Wednesday, January 17, 2018

RIP Hugh Wilson

So sorry to hear that Hugh Wilson has passed away. He was 74 -- waaaaaay too young. Hugh created WKRP IN CINCINNATI, some other terrific series like FRANK’S PLACE, EASY STREET, and THE AMAZING TEDDY Z. And he became a movie director, megging the first POLICE ACADEMY (hey, it was a huge hit and spawned 37 sequels), FIRST WIVES CLUB, BLAST FROM THE PAST, and one of my favorite rarely-seen-today films, RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY.

I first met Hugh in 1977 when my writing partner, David Isaacs and I got our first staff job, which was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for MTM. Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses were the showrunners, but the other two staffers were Gary David Goldberg (sadly, now gone too) and Hugh Wilson.

Hugh could not have been more welcoming and fun. We were nervous, needless to say, but Hugh really helped us come out of our shell. I believe he was originally from Atlanta (although my memory might be faulty). In any event, he had kind of a good-old-boy demeanor. He never lacked for confidence but instilled confidence in you as well. And he had a unique comic way of getting across his message. In wondering if David and I were Jewish he said, “So are you a couple of them boys from the college?”

Another thing about Hugh, he really knew his stuff. His suggestions were great, his joke pitches hilarious, and it all seemed to come so easily. He also directed some episodes for us and was the same unflappable guy we saw in the writers’ room. When he later graduated to film directing I wasn’t surprised in the least. Nor was I surprised by his success.

We left TONY RANDALL to join the staff of MASH after the first season so really didn’t get the chance to spend much time with him over the subsequent years. As a radio guy myself I loved WKRP and called him on several occasions to praise the show. And over the years we would each offer writer recommendations.

I’ll remember Hugh Wilson for his talent, his spirit, his David Letterman gap-tooth grin, and kindness to a couple of young rubes. And I’ll think of you more than just “once in a while.”

28 comments :

tavm said...

IMDB says he was born in Miami. By the way, that site has yet to acknowledge his passing...

Johnny Hy said...

He was a radio guy but I think it was in sales for an AM station here in Atlanta and that’s what he based WKRP on. Great great show!! He wrote so many great things. One of my smaller favorites was Down Periscope with Kelsey Grammer. One of those movies you just stop on and laugh every time. Sorry to hear of his passing.

E. Yarber said...

The local art house theater once played Police Academy on a double bill with the Zuckers' Top Secret! and I was surprised to see Wilson slipping in double and triple twists to some gags amid the generally formulaic atmosphere of the former. It was as though he couldn't help but add occasional flourishes of comedic skill amid the general meatloaf he'd been asked to provide. I've always remembered that when having to ladle out S.O.S. material myself.

Cowboy Surfer said...

WKRP was such a cool show. One of the best theme songs ever.

Mike Doran said...

Hugh Wilson didn't do many talk shows; one of them was here in Chicago.

The Cromie Circle, on WGN-Channel 9 on late Sunday nights, was hosted by Robert Cromie, who edited the book section of the Chicago Tribune (back when they had one of those), and also originated the PBS show Book Beat.

On Channel 9, Bob Cromie took on all subjects and guests.
In the case of Hugh Wilson, Bob was a big fan of WKRP, which was still in its network run at the time.
What Bob and Hugh ended up talking about for most of this segment was the "mascot show" - the one where Herb Tarlek was dressed as the "WKRP Karp", and got into a tussle with the "WPIG Pig".
This aspect embarrassed Hugh Wilson, to the extent that he put a pseudonym on the episode, "Raoul Plager".
Because Bob Cromie was a charming, erudite host (see extinct), he was able to bring Hugh Wilson out to talk about the process; between the clips of Frank Bonner and (I think) Lee Bergere as the Pig, and an explanation of where Hugh got "Raoul Plager", a very entertaining time was had by all.

Those definitely were The Days ...

Bill O said...

Rustlers' Rhapsody so gay subtextual that it becomes text. First, and hopefully last, movie AIDS joke.

Bob Sharp said...

I loved WKRP. In eleven years in radio I worked with all of those people -- the cool PD, the burned out Boss Jock, the sales slug, the clueless GM -- all of them.

Thanks for the theme, I'd only ever heard the edited version form the show.

YEKIMI said...

I was in radio at the time and remember watching WKRP and thinking "Someone's been spying on the staff at our radio station!" Then the internet came along and almost everyone who has ever worked in radio said just about the same thing. I guess the weirdos, geniuses, malcontents, etc. ended up going into radio. We should have had some sane people guarding the gates because we somehow let bean-counters slip through and they have now wrecked the industry we all loved.

Oh....Hugh's inspiration for WKRP came from working at WQXI [Quixie in Dixie] in Atlanta, GA. It's now a sad shell of its former self, broadcasting a Korean language format.

Duncan Randall said...

Frank's Place, Almost Perfect, and Run, Buddy, Run - all need to be released on DVD!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Damn. Sorry for your loss. Most of us in radio at the time loved the show because most of us in radio at the time at one time or another worked for crummy stations like WKRP. :)

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Season 1, Episode 7, writer Bill Dial with possibly the best line of the series...

:)

I never pass the frozen turkeys at the supermarket without that line running through my head...and smiling.

Jon H said...

I loved "Blast from the Past", especially for what I thought was its kind rather than cynical look back at the 1950s. WKRP had a lot of great episodes too.

Alan Gollom said...

WKRP was one of my favorite shows before I worked in radio and even more favorite after!

Pizzagod said...

Yeah, Andy Griffith will always stay with me from that movie.

Take care of him.

What do you mean?

SHOOT HIM! END HIS LIFE!

Great great stuff!

Kosmo13 said...

Last year I complimented Tom Berenger on Rustlers' Rhapsody. He made a sour facial expression and said it wasn't one that he liked. I thought it was a funny movie, but if even the star is down on it, maybe I should see it again and reevaluate the film.

Anthony Hoffman said...

I’ll remember he and Bette Midler butting heads on The First Wives Club. What a nightmare she sounds. Rest In Peace. https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/328319

VincentS said...

Damn. Yes, WAY too young. I think WKRP is right up there with MASH, THE HONEYMOONERS, and I LOVE LUCY.

Dr Loser said...

WKRP is possibly the only sitcom where I watched, and wanted every character to "win."

Even Herb Tarlick, who was clearly written as the sort of salesman that the writer had been horrified by in real life. Even Les, who was a pathetic shell of a man. Even Mrs Carlson!

That, I think, is the definition of a perfect comedy. Sometimes (quite often in series 3 and 4) the scripts were a little wavy and soupy ... but the characters?

Each and every one had some really good sequences, and those sequences might last five minutes or even a whole show.

Mr Wilson was a great man from a sadly discarded era.

Joe said...

WKRP was tremendous, and had one of my favorite lines ever. The transmitter blew up, knocking the station off the air. Cut to a shot of Bailey on the phone saying, "How can we announce we're off the air, when we're OFF THE AIR"

Mike Bloodworth said...

I also loved WKRP and Police Academy. When I was in college my broadcasting professor would always say, "This is not WKRP!" That's because while the show was always had well written dialog, there were a lot of technical inaccuracies on the show. I don't know if its the era or the writers, but one of the things I liked to most about WKRP was the subtlety.
The humor came out of the relationships and the situation. Too many of today's shows are too much about the jokes. I'm also glad to hear that they've finally worked out many of the music licensing problems. (At least on DVD anyway)
P.S. Am I the only one that thought Loni Anderson wasn't that hot?

Valerie Peterson said...

Ken - thanks for sharing this. I am so sorry to hear about Hugh Wilson - The Famous Teddy Z is like the Holy Grail of sitcoms for me - unavailable anywhere - so meta - inside-Hollywood and before its time... and Jon Cryer!!!! My favorite episode was the quasi-Christmas Carol story when the agent Al Floss is shown all the crappy things he'd done... and then wakes up and goes right back to the way he was. BRILLIANT. RIP High Wilson ...

Chris Riesbeck said...

My DVD of Rustler's Rhapsody gets a yearly spin. It's not easy doing a spoof that is that meta, and still getting the touch of sweetness at the end to work.

Eric J said...

Re: Mike Bloodworth. I never thought Loni Anderson was all that hot either. Maybe because she had to compete with Jan Smithers.

Andy Rose said...

@Joe: While much of WKRP was obviously an exaggeration of real radio, I have personally taken that "Why don't you tell people you're off the air?" call on more than one occasion.

Bob Claster said...

Ah, but the sublime "Frank's Place." His Emmy for his "Frank's Place" script, entitled "The Bridge" is one of the best-deserved Emmys of all time. Damn CBS for not protecting, nurturing, and celebrating that magnificent series. One can only hope that there'll be some sort of miracle and someone will figure out a fair and economical way to issue shows like this (and, of course, WKRP, which has the same problem) with their original music tracks intact.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Supposedly, the MTM company--including Ms. Moore herself--didn't consider "WKRP" one of its prouder accomplishments.

Being set at a rock station and being recorded on videotape (as opposed to film, on which most other MTM shows were shot) gave WKRP a harder edge that contrasted--for better or worse-- with the adult elegance of the Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart shows.

I remember one KRP episode in which Johnny Fever was glad to see an uncharateristicly sentimental bull session among the staff come to an end because he felt "a group hug coming on."

Always wondered if that line was a subtle jab at the MTM show.

Ted said...

"Frank's Place" was way before its time. If it were produced on HBO or Netflix today, it would probably run for five seasons and rack up even more Emmy awards.

John Jackson Miller said...

Terribly sorry to see this. WKRP is one of the all-time greats.

Rip Rinehart said...

I agree with Bob and Ted regarding the wonderful "Frank's Place."

I know that Tim Reid and High Wilson tried to get the shows properly released on DVD for years, but could never get past the music clearance issues.

That's a real tragedy, as far as I'm concerned.

I tried to record every episode when it originally aired back in the 80s, but the local station kept pre-empting it for football or some such, so I was left with an incomplete collection on VHS. Years later I was able to get a DVD of another "Frank" fan's complete collection, dubbed from his own VHS tapes. But, of course, the recording quality leaves a lot to be desired.

What I wouldn't give for a high quality collection on Blu-Ray, or even standard definition DVD. But it appears that's never going to happen.

By the way, Hugh Wilson made a brief appearance as health inspector D. Wayne Thomas in the "Where's Ed?" episode, one of the standouts in the series.