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WKRP in Cincinnati - Exclusive: More on the music replacement and comments by Fox/Wilson

Check out this exclusive article by Randy A. Salas from the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Posted by Gord Lacey
The other day we posted excerpts from an article by our friend Randy Salas of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Randy spoke to Peter Staddon at Fox, and WKRP creator Hugh Wilson about the upcoming season 1 DVD set, and the problems with the music substitutions that took place. Randy came to us and asked whether we'd be interested in running a piece he wrote that included some extra information that was cut from the original article. Of course we said yes, and we're pleased to bring you the article below, written by Randy Salas of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. We suggest you read his original article before the one below, since the article is referenced in a few places.

By Randy A. Salas
Minneapolis Star Tribune

My WKRP article, cited here on TV Shows on DVD, was written for my newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Due to space limitations in that physical format, some information that I gathered during my interviews and research had to be trimmed for the article and some couldn't be used at all. My editor suggested putting the leftover material on the newspaper's website, but I persuaded him to let me offer it to TV Shows on DVD, since the site (via Gord and Dave) has been a longtime friend and source to me and TV DVD fans everywhere.

Before I start, I should note that I had the unfortunate task of calling WKRP creator Hugh Wilson at his Virginia home for a prearranged interview just hours after the recent shooting massacre at Virginia Tech University. Wilson teaches at the University of Virginia and lives about 45 minutes from Virgina Tech, so he was understandably devastated by the events of that day. Although I offered him an opportunity to cancel the interview (which would have absolutely gutted my story), he kindly agreed to keep his commitment. He is a gentle soul with a great sense of humor, such as when I asked him to confirm his age: "63, but I don't act it." I offer my thanks to him; Fox's always-gracious Peter Staddon, whom I blindsided with a cold call on his direct line; Home Media's Judith McCourt, who got me sales stats while she was serving jury duty(!); and Jaime Weinman, whose interview by email took the biggest cuts.

One thing implied by the article is that Fox seemed set on a retail price of $30 for the WKRP set. I noted in my write-up that the first season of My Name Is Earl has sold over 2 times more copies than the debut season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. What was cut from the article was that the newer show retails for $50 vs. $30 for Mary. MTM S1 started out at a much higher price, of course, but nearly half of its 150,000 copies sold to date came after its MSRP was reduced to $30. This is pretty strong evidence for Fox to cap its classic TV DVDs at $30 MSRP. With that price ceiling and similar sales expectations for WKRP, high music costs simply won't make it past the Accounting Department.

"Products like this, they don't sell in huge volumes, because that's just the way the market is for classic TV at this point," Staddon said. "But there is a core fan base out there, and we want to bring the best product out that we can to them, because they've been waiting for this."

He added, "But the perception is that [a classic series like WKRP or MTM is] still a big TV show, and it is a big TV show but for a smaller number of people. What we find with classic TV is that those people who buy it, rush out and buy it Day 1 and are very fanatical about it, and the challenge is watching it past that initial peak in sales. How do you keep that product alive, and how do you keep retailers interested in listing the SKU?"

I asked Staddon if Fox had explored licensing the show to a third-party label, since music costs were an issue for the studio based on its sales expectations. I noted that Shout Factory, for example, was adept at taking problematic shows, clearing the music rights and charging whatever price it deemed necessary to make back its money. Fox could, I suggested, just figure out what revenue it expected to make from the show and charge Shout Factory accordingly to put out the show.

Staddon was forthright in his answer: "We looked at that for a very short period of time and realized that if anyone's going to be able to do this, it probably should be us. We get a lot of people saying that we can take this on and we can get music clearances for a lot cheaper than you can, but at the end of the day it's a Fox program. If someone's unhappy with it, it's Fox that's going to get the letters. I want to be held accountable for my work, not for someone else's work."

Many fans are unclear about Wilson's role in the DVD. One user even suggested on the Home Theater Forum that Wilson's quote that expressed shock at the cutting of the Foreigner song "Hot Blooded" from the DVD was his "genuine" response and that his final comment about Fox ultimately doing what it had to do was a sign that he "went back to PR mode." First of all, quotes in an article don't necessarily come in chronological order any more necessarily than movie scenes appear in the order they were filmed. Although Wilson's final comment in the article came toward the end of the interview, our talk began by discussing the music changes.

"That's tough. It's hard to take," he said at the outset about the music changes. "Music costs so much today that just to use like five bars of something was like 30 to 40 grand to license it now. The only way Fox was going to do this is if they could make it work financially. I looked at a couple of shows and thought it was all right with the sound-alikes. I hope it works."

At one point, Staddon said, "Studio suits get a bad rep in some ways for thinking they can just go in and get some score track and put it in there and no one will notice. We're not that egotistical to think we can create the show without involvement of the creative people or adapt the show without the people who created it in the first place."

And Wilson said, sounding very much like Mr. Carlson on WKRP, "I'm just a pawn in a much bigger game. That's what my father used to say."

The truth is somewhere in between. Wilson might not have signed off on every single change in each episode, but he was aware of what Fox was up against. That doesn't mean he wasn't shocked at a cut in one of his favorite scenes. Here's what he said after his "oh, my" quote about "Hot Blooded": "I supported this. I certainly agreed to it. ... I always wanted WKRP--when all the other shows started coming out [on DVD], When I inquired about it, they said, 'Well, you screwed up. You used all that expensive music,' So they'll never bring that back."

Wilson expressed genuine remorse to fans for the music cuts. Those feelings are tempered by simply wanting his "baby" available in the format. He considers WKRP to be his greatest achievement and has tremendous affection for that time and the people he worked with.

It was a big surprise to find out that WKRP almost never aired because of the same music issues that plague it today. Wilson explained that the loophole in the music-licensing agreement that allowed for much-reduced fees for shows shot on lower-quality videotape was intended to be used by musical variety shows, which tended not to be filmed and used a lot of songs. "Talk about the tail wagging the dog," Wilson said about determining the way the show was shot based on music costs. Ironically, the DVD has the worst of both worlds--no music because of the high costs now and lower-quality video because of music costs back then.

One nifty tidbit from Wilson was that he didn't even pick all of the songs in the show.

"In the beginning I did, and I picked a lot of them," he said. "But as we got going, Tim Reid and Howard Hesseman wanted to pick the music for their particular scenes. Both of them were connoisseurs of good music, so they started doing it."

I asked Staddon if this first-season set was a test release to gauge interest in the show.

"Very much so," he said. "We're actually looking at future volumes now and seeing what we'd have to do. Once we get the sales for the first season under our belt, we can go back and adapt that plan accordingly."

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