Writer, Director, Producer
In the entertainment industry, writer/director/producer Hugh Wilson’s name is synonymous with comedy, though in the late ’90s, he turned to more dramatic subject matters. Although Wilson spent the latter part of his 20-plus-year career primarily involved in feature films, such as the hit First Wives Club (1995) (starring Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton), Wilson is perhaps best known for his television work, notably as the creator and executive producer of the hilarious sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982) and the Emmy-winning comedy/drama Frank’s Place which he created with former WKRP star Tim Reid.
A native of Miami, Wilson started out working as a major contributor to a newsletter for the Armstrong Cork corporation. There he met Jay Tarses and Tom Patchett. Years later, Tarses and Patchett became comedy writers for The Bob Newhart Show. Remembering that Wilson too shared a similar gift for comedy writing, they invited him to join their team. By that time, Wilson was working with an advertising firm in Atlanta. He accepted the offer and soon was writing for the classic comedy with his former colleagues.
Wilson also wrote for other shows, proving he had a knack for the medium, and in the mid-’70s became a producer of The Tony Randall Show. In 1978 Wilson agreed to create a new sitcom for MTM helmer Grant Tinker. Basing the premise upon his experiences in radio and advertising in Atlanta, Wilson came up with WKRP. Set in a failing radio station, it chronicled the colorful lives of eight members of the station as they tried to cope with changing the format from elevator music to Top 40 rock & roll. Not only did Wilson create and produce the show, he also served as its head writer.
Frank’s Place ran from 1987 to 1988. Unlike the zany WKRP, this was a low-key and off-beat ensemble piece about a stuffy Boston professor who discovers that his late, estranged father has left him a Creole restaurant in New Orleans. Moments of drama punctuated the funny business. Critics loved the show, but audiences found it puzzling and the series folded after a year.
Wilson’s big break in feature films came when he wrote the script for the low-brow but widely popular Police Academy (1984), which also marked Wilson’s directorial bow. His subsequent film credits include Rustler’s Rhapsody (1985) and Guarding Tess (1994), which starred Shirley MacLaine and Nicholas Cage as a feisty, fussy presidential widow and the Secret Service man assigned to protect her.
In 1997 Wilson made his first foray into a non-humorous project as a script writer on the television miniseries chronicle of President Teddy Roosevelt’s founding and leading of the famous elite cavalry group. The following year, Wilson produced an acclaimed, independent low-budget crime drama, Southie, about a New Yorker who returns to his Boston family and finds them in cahoots with mobsters.