Hugh Wilson, ‘Police Academy’ Director and ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ Creator, Dies at 74

Wilson won an Emmy in 1988 for his short-lived series “Frank’s Place”

hugh wilson
New Line Cinema

Hugh Wilson, director of the hit big-screen comedies “Police Academy” and “The First Wives Club” and creator of the hit TV series “WKRP In Cincinnati,” died on Tuesday at age 74, according to family members and media reports.

“WKRP in Cincinnati” ran for four seasons from 1978-82 and followed Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap (Howard Hesseman and Tim Reid), DJs at the titular radio station as it undergoes a rocky transition from a dated easy listening station to contemporary rock under the direction of overworked station boss Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) and his bumbling crew.

Wilson based the show and several of its characters on his own experience working at a radio station in Atlanta.

The sitcom earned ten Emmy nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series; and while the show struggled to find an audience as CBS moved it around the viewing schedule, it earned cult status in syndication, leading to spinoff “The New WKRP In Cincinnati,” in 1991.

After “WKRP,” Wilson found movie success as the director of “Police Academy,” which became one of Warner Bros.’ biggest franchises of the 1980s.

Released in 1984, the comedy starred Steve Guttenberg as a slacker who become a cadet at Chicago’s Police Academy after all fitness and education standards are removed due to personnel shortages in the force.

The film became such a hit that it led to six more sequels — none of which involved Wilson — as well as an animated and live-action TV series.

Wilson then won an Emmy for his work on the short-lived dramedy series “Frank’s Place,” which aired in 1987.

The series saw Wilson reunite with “WKRP” star Tim Reid, who played a Brown University professor cursed to maintain his family’s New Orleans restaurant by a voodoo spell.

“Frank’s Place” received critical praise for balancing humor with its exploration of tougher topics like class and race, as the professor finds himself out of place in New Orleans’ Southern African-American community. Wilson won a writing Emmy in 1988.

In 1996, he directed the hit comedy “The First Wives Club” starring Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton — which became one of the rare female-led hits to gross more than $100 million at the box office.

Wilson’s other credits include the 1999 Brendan Fraser films “Blast From the Past” and “Dudley Do-Right,” as well as “Southie,” and “Mickey.”