DVD Review: WKRP in Cincinnati - Complete Series

By , Contributor
With the holiday season upon us, fans of classic sitcoms will certainly want to consider adding Shout! Factory’s new release of all four seasons of WKRP in Cincinnati to their wish list. Many fans never believed we’d see such a release, and with good reason. Back in 2007, WKRP’s maiden season was issued as a DVD release but it contained the heavily edited syndicated episodes. The series itself took place, of course, in a low-rent Cincinnati radio station. The contemporary hits spun by DJ’s Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) were a central component of the episodes. Licensing deals allowed for the inclusion of songs by the likes of The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, but those limited rights did not extend to re-runs or home video releases.

WKRP Les on a Ledge (380x253).jpgWhile it’s true that Shout! was unable to obtain the rights to every single song used on WKRP between 1978 and 1982, that’s no reason not to celebrate the 13-disc DVD collection, WKRP in Cincinnati - Complete Series, available October 28, 2014. Tons of original music has been retained, with the Stones, McCartney, Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, The Police, Marvin Gaye, AC/DC, Elton John, Neil Young, and lots more all included. While anything less than 100 percent may be too little for the most stringent of sticklers out there, there’s no doubting the gargantuan effort that Shout! has invested to make this the most “complete” Complete Series we’re going to see. The removal of music for syndication resulted in the loss of dialogue (or sometimes even re-dubbed). Additionally, hearing bands like The Who and Queen (also both included) provided a sense of authenticity for a show about a rock radio station. That’s why it’s such a dream come true to have the majority of the music reinstated.

WKRP Johnny (380x253).jpgIn other words, this new collection is quite a landmark for fans of old school, “taped live in front of a studio audience” sitcoms. And it will almost certainly win over new fans, as the music rights issues had a damaging effect on the series’ legacy over the years. In a way, WKRP has ended up fading more significantly from the pop culture consciousness than many other shows of the era. That has a lot to do with its general absence from the home video market and the hacked-up syndicated episodes. If it has been awhile since you’ve spent any time with the WKRP crew, be prepared to fall in love all over again with one of the best sitcom casts ever assembled.

WKRP Jennifer (380x253).jpgWhile Hesseman’s burned out Dr. Fever is an understandable favorite and Reid’s smooth-talking Vietnam vet Venus consistently steals scenes, each member of the cast has its fair share of shining moments. The befuddled “Big Guy,” Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), runs the station’s business affairs, always fretting over interference from his cantankerous mother (who owns WKRP and is initial resistant to its format change from easy listening to rock). Of course, it’s program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) who instigates that change during his first day on the job (and the show’s premiere episode). Millions of viewers crushed on Loni Anderson’s gorgeous (but razor sharp) secretary Jennifer Marlowe. Others (myself included) were smitten by the more subtle charms of WKRP’s billing and traffic manager Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers).

WKRP Bailey (380x253).jpgFrank Bonner was perfect as the shifty, smarmy ad salesman Frank Bonner. And in what was a precursor to more recent classic sitcom characters like Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute on The Office, the weaselly, dweebish, by-the-book reporter Les Nessman was expertly embodied by Richard Sanders. In short, a comedic dream team that played off one another in hilariously complementary fashion. At long last, we can revisit “Les on a Ledge,” “Turkeys Away,” “A Family Affair,” “The Airplane Show,” “Rumors” and whatever other episodes might happen to be among your personal favorites.

The no-frills packaging is efficiently simple: one standard DVD case for each of the four seasons plus a slim-line case with the bonus features disc, all housed in a sturdy cardboard box. The bonus disc isn’t terribly exhaustive, containing four featurettes for a total of about an hour and 20 minutes. The best feature is the 2014 reunion (well, partial reunion at least). Not actually listed on the packaging is “A Look Back at WKRP in Cincinnati with Gary Sandy” (who was only able to “attend” the 2014 reunion via telephone).

Visit the official Shout! Factory site for more information, as well as a list of music artists who are included in WKRP in Cincinnati - Complete Series.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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