'WKRP in Cincinnati' Season 1 - TV Review

"As God is my witness, I thought they could fly!" The first season of WKRP contains some of the best comedy aired any time in the 1970s, the only better show being "M*A*S*H." The station team is made up of "personalities," almost all of them incredibly quirky. It's a money-losing station ("16th out of 18 in the market"), and the newly arrived program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) works hard to try to turn the place around.

The show opens strong with Travis telling DJ "Dr. Johnny Fever" (Howard Hesseman) to change formats from easy listening to rock and roll. Fever, who was almost comatose from the crap he'd been playing, screeches a needle across a record, launches into a hilarious opening diatribe, and breaks a record in half as he peals it off the platter. Fever is a good example of their personalities: he's a good DJ, but he has a foul mouth that got him fired a couple times. He's constantly clutching a coffee cup: he's a little paranoid, and often simply falls asleep - even on air, but he always wakes up before the record runs out.

I saw bits and pieces of the series when it first aired. It was a pleasure to watch the first season straight through: it's very funny. Unfortunately, I felt the quality of the writing dropped off sharply in the last couple episodes in the first season. I watched the first four episodes of the second season, and I think that's it for me: they've taken to over-emphasizing everyone's worst qualities in the name of humour, with plenty more mugging for the camera, and I wasn't laughing any more.

It's not obvious these days, but the series was unusual at the time for tackling social issues in a comedy format - most obviously racism and sexism. The episode "Who is Gordon Sims" sees their black DJ "Venus Flytrap" dealing with having deserted from the U.S. army (his reasons are understandable): it's a decent if not exceptional episode by modern standards, but at the time it would have been extraordinary. If you're not familiar with the series, I recommend the first season.