Tuesday, May 09, 2006

As God is my witness...


In this day and age of the glorious availability of TV on DVD, fans desiring to amass collections of their favorite series have it so easy. Up until just a few years ago, this wasn’t the case.

In order to collect your favorite series, one had to stick with a program - night after night - through erratic rerun schedules, accept that cuts were made to the episodes due to more time being made for commercials, and make a huge amount of space on your shelves for VHS tapes that only held two-to-six hours max per tape. Indeed, if anything likely kept entire TV series commercially unavailable to the general public for so long, it was the cumbersome VHS format, which was simply an impractical way to store a hundred hours worth of a show and hardly an easy thing to market to the consumer.

Now I can store four seasons of Soap in the same amount of space as only 4 VHS tapes. Had I stored the same material on VHS, I’d have had to devote no less than 25 VHS tapes to it! (I was never one for recording in EP mode.)

And yet amidst all of this pig-in-cloverdom, there is a gaping hole in my TV on DVD collection:

WKRP in Cincinnati, the greatest American sitcom ever created, at this time unfortunately seems destined to play in a state of perfection in my mind only. Expensive music rights have kept it from being released on DVD and there doesn’t appear to be a break on the horizon. Does it really matter if the tunes played by Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap are carried over to a DVD release?

I think it does. The show was as much about the music of the late '70s & early ‘80s as it was the insane people working at the radio station, and the songs used in the series often keyed directly into plot points and dialogue:

(Mr. Carlson enters the DJ booth. Floyd's "Dogs" plays throughout the scene.)
Johnny: Gripping music, huh?
Mr. Carlson: Yeah, that's good all right. What's the name of that orchestra?
Johnny: Pink Floyd.
Mr. Carlson: Oooh, is that Pink Floyd? Do I hear dogs barking on that thing?
Johnny: I do.

What if it was suddenly announced that the music rights for Goodfellas had expired, and something besides Donovan’s “Atlantis” would now be used for the scene where Tommy stabs Billy Batts to death for saying “Now go home and get your fuckin’ shinebox”? Sometimes a tune played on WKRP was just the perfect song for the moment.

There’s a great scene that exists solely in my memory, but it was moving, and it occurred after something emotional had (or perhaps hadn’t?) happened between Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). Bailey stood alone, in a darkened hallway at the station, as Earth, Wind and Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” soothed her damaged ego into the night. I haven’t seen that scene in probably 20 years, but if I saw it today without that song, I’d feel cheated in a big way. Similarly, I vividly recall an episode that ended with Johnny playing James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” for someone special in the listening audience. Again, if I saw that with another tune, I’d throw my remote at the TV.

So the debate rages on. Should WKRP be released on DVD without the proper music in place? Or should the series just sit, locked away in a vault somewhere, because of this issue. Clearly, the powers that be realize that this isn’t a case of “Let’s just go ahead and throw it out there and maybe nobody will notice”. Would I buy it if they did? Well, I’d at least buy the first season, and see how I felt about it – but if it stung enough that multiple viewings of the set weren’t even in the cards, you can bet I wouldn’t pick up season two.

If it’s truly just a money issue, I’d easily pay at least 50 or 60 bucks (maybe even more) a season if that would get it out there (for most of these older sitcoms, $20-30 is the going rate per season). I wonder if other WKRP fans would do the same? Pay twice as much to make sure they’re getting the show they want? Or would a pricetag of twice as much still not be enough to justify a DVD release of the series?

I found this site, which features a huge number of quotes from the series, arranged in an episode by episode manner.

A link on the same site, features this page full of WAV file sound bites from WKRP such as this and this and this.


Be sure and check out the recent Rued Morgue entry, WKRP on DVD...Finally.