This clip is comedy gold and watching it should become a Thanksgiving tradition.
“WKRP In Cincinnati” was one of the great sitcoms of the late 1970s, but one episode stands out from all others — the “Turkeys Away” episode that aired in 1978.
A couple of years ago, an article in Vulture covered what may well be the best sitcom Thanksgiving Special that has ever aired.
For those who have not seen it, “Turkeys Away” — which is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes — starts off with a straightforward plot that careens abruptly into dark comedy. Mr. Carlson, who runs the station owned by his wealthy, domineering mother, decides he needs to get more involved in day-to-day operations and comes up with an idea for a publicity stunt that will shine more attention on WKRP, which has recently changed formats from easy listening to rock. But he keeps the details of his plan a secret from his employees, with the exception of Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), the skeezy ad-sales guy who becomes his right-hand man in this Thanksgiving fiasco. As his taste in leisure suits attests, Herb’s judgment is no better than Carlson’s.
In the episode’s second act, as WKRP newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) broadcasts live from the Pinedale Mall, what Mr. Carlson has done becomes clear, in real time, to Les, his colleagues back at the station, and everyone watching WKRP in Cincinnati: Mr. Carlson has chosen to drop 20 live turkeys from a helicopter with a “Happy Thanksgiving from WKRP” banner attached to it, above a busy shopping center parking lot. This … does not go well.
Here is the classic clip:
The article notes that the episode was actually based on a real promotion that was attempted by two stations.
According to this oral history of “Turkeys Away,” not just one true story, but two. Hugh Wilson, the WKRP creator who died last year, said he based the plot on a similar promotion spearheaded by a station in Dallas, while staffers at the Atlanta station on which WKRP was based said they also once threw turkeys out of the back of a truck in a promotion that (shocker) went awry. The fact that two radio stations — and those are just the ones we know about!— actually executed some version of a live turkey drop lends this episode credibility. But what makes it funny is how incredible it is.
The turkeys are never shown, so it’s all through Les’s eyewitness account that we “see” what is happening. (An excellent choice since animal rights activists would’ve had a field day!)
As he gives his report, Les’s tone changes from calm to mild confusion to concern to horror, and finally panic as he realizes what’s happening. “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!” shouts Les as bystanders run past him.
As the chaos surrounds Les, he becomes frantic, and his feed is suddenly cut off. Back in the studio, disc jockey Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) takes control. With a perfectly delivered line, “Thanks for that on-the-spot report, Les. For those who just tuned in, the Pinedale Shopping Mall has just been bombed with live turkeys.”
Later, Carlson and Tarlek return the station looking much the worse for wear and stunned that the promotion didn’t work.
Les, traumatized, also returns and tells the horrific aftermath as bystanders turned on him, and the turkeys mounted a “counterattack.”
Shortly after this is when the very best moment occurs — Carlson’s line at the very end of the episode when he realized his mistake is an absolute classic because it was delivered with such sincerity, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
Have a great Thanksgiving from ClashDaily!