The Greatest Show You’ve Never Seen: Remember WENN

Remember WENN

Remember WENN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best television series you’ve never heard of is Remember WENN.

Remember WENN holds an odd place in television history. It was written, both scripts and music, by Rupert Holmes, an accomplished playwright/author/composer unfortunately somehow known best for the song “Escape,” itself better known as “The Piña Colada Song.” But you might have encountered some of this other work as well, including Drood and Curtains and Say Goodnight, Gracie.

After 56 half-hour episodes (57 if you count a special double-length Christmas episode), new AMC management canceled Remember WENN. This cancellation was perpetrated in strange and devious ways, with AMC running a contest to win a walk-on role in the next season even as the sets were struck. Writer Rupert Holmes and even some of the cast learned from fans that the show was cancelled, as AMC did not tell them directly.

Even today, “What happened to Remember WENN?” is one of the top FAQs on AMC’s web site, more than fifteen years after they denied the series existed by promoting The Lot as “AMC’s first original series!” And AMC has steadfastly refused to release the series on DVD. (I like to imagine there’s some desperate murderous cover-up going on, because why else refuse to profit from a back catalog?)

Like the original Star Wars films, the masters may be lost forever. But Han shot first, and Remember WENN was the best show you haven’t seen.

Carolee Carmello and me

Carolee Carmello and me

WENN is a struggling radio station in Pittsburgh, featuring a Stagecoach-like social mix of cast and crew. (Firefly later boasted a similar cross-section of society, for those who aren’t familiar with Stagecoach. It’s a great character technique.) Aging Broadway star, con artist, organist, clueless handyman, clever writer, mute sound effects genius, and their friends keep the station and their lives afloat through historical and fictional events through the late ’30s and then World War II. The cast featured many notables both as regulars and guest stars — too many to mention, but one of the many Broadway faces was Carolee Carmello, who played Maple the burlesque-dancer-turned-radio-actress and who gets a specific shout-out because I have a photo of us together. Guest stars included everyone from Jason Alexander, Molly Ringwald, and Mickey Rooney to Malcolm Gets, Roddy McDowall, and Patti Lupone.

Remember WENN castThe show, which swung smoothly between hilarious comedy and touching drama, has a remarkably dedicated fan base even today. (No, really — over a decade and a half later, fans still meet weekly to watch and converse live together online.) Yet despite such active demand and continuous requests, AMC still refuses to release the show. What, do they hate money?

Fans were forced to resort to salvaged copies of aged VHS recordings, but you can find episodes online. (Beware, the Wikipedia entry contains numerous spoilers!) You can read more about the series and its stars at Linda Young’s site and Rodney Walker’s.

A nod to WENN

So why do I mention Remember WENN now? Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the show here on the blog, but this is the first time I’ve included it in my fiction.

Con Job (releasing next week) features a number of characters who are angry at being denied the right to view media they love, as licensing corporations choose to limit release or drop shows from their catalogs, leaving no legal way to acquire or view the material and no way for creators or artists to profit from their work. Remember WENN is alluded to as a lost desirable, along with references to other shows unavailable to their fan bases through no fault of their creators. In Con Job, this denial may even be a motive for murder.

(Incidentally, one of my beta readers initially expressed disbelief that a corporation holding the license for sole distribution in North America would neglect to release new episodes for several years. In fact, I reduced that scenario from life — in reality, the distributor for one long-running ongoing series has not released a new episode from anytime in the last decade, but still dutifully sends cease-and-desist letters to anyone trying to acquire or share the show from overseas, circumventing the North American distribution license. We might have a problem with our rights system, folks. First step in fighting piracy is to make the product available for legal purchase.)

I also borrowed two lines of dialogue from Rupert Holmes’ Remember WENN for an acting audition scene, both of which are clearly identified in the book and their use explained. It’s my little homage to a series not given the appreciation it deserves.

Got some time on a pleasant evening? Return to the golden days of radio and browse for an episode of Remember WENN.

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13 Comments

  1. ” the distributor for one long-running series in question has not released a new episode in over a decade…”

    Out of curiosity, what show is that?

  2. That one is a child-detective show from Japan, Meitantei Conan (Detective Conan; he takes his name from Arthur Conan Doyle). I corrected my blog wording which I realized was fuzzy: the show has been running a long time, but the company (Funimation) hasn’t released anything produced in the last 12 years or so. So it’s roughly like someone having the Simpsons license, but not releasing any episodes made since 2002.

  3. Your new book sounds terrific, Laura. I have been working on a Young Adult story taking place in a fannish family, but haven’t had any time to give to it lately.

  4. I’m a long-time college history prof — and therefore old enough to appreciate the AMC series, “Remember Wenn.” No, I’m not THAT old — but close! And it was, without question, one of the best TV shows. Ever. I still remember the abrupt cancellation, and the silence that awaited me when I asked AMC, “why?” Since then, the scholar in me has tried to solve this puzzle, and I confess I still don’t have an answer. One tantalizing “explanation” that refuses to go away: the Clintons hated it (somehow Hillary Clinton was mocked as Hillary Booth) and used their considerable influence to kill it. It’s certainly no less incredulous than a lot of other theories I’ve seen! Bottom line: AMC, please release the series on DVD — and shut up all the conspiracy theorists!

    • I like the Clinton theory. Makes as much sense as anything else AMC offered about the show!

      We beg and we beg, but apparently our money’s not good enough. /sigh/ Thanks for commenting!
      Laura recently posted…History: When Fiction isn’t Whack EnoughMy Profile

      • Those of us who will never see the south side of 70 again are REALLY hopeful that AMC will “do the right thing” and release the series onto dvd. Like a great many fans, I taped the shows when they aired, but lost half the episodes to the ravages of time before I could transfer them to dvd. Still, half a loaf is better than none, right!?

  5. Remember WENN may not make it to DVD, but it will be on the stage in Los Angeles in 2017! Rupert Holmes gave permission this week for the adaptation!

  6. Do you remember the “I am not dead” speech? I have been trying to find it…it was so beautifully written and I would love to be able to read/hear it again. Any suggestions?

  7. It is a great, lovely show. I was a fan of it from the start and by prevailing upon my recently widowed mother to watch just one episode was able to pry her somewhat out of her depression over my father’s death.

    It is idiotic that with a loyal fan base and persisting demand, AMC will not make a DVD set available. It’s almost like a plot device from “Remember WENN itself,” the station held prisoner to Powers Beyond Its Ability to Surmount.

    It’s also like life its own damned self, with something delightful and nourishing to the soul withheld for reasons unknown.

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