Thirty-nine years ago today, WKRP in Cincinnati ended its original run. After four seasons and ninety episodes, CBS rolled past the show on its dial. This decision left many fans with a dead spot in their evening.
For most of the show’s run, it suffered from low ratings. This isn’t because people didn’t want to watch WKRP in Cincinnati. Originally, the show aired right after M^A*S*H which made it incredibly successful. During the middle of the show’s second season, CBS regularly moved it around in the TV schedule. So, people couldn’t make it a part of their weekly viewing routine. This caused a ratings drop in the show. After two and a half seasons of ratings sabotage, CBS canceled the series.
However, it almost immediately went into syndication. At that point, WKRP in Cincinnati became one of the highest-rated primetime sitcoms on TV. Almost four decades after its original run ended, it’s still popular. Over the years, new generations of viewers have warmed up to the zany crew of the Cincinnati radio station.
Things That Made WKRP in Cincinnati Great
There were several things that went into making WKRP in Cincinnati so popular. For one, it was based on reality. According to WXVU, the show’s creator, Hugh Wilson, largely based the show on his real experiences working at WQXI in Atlanta. Wilson worked in advertising sales at the station. Many of the characters as well as some of the stories in the show came directly from his work at the Atlanta station.
The music on WKRP in Cincinnati was a huge factor in its popularity. You won’t hear any of the original music in syndication. However, in its original run, the show featured real rock and roll top 40 hits. At times, new music would play on the show before it made it to actual radio. In fact, Blondie credited the sitcom with making their song “Heart of Glass,” a hit. The band donated a gold record to the show out of gratitude for the push.
The comedy of the show, its realism, and the music weren’t all that hooked viewers. WKRP in Cincinnati also tackled big issues. One of the radio personalities, Venus Flytrap, admitted to being a Vietnam War Army deserter. The show also tackled issues like homophobia and natural disasters. The series even touched on the 1979 concert incident in which many fans were trampled to death outside of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum while waiting to see The Who.
After the show went into syndication, it beat several popular programs including Monday Night Football and Little House on the Prairie in ratings.