As the holidays approach, feeling nostalgic is more than normal, it’s practically a requirement. It’s okay to feel nostalgic about the things we have seen, done, and moments we have experienced. Of course let’s not forget all the perks we get during the holidays, which include some of our favorite TV shows, movies, and events. Some of the best examples for this include the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Dog Parade, and that time WKRP in Cincinnati had turkeys drop out of an airplane. Oh, you don’t know about that one? Well, have a seat.
In the late seventies, there was a sitcom called WKRP in Cincinnati. The show centered on a struggling radio station (WKRP) and the unique characters who work there trying to keep it afloat having misadventures, after switching the format from easy listening songs to rock and roll. Gary Sandy portrays Andy Travis, Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever, Lone Anderson is Jennifer Marlowe, Tim Reid is “Venus Flytrap”, Jan Smithers is Bailey Quarters and Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner are Les Nessman and Herb Tarlek. The ten-time Emmy nominated show had many funny moments but was overall not extremely popular until later. Going against the likes of Little House on the Prairie which was… well, I mean did you see Michael Landon’s curls?
On this particular “Turkeys Away” episode, which premiered on October 30, 1978, the WKRP’s station manager Arthur Carson (“The Big Guy”) said that he was going to make history. He and a couple of station staff, including the sales manager came up with what they thought was going to be “the greatest promotional idea of all time.”
The idea was for Nessman to be reporting live from a remote location, the Pinedale shopping mall, and “cover” the story. Have you ever been told something you weren’t supposed to know and then had to act surprised later? This was kinda one of those moments. His “reporting” was still pretty funny, he almost had me fooled!
If you passed on the video (which, why??) here’s some of the reporting gold Nessman delivered to us.
“Something just came out of the back of the helicopter. It’s a dark object. Perhaps a skydiver. A second. A third… No parachute yet. Oh my God! They’re turkeys!” They’re crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! The crowd is running for their lives!”
But the even more memorable line when he returns to WKRP’s home base, explaining to the rest of the staff retrospectively, “I thought it would work. I planned it right down to the last detail. It was perfect! … As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” Classic.
Here’s the CRAZY part of this. Some say that art reflects life, others just assume that entertainment is just written by a bunch of people in suits raking in the dough. In this case, the former is true. Hugh Wilson, the show’s director at some point actually worked at a radio station as an advertising executive. And, well, in Dallas, Texas in the 1950s they had their own turkey drop as a thanksgiving promotion, just like WKRP. He was also fired for this.
Originally published November 25, 2019.