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DVD Killed the TV Radio Stars

A sordid drama about a popular comedy.



Baby, if you ever wondered why the classic sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati" wasn't released on DVD before now, let local actor/director Tim Reid (who played DJ Venus Flytrap on the show) explain:


Specifically, music industry greed, says Reid, who now runs New Millennium Studios in Petersburg with his wife, actress Daphne Reid ("The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air").

"WKRP," which ran from 1978 to 1982, played tons of real music by big-name rockers such as John Lennon, Elvis Costello, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger and The Beach Boys.

But you won't hear it on the new DVDs; it's been replaced by generic tracks. A minor controversy has erupted among fans and critics who say the show's been butchered.

Reid takes a realistic stance — music moguls wanted "several hundred thousand dollars" per song for the DVD rights, so the decision was either to release the DVDs sans music or not to release them at all.

It's particularly ironic, Reid says, because, like real radio DJs in those days, he and WKRP co-star Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever) were allowed to choose songs to play on TV, and many that they debuted went on to become real-life hits.

"It was a whole different world back then," Reid says. "Back in the day … people would pay you to play their music. … Nowadays the greed of the industry is such that it would cost us just to clear [the rights for] one song what the entire show cost us to produce for one week."

"WKRP" is a time capsule of an era when communities had local DJs, not pre-programmed radio from New York and L.A., and when sitcoms dared to take on issues like religious censorship. (One WKRP episode with a thinly veiled character based on the Rev. Jerry Falwell so infuriated the real Falwell that he denounced "WKRP" as satanic from the pulpit. Recalls Reid: "He took it personal.")

Even without the music, "the show still has legs," Reid says, and he's right. The 22-episode first season is packed with classics like "Fish Story," in which Reid's character participates in a hilarious on-air sobriety test, or "Turkeys Away," in which the station holds an ill-fated promotion, dropping live turkeys from a helicopter.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly," horrified station manager Mr. Carlson (the late Gordon Jump) despairs in the aftermath.

Times may change, but funny is still funny. S

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