Monday, September 5, 2016

What have you got in mind, Buddy?

Hey, HMOTD fans, welcome back! Wednesday marks the release of our Season 3 premiere, covering the first two episodes of Season 3 of WKRP In Cincinnati. "The Airplane Show" and "Jennifer Moves" aired on November 1 and November 8, 1980 respectively.

If you are a dedicated student of television history, you will indeed notice that these debut dates are quite late! The American television season in the pre-cable era started religiously in September, mid-season replacements notwithstanding, of course. You'd get your Fall Preview issue of TV Guide in the first week of September and settle down to discover all your new shows and returning favorites. But in 1980, that didn't happen.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) went on strike on the very patriotic date of July 4, 1980. It was a pre-agreed three-month strike, designed to hit the TV and movie industries right as pilot season and fall premiere recording was underway. Not only that, but the strike delayed the release of the resolution of possibly the most famous cliffhanger in television history, "Who Shot J.R.?"

Variety from July 23, 1980. The strike-pertinent article in question is "Actors' Strike Halts Production," but there are some other gems, like mention of a musicians' strike in the UK, the working out of 20th Century Fox's "magnetic video" rights, and the story of Bermuda Triangle researcher Richard Winer losing his leg in a retributive bombing by drug dealers he was trying to remove from his Florida neighborhood!

We tell the story of how the strike specifically impacted WKRP in this week's episode, of course, so no spoilers here. But it's interesting and a bit poetic that WKRP's strike-delayed Season 3 debut episodes would air as bookends to the election of Ronald Wilson Reagan on November 4, 1980. Reagan, who would go on to do more than possibly any other individual in American history to destroy the American labor movement, was ironically himself a former union man. And not just a union man, but SAG President, from 1947 through 1952! And in 1959, after the controversies of the blacklist, Reagan returned to the presidency of SAG as a conquering hero to help negotiate Hollywood actors' famous television "residuals" system. Doubly ironically, the 1980 SAG/AFTRA strike was also about the union confronting the impact of disruptive technology on actors and industry workers. In 1960, it was the plummeting attendance at motion pictures due to television; in 1980, it was the predicted impact of pay television and home video on network television actors.

So here we are, about to begin the Reagan era with two WKRP stories that seem to exemplify it: the regret and sadness over the failed remembrance of veterans in "The Airplane Show" and 1980s America's move to the Weird Suburbs in "Jennifer Moves." Join us on Wednesday for our Season 3 premiere!

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