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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ finally arrives on DVD… sorta

I think it’s safe to say that no one has ever expected the classic ’70s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati to get a DVD release, no matter how fans have been yammering for it. This series has been the poster child for an issue that has been dogging home video since the beginning. See, music rights for anything predating VHS and DVD were negotiated for broadcast only — no one foresaw the advent of the new formats, and why should they have? — so that now, when a studio wants to do a DVD release of, say, a sitcom about a rock radio station that features jokes built around popular tunes of the time, all those music rights need to be renegotiated. And for a show like this, with countless music cues and now-expensive-to-license rock classics constantly playing in the background, and often absolutely essential to the plot or the humor, those rights would add up to something like the GNP of a small African nation. Which would reduce any profit to be made on the DVD set in the first place.
So I was stunned when WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season arrived in my mailbox. The holy grail of DVD!

But wait. What’s the little note on the back of the set? “Some of the original musical content has been edited for this DVD release.” And it’s more than merely “some” — lots of the music that originally helped create the show’s atmosphere is gone. (Pop culture blogger Jaime J. Weinman has compiled an exhaustive list of all the music changes, and it ain’t pretty.) Some fans are calling it a “travesty.” I was never a fan of the show so I’m not the person to weigh in on this, but it does seem like the show has been gutted. Serious WKRPers can consider themselves warned: buy this DVD at your own risk of disappointment. [buy at Amazon]

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