Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Baby, If You've Ever Wondered..."

... Wondered, whatever might be the best sitcom ever? With renewed certainty, I declare that it was WKRP in Cincinnati.

Finding episodes on last night convinced me of this again. I haven't watched the "Turkey" episode in years, and yet in one scene I could mirror Johnny Fever's exact hand gestures, for cry eye. That's how the true funny sticks.

Absolutely perfect ensemble work. Writing that goes from hilarious to mellow to moving to pleasantly weird. A show about rock music that actually liked rock music, using it authentically and integrally as a living character on the show.

And there, friends, is the rub. These Hulu episodes are clearly from the long-awaited and ultimately regrettable WKRP DVDs. To avoid the admittedly daunting and expensive task of licensing every single song fragment, the DVD producers ripped all songs out of the soundtrack, replacing them with generic rock-like substitutes.

The pilot episode's climactic scene, when Johnny launches WKRP's abrupt switch from "beautiful music" with Ted Nugent's "Queen of the Forest," is now so stunningly un-rocking, accompanied by a stock composition that certainly bears a title like "House Rockin' Guitar #12." The fan dies a little inside.

However, now that these Lucased episodes can be watched for free, I can let go of some of my fury. If nothing else, neutering the music does serve to focus further attention on the excellence of the performances. If Howard Hesseman can still make it look like "House Rockin' Guitar #12" is rocking his ass, it's because he's that good.

It's just too bad that anyone who missed the show in its original state will never know just how awesome it used to sound.

But really? There wasn't some deal to work out? DVDs that could breathe new life into hoary AOR tracks with links to buy the songs in each episode? Or even a deluxe edition that actually includes them?

A perfect example of today's craptastic state of rights management, and how the music industry slowly stabs itself to death with it. Then again, if rock radio can't pick its own songs, why let shows about rock radio do it?

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