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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"WKRP": The Great Music Debate

You may have read on the “Herald-Dispatch” website about how Cincinnati celebrated this week’s release of “WKRP In Cincinnati” on DVD.

But not everyone is celebrating. In fact, some fans are downright angry…

It’s the great music debate. Is it worth sacrificing the original music to get the show released on DVD?

The problem is music licensing fees. When they were negotiated, they were for use on the show only. To get the same music for the DVD means new negotiations and high prices.

So, in order to get the title released without breaking the bank, generic music is substituted in place of the original track or the scene featuring the music is eliminated altogether.

For example, in “WKRP,” the Ted Nugent song that officially changes the WKRP format has been replaced by an unknown guitar-driven song. Jennifer Marlowe’s doorbell no longer plays “Fly Me to the Moon.” A conversation in which Mr. Carlson and Johnny Fever discuss Pink Floyd has been eliminated altogether in order to cut the song “Dogs.” And “Hot Blooded,” the song that Les Nessman dances to in a classic scene has been changed to a generic song.

In fact, most of the familiar songs have been either cut or replaced with generic music. Why? It’s simple economics…

According to a story in the Minneapolis “Star Tribune,” even a short music clip can cost $30,000-$40,000 to renew. If you multiply that by several songs in each of the first season’s 22 episodes, you can see the problem.

FOX, which released the DVD, may have shelled out some of the money if they were guaranteed they would recoup their investment. But after the disappointing sales of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” FOX decided they just couldn’t do it…

The first four seasons of “Moore” combined have sold about 375,000 copies total. By comparison, the first season of “My Name Is Earl” has sold 330,000 copies since September. Nearly half of the 150,000 copies of the first season of “Moore” that have been sold to date came after the price was dropped to $30. So, FOX decided they couldn’t sell “WKRP” for more than $30, therefore making the high music licensing fees financially impossible.

Die-hard fans of “WKRP,” who have been clamoring for the show’s release for years have been blasting FOX on any forum possible for what they see as ruining the show and are telling anyone they can to not buy the DVD. If their campaign works, it will probably keep FOX from not producing any further volumes.

So are they right to be so angry?

I’ve only watched two episodes on the DVD—part one of the pilot and the classic “Turkeys Away”—and although the generic music was pretty obvious, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the show.

For me, it is totally worth sacrificing the original music to have a beloved show released on DVD if the music is not key to the story. “Family Ties” was forced to cut several non-integral scenes because of music issues, but I can look over those missing scenes since it means I finally get to see those episodes again. I feel the same way about “WKRP.” It doesn’t matter to me that Johnny Fever is not playing Pink Floyd. That’s not why I enjoy the show.

Now, if we were having this discussion about another show, like “Miami Vice” for instance, where the music is almost a character in the show, I would feel differently. But in this case, I think the fans should chill out. FOX was trying to do them a favor.

Interestingly enough, “WKRP” almost didn’t get to use these songs in the first place. The original production company, MTM, balked at the cost, but producers used a loophole in the music-licensing agreement that allowed significantly lower rates for shows that were videotaped instead of filmed. As “Star Tribune” reporter Randy Salas puts it “Ironically, the DVD has the worst of both worlds—no music because of the high costs and lower-quality video because of music costs back then”…

Feel free to weigh in on this debate yourselves