Bergere)

21)  Preacher



If you like the show or have never seen it, you’ll want this DVD set.  It is as long overdue as just about any series we can think of.


The 1.33 X 1 image was shot on old professional NTSC analog video, the reel-to-reel kind, and shows a little more softness than expected, but that is the age of the tape because these are nice transfers in color and cleanness.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono holds up even better, though as it was the case back in 1978, you always wished it was stereo.  Extras audio commentary by various cast members and creator Wilson on the two shows marked * above and Don't Touch That Dial - The Making Of WKRP in two parts.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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