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TV Music rightsMusic rights disputes show that holders of those rights must grow the ^&^%%(% up
by John Stahl

Impairing DVD releases by substituting the original music in episodes with generic garbage hit home when I was watching the first several episodes of the late ‘70s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati in mid-January.

This incident got me thinking about the battles between DVD producers and the holders of the rights to the original music and convinced me that the holders of those rights are to blame for negotiations failing and that these greedy jerks should be grateful for the chance to get more money for their moldie oldies.

I had chosen WKRP over I Dream of Jeannie and the 100s of other series that I own because it seemed the best cure for the form of winter depression that hit me this year.

My best days were ones in which it was not frigid and/or stormy and nothing bad had occurred, and I just wanted good comedy with a slight edge and some old-time rock-and-roll even if it did not soothe my soul.

I knew before I bought the DVD set that fans of WKRP were outraged that the original music from episodes had been substituted in the DVD release of the 1978-79 first season, and I was aware also of specific instances of this. However, the great extent to which this occurred was a horrible surprise.

I do not recall most of the specific songs from the series but do remember that most episodes featured at least one classic or popular song. I also smiled when I anticipated the scene from the pilot in which burned-out DJ Dr. Johnny Fever went abruptly from playing “music that was not popular 20 years ago” to playing rock.

I was upset when I heard really awfully generic rock that I do not even think was a song when Fever went from a low-key announcer to a rocker. This same disappointment occurred in virtually every one of the seven episodes that I have watched. I had thought that Fox had bought the rights to comparable music of the era to play in the episodes and would have accepted that.

It is necessary as well to mention a very good second-season episode that was based closely on an actual event in which WKRP staffers deal with their feeling regarding the station giving away tickets to a Who concert in which people were trampled to death. I recall that that episode featured music by The Who and that it would not be nearly as good or have the same impact with the horrible music from the first-season DVD release.

I still enjoyed many aspects of the episodes on DVD, look forward to watching the rest of the first season, and would rather have the current DVD release available of this hilarious and not widely syndicated show than nothing. The catchy theme song is entrenched deeply in my brain, and the show has passed my exceptional series test of thoughts regarding a review of it keeping me up at night.

It is simply lousy that the greed of the holders of music rights made the DVD release far less enjoyable than it should have been.

The underlying thing that both DVD producers and holders to rights of music seemingly forget is that DVDs are a windfall. The producers of WKRP might have anticipated in 1978 that VHS tapes of the show might be released, but I doubt that they predicted DVDs.

At the same time, the holders of the rights to the music that is at least 30 years old in WKRP should recognize both that the value that most of that music adds to the episodes is limited and that they should be grateful to get any more money for that music. This is true for most TV series that aired before DVDs became available and will be true for today’s music 15 years from now.

The holders of those rights should also remember the lesson from Glee. It has been shown that songs that have been featured on that show have boosted the sales of music form the era of WKRP and even earlier. For example, Billy Idol has really profited from the clever and superb rendition of “Dancing by Myself” on Glee.

I believe further that the few groups from the WKRP era that are still popular should appreciate that the DVDs of that show could have helped sustain their careers; the far greater number of those groups who are playing county fairs and appearing in small-town dive bars and high school auditoriums should be even more grateful for the few extra tickets and albums that the DVD releases could have generated.

I expect that many people have strong feelings regarding this; please feel free to e-mail me at, and please do not be offended if I use the “Big Guy” Carlson method of responding that I am dead.

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