WKRP Thanksgiving: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”

This is the classic first-season WKRP in Cincinnati Thanksgiving episode, in which the goof-balls running the station — the station manager, the weatherman (Les Nessman) and the sales manager (Herb Tarlek) — take part in the turkey-day stunt of the ages — tossing live birds out of a helicopter onto a crowd gathered at a shopping mall as a “gift” for Thanksgiving Day.

You can imagine how that worked out. The great acting and writing make this episode really special. (For those who forgot, the crowd gathered in the studio are the drive-time DJ “Dr. Johnny Fever”, the nighttime smooth-voiced DJ “Venus Flytrap”, plus the ladies — cute-but-nerdy Bailey Quarters and the secretary who actually runs the station, played by the very blonde, very smart Loni Anderson).

WKRP is one of the great post–Mary Tyler Moore Show, post–Bob Newhart Show productions that MTM made after those first two successes. The creator Hugh Wilson, by the way, also wrote and directed the darkly funny Rustlers’ Rhapsody (for you fans of small dark funny films).

First the key scenes, in a decent video version (4 minutes):

Now the setup to the key scene (in a version that’s not so well taped; 12 minutes).

Genius.

About Rustlers’ Rhapsody, it contains one of the great lines in all film. The premise is that there’s a movie “good guy” cowboy type (a Gene Autry, with all the nice clothes and shooting skill), set in the real world of gritty westerns and truly dangerous bad guys. So how does a movie Good Guy get along in the real world? Well, one problem is the clothes, and we see that he actually carries a large wardrobe wagon with him of identical costumes, all clean and fresh.

The real-world bad guys can’t defeat him because of his shooting skill — he really can shoot guns out of people’s hands — plus a bunch of other abilities, so they hire a fake Good Guy to make friends with our hero and undermine his confidence.

How does he do it? Like this. They’re sitting by the campfire one night — the real Good Guy (Rex) and the fake Good Guy (Bob) — and Bob says this to Rex (my approximation; can’t find the exact quotes):

Bob: To be a real Good Guy, you have to be a confident heterosexual.

Rex: Really? I thought it was just a heterosexual.

Bob: No, you have to be a confident heterosexual.

Rex: Oh. (Silence)

For the next chunk of the movie, Rex’s skill is gone; he’s useless as a Good Guy. Genius film. Hugh Wilson, ladies and gentlemen; one of the unsung greats.

Happy Thanksgiving!

UPDATE 1: Regular commenter BeccaM has a link to the full Hulu episode in good video. Enjoy!

UPDATE 2: Thanks to commenter FatRat, we have the real “confident heterosexual” scene. Thanks! (Missed it by that much…)

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • Peter

    This may be based on real events in Texas where as I remember it they used to fly a bunch of live turkeys over a state park, kick them out and let the hunters down below blast away at the falling birds. Some were hit and some got away to live in the forest. But even in Texas they have those people who thought this was cruel treatment of the poor helpless birds. The ASPCA joined in the howl and so the next year when the time came they threw frozen turkeys out the door of plane. A frozen turkey doesn’t have wings, makes a harder target and kind of leaves a smile The hunters mostly ran for their lives. A couple of the frozen missiles went through a roof and that was the last time they tried it, There was a bit of a ruckus about the stunt but they didn’t suffer any more comments from the ASPCA.

  • ComradeRutherford

    WKRP was hilarious!!! And that was one of the funniest episodes!

    “They’re hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!”

    “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

  • fletcher

    And based on reality. The Antenna TV Facebook page noted that creator Hugh Wilson based the episode on a real promotion staged by an Atlanta radio station years before while he worked there. Art imitating life, only replayed as humor.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    The comments are reopened for this post.

  • http://fighttherightwingnuts.blogspot.com/ mike31c

    One of the BEST episodes ever on TV!

  • HelenRainier

    I rewatched this segment and the lead up to it on youtube the other day and was laughing so hard my stomach hurt and tears were rolling down my cheeks. It is class comedy at its best. WKRP was such a great show. BTW, Howard Hesseman aka Johnny Fever was in the original Billy Jack movie from the late 60s.

  • Naja pallida
  • theoracle

    One of my favorite WKRP episodes. I also busted my gut laughing over numerous “Married With Children” episodes, including one of their Christmas specials, a variation of the WKRP “flying” turkeys Christmas special, in which a drunken Santa dropped by helicopter is supposed to skydive into the parking lot of a local mall, but instead is blown off-course, his chute doesn’t open and he crashes in the Bundy’s backyard tree…with his bag of mall coupons landing on the Bundy’s roof. Fun and hilarity ensue.

  • FatRat

    You’re welcome and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  • GaiusPublius

    Huge thanks, FatRat. Thanks; linked above.

    GP

  • FatRat

    Bar scene
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZeS1b4QSVk&feature=player_detailpage#t=168s
    BOB: Hey, you young’uns shouldn’t be hearing language like that! Get on back to school! Obey your teachers and study real hard! [to Rex] Nice work. I also understand you’re 31, single, and don’t even date.
    REX: Just what are you getting at?
    BOB: Nothing. Except we both know that to be a good guy, you’ve got to be a confident heterosexual.
    REX: A what?
    BOB: A confident heterosexual.
    REX: Uh … well, of course I know that! Everybody knows that! Now come on and draw, I’m gonna shoot you in both hands!
    BOB: All right. Since both of us are good guys, neither of us can draw first. I’ll count down from five. 5 … 4 …
    REX: Confident …
    BOB: 3 …
    REX: Did you say, a confident heterosexual?
    BOB: Yes.
    REX: I thought it was just a heterosexual.
    BOB: No, no, it’s definitely a confident heterosexual.
    REX: Oh. I didn’t know that.
    BOB: Mmmm. Well, don’t worry, I’m just gonna shoot the guns out of your hands.
    REX: I’d rather you shot me in the heart.
    BOB: You know I can’t do that. 5 … 4 …

    REX: Confident …

    BOB: 3 … 2 …

    REX: Uh, listen, Bob, I can’t fight you today. Maybe tomorrow. Or Thursday. Yeah, Thursday’ll be good. I’ll see you then.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Here’s the Hulu full episode version, in case anyone cares to see it. There are commercials, but it’s the entire show and in good qualify video.

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/322

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