Saturday, August 30, 2008

WKRP Episode: "Hoodlum Rock"

By request, here's the other season 1 episode that is usually only seen in a cut syndicated version: the fourth episode produced and the fourth to air, "Hoodlum Rock," written by Hugh Wilson, where the station sponsors a concert by the band Scum of the Earth. The (bland) music of the band is provided by the group Detective, and one of Detective's members, actor/musician Michael Des Barres, appears as "Dog" (real name, Sir Charles Weatherbee).

The premiere of WKRP was accompanied by a Wall Street Journal article that examined the show as a test case of how a promising show makes it from pitch to pilot to air, and this was the episode that the reporter was on the set to watch. The article explained that this episode was going nowhere for most of the week of rehearsals. Finally Hugh Wilson and co. realized that the problem with doing an episode about punk rock is that "punk rock is already a put-on"; the punk rockers weren't funny because it was impossible to parody punk rock. So the actors' wardrobe was changed to tasteful suits, and they were "instructed to speak with Etonian accents," and the joke of the episode became that they were insane, destructive punk rockers with impeccably upper-class appearance and manners. This finally made the episode work, and the taping went well. The article also noted that Wilson was very unsure about the pie gag that closes the first scene, lamenting "the whole damn show's a sight gag." Ironically, given Wilson's discomfort with slapstick comedy, the most successful project he ever did was the first Police Academy (he had nothing to do with the sequels).

Act 1:

Act 2:

On a semi-related note, I recently looked at some episodes of "The New WKRP in Cincinnati" for the first time in a while, and I realized that one of the reasons "The New WKRP" didn't work was that it essentially used this and some of the other early episodes (like "Turkeys Away") as a template for the whole series: every other episode of the "New WKRP" was about the station getting involved in a promotion that goes wrong. The original series abandoned that kind of story pretty early, precisely because they'd exhausted the possibilities of it.


Brent McKee said...

Speaking of The New WKRP, it's worth noting that one of the show's stars was none other than Michael Des Barres.

Geoff said...

Jerry Vale joke! And great appearance by Ned Wertimer, better known as Ralph the doorman on "The Jeffersons."

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...this kinda smells funny to me, sorry. I remember watching the episode when it first aired. It did not seem as though the "punks" were made to look and sound Etonian as some sort of parody/paradox. Rather, it seemed (as usual) as though the writers/producers simply didn't know any better...

Jaime J. Weinman said...

It may be that they didn't know any better, but it's been confirmed that the idea of having them in suits was a last-minute change:

"We played it as real punks originally, three English guys, and it was too real and simply not funny. The producer, Hugh Wilson, came down around six o'clock on Wednesday evening and said, "I don't know what to do!" And I said "What would happen if we played it, like upper class? Then there will be a contrast in the way we behave." So we played it all snooty, and he went, "why not, we gotta try something!"