. . .
It’s one of my favorite jokes in TV history — an admittedly throwaway gag on one of the most beloved sitcom episodes in history — but for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t even exist anymore.
Of course, I’m talking about the infamous WKRP in Cincinnati “Turkeys Away” episode, an episode that cemented the still-new sitcom as one of my favorites, even though the joke I’m referring to was more of a piece of character-building than it was part of the master plot.
At some point in the middle of the episode, DJ Dr. Jonny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is seemingly taking a nap in the studio when station manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) wanders into the studio and starts snooping around. Carlson notices the music that’s playing, and as he’s trying to read the spinning record label, the following exchange occurs.
FEVER (who hadn’t moved a muscle): Don’t touch that.
CARLSON: I’m sorry, I was, eh, uh …
FEVER: Gripping music, huh?
CARLSON: Yeah, that’s uh, that’s good all right. Hey, what’s the name of that orchestra?
FEVER: Pink Floyd.
CARLSON: Oooh, is that Pink Floyd? Do I hear dogs barking on that thing?
FEVER: I do.
The fact that WKRP used real, contemporary music that an actual late 1970s free-form station would actually play totally and utterly blew my mind. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be a DJ at a radio station and play music I loved. So this particular joke totally floored 15-year-old Jim, who loved how young rebel Fever totally made fun of old, stodgy suit Carlson while playing a song from Animals, to boot.
(Of course, middle-aged Jim needs to point out that Howard Hesseman was only eight years younger than Gordon Jump, so the generational clash they supposedly represented wasn’t even real, and that joke was making fun of Pink Floyd, who, after all put dogs on “Dogs.”)
But, of course, while WKRP showrunner Hugh Wilson was able to license bits and pieces of so many great songs for the original run, it proved prohibitively expensive for syndication, and even a box set of the first season by Shout! Factory wasn’t able to license everything — Pink Floyd were, of course, prohibitively expensive — and so a great great joke is essentially gone forever, at least officially. Luckily, the powers that be haven’t seen fit to scrub it either from YouTube, or my memory.
Jesus, that’s a Black Mirror episode, isn’t it? Where they somehow scrub memories of references to things in now unlicensed contexts, as well as memories of songs that are currently out of print.
Anyways, at least for now, “Dogs” still exists in both my memory as well in out in the world. As the longest track of my second-favorite Pink Floyd album — and the last great record they made, in my opinion (foreshadowing!) — it does a lot of heavy lifting over its multiple parts.
The opening is a melange of David Gilmour’s acoustic guitar and Richard Wright’s synth, over which Gilmour sings Waters’ words about the titular dog — a metaphor, natch, for an asshole businessman — pulling no punches, because Roger Waters pretty much hated everybody and everything by then.
And after a while, you can work on points for style
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in
This is followed by the breakdown with the dogs barking, and over a reassuringly slow beat, Gilmour plays an even more reassuringly long guitar solo, and follows that with more verses while the music slowly gets funkier and groovier, but then breaks down again with approximately 898,334 repetitions of the word “stone” that causes more dogs to bark, but this time, they’re synthesized guitar dogs, accompanying a long meandery Wright synth solo.
In the end, Water takes over the vocals, as the song speeds back up for a bit, allowing Gilmour to take another cool-sounding solo which resolves into the cool riff that will take “Dogs” into its chilling final section.
Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
Who was broken by trained personnel
Who was fitted with collar and chain
Who was given a pat on the back
Who was breaking away from the pack
(Breaking from the pack)
Who was only a stranger at home
(Only a stranger at home)
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone
Dragged down by the stone
This part has always had such an impact on me, I thought it was much much longer than it turns out to be: only a couple of minutes, and yet a fantastic climax for a song where the seams were — if not quite showing — there if you looked for them. Which is more than I can say about much the music from the original broadcasts of WKRP in Cincinnati.
The “Dogs” scene from WKRP in Cincinnati
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