Hugh Wilson — the creator of the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, who was also a director and an Emmy Award-winning writer — has died at 74.
Wilson died Jan. 14 at his home in Charlottesville, Va. His wife, Charters Smith Wilson, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he had been battling lung cancer and emphysema.
Wilson began in television by writing scripts for The Bob Newhart Show and The Tony Randall Show.
In 1978, he created WKRP, which chronicled life at a struggling radio station after a new program director arrives.
“Wilson exec produced all 90 episodes of WKRP, including the legendary Thanksgiving-stunt-gone-wrong “Turkeys Away,” which TV Guide ranked among its “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.”
“In a 2015 interview with the Archive of American Television, Wilson recounted how the ridiculously funny turkey episode was based on a true story. ‘Jerry Blum, who was the general manager of WQXI [on which WKRP was based], told me that he had been fired from a Texas radio station for throwing turkeys out of a helicopter. I turned to Jerry and said, “You just won me an Emmy.” ‘ ”
But Wilson didn’t win an Emmy for WKRP. His Emmy came in 1988 for writing “The Bridge” episode for the CBS series Frank’s Place, which he created for WKRP alum Tim Reid.
Wilson also worked in movies, directing the first Police Academy, starring Steve Guttenberg. While he directed and co-wrote that first movie in the franchise, he didn’t direct any of the sequels.
He also directed the films Guarding Tess, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage, and The First Wives Club, with Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler.
The New York Times reports Wilson eventually left Hollywood:
“After moving to Virginia from Los Angeles in 1992, Mr. Wilson sometimes taught screenwriting at the University of Virginia. A few years ago, he said, he tried to get back into television, floating a show idea in Hollywood, but got nowhere. He said he fully understood why no one was interested in an aging TV writer, even one with his résumé.
“I know the feeling,” he said. “When I was working on ‘KRP’ or ‘Bob Newhart,’ if some ‘I Love Lucy’ writers came in and wanted a job, we’d go, ‘Please; you’re so done.’ So what goes around comes around.”