The Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati was based on a real turkey giveaway that went horribly wrong
Oh, the humanity, indeed!
Watch "Turkeys Away" this Sunday, November 24, at 7:30PM | 6:30C on MeTV as part of A Very Merry MeTV!
Many of the antics that viewers enjoyed on WKRP in Cincinnati were inspired by real events. In the seventh episode of the series, "Turkeys Away," Mr. Carlson conjures up an attention-grabbing Thanksgiving promotion. With the help of Herb and Les, he puts a spin on the classic turkey giveaway and makes the holiday one that won’t be forgotten — for decades to come. WKRP will drop 20 live turkeys from a helicopter.
An idea this original is hard to make up, and creator and co-writer Hugh Wilson insists that he didn’t have to — according to Wilson, this, too, happened in real life. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, he explained, "Jerry Blum, who was the general manager of WQXI [in Atlanta], told me that he had been fired from a Texas station for throwing turkeys out of a helicopter. I said to Jerry, 'You just won me an Emmy. That’s really funny.'"
Wilson's longtime friend Clarke Brown corroborates his story, fanning the flames of this wild holiday tale. In an interview with CBR.com, Brown said, "The turkey drop was actually a real incident. It was at a shopping center in Atlanta; I think it was Broadview Plaza, which no longer exists. It was a Thanksgiving promotion."
The intention was to share a little holiday cheer with the fans of the station, but there wasn’t much consideration given to the actual logistics of having livestock on hand. "We thought that we could throw these live turkeys out into the crowd for their Thanksgiving dinners," Brown admitted. "All of us, naïve and uneducated, thought that turkeys could fly. Of course, they just went…splat."
Despite this insistence that the story, indeed, true, it has been under scrutiny for years.
Jerry Blum’s son, Gary Blum, claims that much of the tale has been dressed up (forgive the wordplay).
He told CBR.com, "Contrary to growing folklore and mythical embellishment, the actual 'turkey drop' never took place in Atlanta or at WQXI. It was years earlier in the '60s when Jerry was at a station in Dallas, Texas, called KBOX."
Fair enough, the time and place may be in question, but the big question is: was there a helicopter?
"No," Gary said, "There was no helicopter…. For the radio promotion, they did attempt to throw live turkeys out of the back of a pick-up truck in a shopping center parking lot, and yes, it was a mess…."
Whichever version of the story is closest to the truth, one thing is certain: no one can hear the phrase, "Oh, the humanity!" without imagining Les Nessman watching, horrified, as his bumbling boss pushes flightless birds into a waiting crowd.
Maybe the fictional version told in this legendary episode is the one that matters most.