I got a copy of the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati and the news is not good. Which is disappointing to say, because I was lobbying for this release and believed – and still believe – that it would have been possible to reduce music costs without damaging the integrity of the show. That’s not what’s happened here.
Below I have compiled a list of music changes on the new DVD. As you can see, it’s pretty similar to the list of music changes from the late ‘90s syndication package; some of the generic music and overdubbing is the same in both versions. But I was prepared to be OK with this set if it was better, or no worse, than that syndication version. Unfortunately, it’s worse in two ways. One, there were a number of songs that were retained in that syndication package (which ran on Nick at Nite and elsewhere) that are replaced here. Songs like “Dogs” by Pink Floyd and “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley are now gone. And second, because most of these episodes don’t allow the music to be separated from the dialogue track, they’ve dealt with this problem by cutting footage from several episodes.
I’m not making Fox out to be a mustache-twirling villain here. WKRP is a tough property to bring to DVD. First, the original elements may no longer exist, so the copies they were working from were probably the same copies created for the late-‘90s syndication package; that’s why some of the generic music from that package is heard here. (On the other hand, while the original elements may not exist, the original soundtracks certainly do, for the most part. All you have to do to put a song back is take the same scene out of the older syndication versions, which are easily available. So if Fox had had the budget to put back these songs, they could have done so.) Second, music licensing costs are just insane these days. Third, other MTM properties have not sold well for Fox of late, which probably made them unable to justify much of a budget for WKRP.
But ultimately, this isn’t a good way of dealing with the music problem. I felt, and still feel, that you can create a legitimate DVD release of WKRP by changing songs at the margins (songs played only in ten-second snippets; songs that aren’t identified by name or timed to the scene) and leaving in the “essential” songs. But in this DVD release, there's little more half-a-dozen real musical recordings left in. There's the songs performed on the show by Detective and Hoyt Axton, and two or three songs played by Venus, and that's about it.
It's possible that Fox meant well. They’d been getting requests from fans to release it, so they did. And many of the songs that were cut are just incredibly expensive, like Pink Floyd. But ultimately, if they couldn’t afford to release the show with more music than they've included here, this might be one of those cases when they should have turned a deaf ear to fan requests. After all, they knew they couldn't afford to keep the music; we fans didn't. Or perhaps it would have been better to start with a best-of disc, focusing on episodes without much music (good sales of that disc could have justified a bigger budget for the first season).
There are two positive things to be said for this set: There are some extras (two audio commentaries by cast members and creator, and two featurettes), and the episodes look pretty good for videotaped late ‘70s episodes. Since it's cheaply priced, it might be worth buying if you want DVD-quality copies of some of your favorite scenes. Most of the best-known scenes didn’t have rock music in them, so the turkey drop, the Chi Chi Rodriguez report, the Ferryman’s Funeral Home commercial, etc, are here, and if you haven’t seen them in a while, you can see them here.
But still, this isn’t exactly “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season” as it says on the box. It’s more like “WKRP in Cincinnati: Extended Highlights from the First Season.” To get the complete first season, we’ll need to wait for the copyrights to expire, or for Fox to give up and license the show out to a smaller company.
WKRP in Cincinnati, Season 1 DVD
List of Music Replacements and Cuts
“Queen of the Forest" by Ted Nugent replaced with generic music.
Pilot Part 2
“That Old Time Rock n’ Roll” by Bob Seger replaced with generic music.
Les on a Ledge
Song at the beginning replaced.
The songs (by the band Detective) are intact, but the episode is a cut 22-minute syndication version. The original full-length version is available at the Museum of Television and Radio.
All songs replaced.
All but one song replaced. Footage is cut from two scenes.
“Dogs” by Pink Floyd replaced. Much of the scene has been cut out entirely.
Rock songs replaced. Part of a scene has been cut.
The clip of Venus in the booth, which was the only "cutaway" clip taped especially for this episode (this is a clip show) is cut and replaced with a clip from the pilot.
A Date With Jennifer
“Hot Blooded” by Foreigner replaced. 22-minute cut syndication version.
The Contest Nobody Could Win
All songs replaced. Someone has re-dubbed the people calling in about the song identification contest, so that they're now identifying fake songs and groups.
Elvis Costello song "Goon Squad" replaced. Some footage cut.
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys replaced.
Johnny Comes Back
All songs replaced with generic music.
Never Leave Me, Lucille
“Everybody Rock n’ Roll the Place” by Eddie Money replaced, with some dialogue cut. The episode originally started with Les singing “Heartbreak Hotel”; that scene has been cut.
I Want to Keep My Baby
All songs replaced except one Bob Marley song. Some footage cut from several scenes.
A Commercial Break
All rock songs replaced. Johnny singing "So Long for a While" has been cut.
Who is Gordon Sims?
One song replaced.
I Do… I Do… For Now
Jennifer’s doorbell, which played “Fly Me to the Moon,” is replaced with a public-domain song.
Young Master Carlson
All songs replaced, even the theme from Patton, a Fox film. Some footage cut from one scene.
All songs replaced. A scene of Venus singing is cut.
All songs replaced.
Update: I wasn't clear about how many episodes in this set are from 22-minute syndication masters (not counting the episodes that have had some footage cut from the full-length 25-minute masters.) There are two: "Hoodlum Rock" and "A Date With Jennifer."
Update 2: A couple of people in comments have wondered how I got a copy this early, which is a fair question. The answer is that Fox sent out advance review copies this week. I believe other writers/reviewers got their copies of this set at the same time I did; I was just the first to write a review.
Update, April 13: - I added a few music changes and cuts to the list that I didn't catch before.