Breaking news about 'WKRP!' Who'da thunk it 40 years later?
It's a plot twist which fits perfectly for the crazy gang at WKRP In Cincinnati: Forty years after the show's last original telecast on April 21, 1982,we learn that it WASN'T the final new episode after all!
Researchers Allen and Donna Stare, who do the weekly WKRP-Cast podcastabout the beloved sitcom, told me Thursday after reading my 40th anniversary story that history is wrong. So are the listings for WKRPon the Internet Movie Database, a very reliable guide to TV/movie/acting credits and broadcast dates, as well as the information in the 2014 Shout Factory boxed set for all 88 WKRP In Cincinnati episodes.
After doing about four hours of research on newspapers.com, I was able to confirm their tip: The last new WKRP aired Monday, Sept. 20, the day after the 1982 Emmy Awards.
CBS had pulled two new episodes in April 1982 because ratings were tanking, and broadcast them among reruns that summer and early fall. That's when WKRP, canceled May 6 by CBS (along with Lou Grant), finally became a ratings hit after four seasons bouncing all over the CBS schedule.
"To Err Is Human," originally scheduled for April 7, aired on CBS Monday, Aug. 9. That "previously unseen" show, as the Associated Press put it, finished fourth in the weekly ratings behind CBS comedies Filthy Rich and M*A*S*H and ABC's Three's Company. That's the episode in which Jennifer (Loni Anderson) visits a businessman who's promotion was screwed up sosalesman Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) wouldn't get fired.
On Labor Day weekend, a WKRP rerun ranked seventh in the weekly ratings, beating repeats of Happy Days and Lavern & Shirley.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, WKRP In Cincinnati was up for the best comedy series Emmy Award against M*A*S*H, Barney Miller (cancelled that spring by ABC), Taxi (cancelled that spring by ABC and picked up by NBC) and Tony Randall's Love Sidney. Barney Miller won the award.
The next night — traditionally the start of the new TV season — CBS aired the last original episode, "The Impossible Dream," which was supposed to air April 7. So WKRP's finale was the show in which Richard Sanders played both newsman Les Nessman and his mother, who had encouraged her son Lester to quit WKRP on his birthday and seek a job at CBS News in New York. Sanders also co-wrote the episode with Michael Fairman.
Other papers, however, informed readers on Sept. 20 that the WKRP was ending that night.
"This show carries both good news and bad news," said the Des Moines Tribune. "The good news is the show is a fresh episode. The bad news is this show is the last in the series."
"Unlike the long gone Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the lately lamented Barney Miller, the station doesn't close with tearful goodbyes," wrote the Intelligencer in Lancaster, Pa. "Instead, there's an enduring and fairly typical story in which Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) considers forsaking his top-notch reportage of hog futures for Hard News. Like the dreams of the diverse WKRP gang, Les founders on the reality of his character and its limitations."
The New Era paper, also in Lancaster, Pa., said: "In a fitting adios the radio station crew closes off with an original episode. The future looks bright for Les Nessman, who decides to pursue a lifelong dream: becoming a TV newsman in the Big Apple. The whole gang prepares a surprise farewell party for him — and it turns out to be a final goodbye for all of them. But don't fret for these talented actors. They'll move on to other projects."
Indeed, most cast members had made commitments after the CBS cancellation May 6, as I wrote in Thursday's 40th anniversary story. And that's why WKRP, despite strong ratings in summer of 1982, couldn't do a fifth season.
The IMDB lists the scheduled broadcast dates for "The Impossible Dream" (April 7) and "To Err Is Human" (April 14), with "Up And Down The Dial" (April 21) as the last broadcast. That's also the order of shows on the Shout Factory four-DVD set. I'm guessing that's the sequence in which the shows were taped in early 1982, and quite possibly the chronological number for the scripts.
I thought I knew everything about WKRP. Maybe you did, too. But we didn't. For their efforts, Allen and Donna Stare's WKRC-Cast podcast deserves a Silver Sow Award, like the ones Les Nessman won.