7 Fun Facts About the WKRP Turkey Drop Episode

October 28, 2018

WKRP Turkey Drop

It would be natural to assume that only Tristate residents, and maybe those who used to live in the area, are really the only ones obsessed with the WKRP in Cincinnati episode “Turkeys Away,” because it takes place here.

However, ask sitcom fans across North America what some of their favorite all-time episodes are and “Turkeys Away” invariably makes the list. Here are 7 fun facts about one of the single best episodes of any sitcom ever.

1. It originally aired before Halloween

“Turkeys Away” debuted on October 30, 1978. It was as only the 7th episode ever of WKRP in Cincinnati, which is pretty amazing. Think about other great sitcoms like M*A*S*H, Taxi, Seinfeld, Cheers, and Friends. It took those shows at least a half a season, if not a full season, to find their legs. WKRP hit the ground running. Need further proof? Episode 4 is the very hilarious “Hoodlum Rock.”

2. For long time, a good chunk of the episode had been cut out.

Like any great sitcom, WKRP went on to have a successful run in syndication after leaving network TV. However, after a few years it was pulled because the licensing for much of the music used in the show, mostly contemporary rock songs, had expired.

A DVD release of Season 1 in 2007, which included “Turkeys Away,” attempted to replace the music in question, or simply cut out whole scenes to avoid using it. The latter happens in “Turkeys Away,” most notably when Mr. Carlson walks into the DJ booth while Johnny is playing “Dogs” by Pink Floyd.

A new DVD release in 2015 recovered about 85 percent of the music. The episodes currently running on MeTV (5.2 and 7.2 locally) are the updated episodes, meaning Mr. Carlson is once again asking Johnny, “do I hear dogs barking on that?” To which Fever replies, “I do...”

3. It’s based on a true story

The entire series is loosely based on Atlanta radio station WQXI. WKRP creator Hugh Wilson had worked in advertising in Atlanta and had several friends at the radio station. After WKRP got the green light from CBS, Wilson went back to Atlanta and hung out at the station where he observed how it ran and also collected several stories. One such tale was about a failed turkey giveaway the station attempted at an Atlanta shopping center in which the birds were tossed from the back of a truck. For years Gary Burbank told listeners about a station in Texas that tried a similar stunt. No turkeys were hurt in either case, but several radio careers were slightly damaged.

Ironically, Atlanta's WQXI for most of the 1970s was an oldies station, while the fictitious WKRP was much hipper playing both classic and contemporary rock & roll.

4. The episode was written by WKRP’s engineer, but not really

Bill Dial, a writer and story editor, is credited with writing the episode. Dial also makes two appearances during the series’ run as station engineer Bucky Dornster but does not appear in “Turkeys Away.”

In later interviews, Wilson revealed that he had actually written the entire script. “As God as my witness...” was something his grandmother used to say.

5. That last line isn’t the only hilarious one in the episode

It is perhaps the most quoted line from any sitcom ever: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” says Mr. Carlson after he and Herb return to the station following the ill-fated promotion.

The episode has been described as a slow burn by many, as it builds up to that huge line. In an interview with Cincinnati CityBeat back in the 1990s, Gordon Jump, who played Mr. Carlson, said: “it was twenty-minutes of great writing to set that line up.”

And that’s what people sometimes forget. The whole episode is hilarious and has an underlying theme. It’s not merely a long set up for a single punchline. Mr. Carlson, the station manager, feels left out of the station’s day-to-day operations and comes up with the crazy promotion to feel more involved and several funny scenes and jokes are derived from that.

Les has arguably the second-best line, uttered as Johnny, Bailey, Andy, and Venus listen to his report in the DJ booth. A puzzled Les, suddenly realizing what’s happening, exclaims, “Oh, my God! They’re turkeys!” Later he describes the birds hitting the ground like “sacks of wet cement.”

6. The shopkeeper who rudely shoos Les away from his storefront was the writing partner of Richard Sanders (who played Les).

The only guest star in the episode is Michael Fairman who plays the owner of a shoe store. He asks Les, who is standing by the shop’s door to move. Fairman was a working actor and perennial guest star at the time and continued to be a work steadily for years after WKRP,  appearing on shows such as Knight Rider, Cheers, Murder She Wrote, Cheers, JAG, Monk, Firefly, and many more. He appeared in several movies as well and
co-wrote 5 episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati with Richard Sanders..

7.  Turkeys CAN fly

Wild turkeys that is. Turkeys were domesticated some 2000 years ago in Central Mexico. In the process, their ability to fly was lost. Their wild cousins still maintain that ability today. Often nesting in trees can only attain flight in short bursts, though they can briefly reach speeds of up to 55 mph.

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