R.I.P. WKRP in Cincinnati Creator Hugh Wilson

January 18, 2018 2 Comments

R.I.P. WKRP in Cincinnati Creator Hugh Wilson

WKRP in Cincinnati creator Hugh Wilson died this past Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 74. While he also wrote and directed several films, including the first installment of the Police Academy franchise, Stroker Ace, and Guarding Tess, to name just a few, the sit-com about a struggling Cincinnati radio station will always be his masterpiece.

This isn’t just some homer spin either. Long before I moved here from Cleveland in 1993, I considered WKRP in Cincinnati to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time and still do. Many people beyond Southwest Ohio feel the same way. How could they not?

A lot of fans, of course, focus on what is arguably the show’s greatest episode, and indeed one of the best single sitcom episodes ever, “Turkeys Away.” However, everything that made that episode great could be found in every installment of the series. Wilson assembled a great team in front of as well as behind the camera and it was evident each time the show aired.

In just the fourth episode, “Hoodlum Rock,” this was apparent. The station, looking to better promote its new rock & roll format, decides to promote a concert by an emerging punk band from England called Scum of the Earth. Real-life glam rocker Michael Des Barres portrays lead singer Dog.

At first, the plan was to portray them in typical punk garb: ripped clothes, safety pins, and odd haircuts. Understandable for the time but also a bit hackneyed and not very believable. According to Josh “J. Elvis” Weinstein, who directed a documentary about Des Barres, the singer suggested to Wilson that the band instead dress in suits. Wilson quickly agreed. It was then determined that the band was playing a new subgenre of punk called hoodlum rock, several cuts below punk rock it is explained.

It worked, as the band didn’t look ridiculous or come off as just a trio of actors portraying a punk rock band. It also further added to the joke. Des Barres and the other band members (played by Peter Ebling and Jim Henderson, the latter a drummer in real life, not an actor) were well into their 30s, and it was subtly suggested when they were interviewed by Venus Flytrap that they just wanted to attract screaming young girls to their concerts and physically attack the audience. Venus wasn’t sure if they were serious. “Come to the show and find out,” Henderson ominously states.

That’s just one example of how the show, under Wilson’s command, went beyond the normal situation comedy conventions and tropes.  Sadly, CBS canceled the show in 1982 after the fourth season despite solid ratings. Over the summer of 1982 though, they had a change of heart, but it was too late as most of the cast had signed on to do other projects.

In addition to working on films, Wilson also created the short-lived, but critically acclaimed Frank’s Place, starring WKRP alum Tim Reid. Wilson captured is only Emmy award for his work on that series. He also created another short-lived but acclaimed series, The Famous Teddy Z, starring Jon Cryer and Alex Rocco.

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