Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers out there! While you’re munching on delicious turkey and arguing with relatives you haven’t seen all year, we thought we would bring you a Thanksgiving special from way back in 1978 - a hilarious episode of classic sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’. This episode birthed the now-famous the ’as God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly’ line which has become something of a meme around this time in recent years.
WKRP is one of the pioneering great shows which sparked the great American sitcom boom of the eighties. It featured a gang of incompetent, barely functional individuals trying to keep a struggling radio station afloat in Cincinnati, Ohio. While the entire cast are absolutely fantastic, it is Les Nessman (played by Richard Sanders) who really shines. As a news reporter, he takes his job tremendously seriously - he is a fastidious fuddy-duddy who takes everything far too seriously, which makes it particularly funny when he finds himself is some utterly ridiculous situations, which happens with great regularity.
A clip from the famous episode
The fantastic cast of WKRP in Cincinnati - Les can be seen on the far left of the photo
This is so perfectly illustrated in the show’s very first Thanksgiving Day special. Arthur Carlson (AKA Big Guy, AKA Gordon Jump), the station’s buffoon of an owner who is struggling to come up with ways to keep WKRP alive, has the bright idea to drop live turkeys from a helicopter over a Shopping Mall in what he decides will be the greatest radio station promotion that has ever happened. Unfortunately, he is orthinologically challenged and absolutely believes that these noble creatures will actually gently glide down into the hands of eager Mall shoppers if dropped from a great height.
Of course, no-one can keep the carnage, which will certainly ensue, from happening because Big Guy is keeping his cards close to his chest; so cock-sure is he of his great idea that he is certain other stations would copy him if word was to get out. Sleazy head of advertising Herb (Frank Bonner) procures twenty live turkeys, completely unaware of what they will be used for. Eventually the station employees find out the plan is for a big turkey giveaway, but are still completely in the dark regarding the means of delivery.
Things start off in good spirits outside the Pinedale Shopping Centre...
Les is standing outside the Pinedale Shopping Mall awaiting the arrival of the turkeys. His mic goes live and he begins his broadcast. After a brief on-air scuffle with a disgruntled store owner who’s store entrance he is blocking, Les begins to describe the hundred or so people who have gathered for the giveaway. He explains that there is a helicopter ahead, trailing a ‘Happy Thanksgiving from WKRP’ banner behind it.
Les naively assumes that the helicopter is carrying the turkeys and is about to land and hand out the animals, until he sees something jumping out of the ‘copter. At first he thinks it’s a skydiver; but as more and more objects leave the helicopter and none of them are opening their ‘chute, he suddenly realises that is in fact a bunch of live turkeys plummeting down towards the Mall! Absolute horror and carnage ensues as the poor, hapless creatures become missiles, breaking windscreens and causing a stampede of people who are headed back into the Mall for shelter.
...Unfortunately things take a nasty turn!
What makes it so funny is that we aren’t seeing the carnage, but rather a horrified Les who continues to explain, in depth, the absolute bloody devastation he is witnessing (‘children are searching for their mothers’!) before him. Being a consummate professional, he holds his position until the bitter end, when his mic finally cuts out. After the event, employees back at the station go into damage limitation mode, fielding calls from enraged people, including the Humane Society and the Mayor of Cincinnati.
A clearly mentally damaged Les wanders back into the station, explaining how after the bombing, people began to turn on him and, as Arthur landed the helicopter and released the remaining birds in the hope of saving the day, the turkeys launched a counter revenge-attack on him as well. He hilariously adds ‘it gets a little weird after that’. Here Arthur returns and delivers the immortal line: ‘As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly’, and the episode ends.
'The Pinedale shopping mall has just been bombed with live turkeys; film at 11!' - Dr. Johnny Fever
Incredibly, the episode is based on a true story from a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia called WQXI, where series creator Hugh Wilson used to work. The Mall which was bombed in real life was the Broadview Plaza, which is unfortunately no more. Amazingly, it happened more-or-less exactly as it appears in WKRP. In 1997, WKRQ in Indiana decided to celebrate this classic episode by dropping stuffed turkeys from a helicopter which could be redeemed for actual turkeys, this time over the Grand Victoria Casino and Resort.
For those who know the show, if they were ever to introduce it to someone for the first time they would undoubtedly choose this episode. We highly recommend you hit Youtube and check out this great episode, perfect for watching while digesting all of the delicious traditional National Turkey Day eats! We at Mallrate hope you have a great day, surrounded by nearest and dearest, and celebrate the plethora of things for which we can all be thankful. We also suggest you take the day to relax and get your mind right, for tomorrow is one of the greatest Mall shopping days of the year; but that is another story altogether!