This blog is my entry in The Fifth Annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, which is being hosted by Terence Towles Canote and his site, “A Shroud of Thoughts.” Terence has also written a book entitled “Television: Rare and Well Done – Essays on the Medium”. He writes about TV’s “Golden Age”, westerns, the spy craze of the 1960’s, and a whole lot more. It is available on Amazon.
His page can be found at: www.mercurie.blogspot.com/
The guidelines for this Blogathon stated that the shows being written about must be at least 25 years old, so you couldn’t write about anything after 1994. There are many participating in this blog and you can read their entries here:
To the tube ….
In all honesty, I could have written about countless episodes from countless shows. I may actually try to make it a point to write more about single episodes of shows in the future. For this blog, there were TV episodes that immediately came to mind and the issue for me became “Which one should I write about?” I narrowed the list down to four, and Terence said it was perfectly ok to write about all of them! The shows I have chosen will give you a glimpse of early TV in the 50’s, classic Sci-Fi from the 50’s, and a groovy look at the 70’s.
Three of the four shows that follow are sitcoms. One of the shows is a drama (which I will talk about more before that episode’s write-up). I believe TV Guide once said that a good sitcom needed some specific things: Good characters (even if they are static and predictable), an interesting and relatable plot, structure, believable dialogue, and conflict. The sitcoms I am writing about certainly have each of these things. I’d like to add one more element to this: a pay-off. Like a good joke, some of the most memorable episodes have a great pay-off at the end. Some pay-offs are better than others. Some pay-offs are funny, some are serious, some simply make a point. Watch for each of these elements as you read about my four choices.
The Honeymooners first appeared on TV as a short sketch on the show Cavalcade of Stars on October 5, 1951. When the show moved to the CBS network and became The Jackie Gleason Show in 1952, the sketch continued. It became a full half hour sitcom in October of 1955 and ran for 39 episodes, which are now referred to as “the Classic 39.”
The show was about Ralph Kramden, New York bus driver, and his wife Alice. They live on a tight budget in a rundown apartment. Ed Norton, a sewer worker, and his wife Trixie live upstairs. Ralph and Ed are great friends – they bowl together, belong to a lodge, and work together on “get rich quick” schemes. (If this friendship sounds familiar – yes, this show was the blueprint for the cartoon, The Flintstones!) The first TV episode I am writing about is Show #1 of the Classic 39 – TV or Not TV.
The Honeymooners – TV or Not TV (Originally aired October 1, 1955)
Trixie tells Alice that their TV set is broken, and they need to get a new one. Alice points out that while they are getting their second TV, the Kramdens have never owned one. Trixie suggests that Alice try to butter Ralph up by giving him the “pipe and slippers” routine. She tells her to go out of her way to make him feel special and then, when the time is right, ask him for a TV.
When Ralph gets home, Alice puts the plan in action. She brings him slippers, calls him “sweetums” and “Sweetheart face”, brings him the paper, and is acting more loving than normal. Ralph is immediately suspicious. He figures she is being extra nice so he won’t go bowling or that her mother is hiding somewhere in the apartment. She insists that this is not the case and asks what she can get him to drink. His response is priceless, “Let me have what you’re drinking. I want to get loaded, too!”
Once she feels he is comfortable, she says, “Oh, by the way, Ralph…” to which he immediately jumps to his feet! “Ah ha! I knew there was a ‘by the way’ in there somewhere! What’s ‘by the way’?” She tells Ralph that the Nortons are getting a new TV and wants to know why they don’t have one yet. Alice says that Ralph goes out at night to play pool, go bowling, or go to the lodge he belongs to while she is left to look at the ice box, the stove, the sink, and the four walls of her kitchen. She pleads, “Well, I don’t wanna look at that icebox, that stove, that sink and these four walls. I want to look at Liberace!”
When Ed Norton comes in, Ralph immediately yells at him and calls him a troublemaker. He says that because they are getting a new TV, Alice wants one, too. Ed confesses to Ralph that he was actually hoping that he could borrow some money from him. He tells Ralph that the new TV’s are expensive and he really can’t afford to get a new one and no one will give him any more credit. This is when Ralph gets an idea that leads to the wonderful comedy of this episode.
Ralph says that he can’t afford a new TV and Ed can’t afford on either, so he says they can both pool together their money and buy one together. He says it will solve all their problems. Ralph can still go bowling, Ed can watch his Captain Video shows, and Alice can watch TV while he is away. Ed begins to question why the TV automatically ends up at the Kramden’s house. So Ralph suggests flipping a coin to see where the TV ends up. “Heads I win, tails you lose,” Ralph says. It comes up tails – so Ed loses. Ralph pockets the coin and when Ed suddenly says, “Wait a minute” Ralph thinks Ed has figured out he’s been duped. Nope. He just wanted his coin back.
In the next scene, Ed is in front of the TV watching Captain Video. He is wearing his space helmet, adjusts his disintegrator gun, and recites the Captain Video Pledge. This is the final straw for Ralph. He says that for three days he has watched nothing but “space shows, westerns, cartoons, and puppet shows” and tonight he wants to watch a movie. He turns on a romantic movie and in the middle of it, Ed calls it silly and switches the channel back to Captain Video. Ed then switches it back to Captain Video. It is like two school children fighting back and forth. Ralph finally yells at Ed to “get out” and Ed reminds him that half of the set is his, and if he goes, half the set goes with him.
They finally look in the paper to see if there is something that they both can agree on. They find a boxing match to watch and once it is on it looks “fuzzy”. Ed suggests that Ralph take the antenna and move it around the room. He has Ralph move all over and out into the hallway. One he is out in the hall, Ed locks him out, switches the channel to Captain Video, puts back on his space helmet and listens to Ralph banging on the door!
The next few scenes are among my favorites. We see Ralph in front of the TV dozing off while watching a movie. Alice calls to him from the bedroom and says he needs to get to bed because he has to work in the morning. He shouts back that he is watching The Late Show. He continues to doze and Alice again calls to him. He finally gets up and turns the TV on. His eyes are half closed, and instead of walking through the bedroom door, he walks into the hallway. In a very funny moment, we hear a bunch of crashing and banging. Alice runs out of the bedroom to find Ralph walking back in holding his head. He simply says, “I fell down the stairs.” As they walk in the bedroom, Alice yells at him for staying up late instead of going to bed.
What follows is one of the best scenes in this episode. All is quiet and the door to the Kramden’s apartment opens and in walks Ed. He is in his robe and pajamas and carrying a bag. He turns on the TV and we hear the announcer say, “And now for the Late, LATE, show.” Ed pulls out a huge submarine sandwich from the bag and begins to eat as some scary music plays from the TV. While Ed is eating, there are gunshots and a woman screaming from the TV. Ralph comes flying out of the bedroom and sees that Ed is watching TV. He is furious and tells Ed to get out of the apartment. Ed again argues that he owns part of the set. The argument continues and Alice comes out of the bedroom.
When Ralph laments “Why does all of this happen to me?” Alice reminds him that he is the one who was too cheap to buy a TV and so he conned Ed into going in on a set with him, so he could get one for half price. Alice then says that she doesn’t understand them. She reminds them that they are good friends and they don’t have any troubles when they bowl or shoot pool together. She asks them why they can’t get along now. This, of course makes them both feel awful and they apologize to each other. Ed asks Ralph if he can stay and watch the end of the movie. When Ralph hears about the movie, he pulls up a chair next to Ed. As the movie plays, they both doze off and fall asleep.
Alice returns to the kitchen and finds both men asleep. She gives them both a blanket and says, “I’ve gotta admit it, Ralph. For once in your life, you’re right. We should have never gotten a television set.”
One of the reasons this is one of my favorite episodes is because of the scene where Norton sneaks in to the apartment to watch his movie. Jackie Gleason did not like to rehearse. He read the script and performed it once – when the camera was rolling. When you see this scene, you will notice Art Carney begins to laugh when Ralph comes running out of the bedroom. It was the first time doing the scene together and it cracked him up. It is such a quick moment, and you really have to watch Carney when it happens. The pro that Art was, he is able to recover quickly and finish the scene.
The second TV Episode I am writing about is also an episode of the Honeymooners and was also part of the Classic 39. This episode gives us a look at the Norton’s apartment. Compared to the Kramden’s, the Norton’s look like they are doing much better financially. It is much nicer, it has a much more updated feel, and he has a machine to record records (which had to cost him a pretty penny). We also get to see just how much Ralph and his mother-in-law dislike each other, which is one of the reasons this episode is a favorite of mine.
The Honeymooners – A Matter of Record (Originally aired January 7, 1956)
Ralph is excited that he has two tickets to the Broadway hit play, “Murder Strikes Out.” It is a play that has everyone talking! It has a chills, thrills, and a surprise ending! Ralph is excited because he has always promised to take Alice to a real Broadway show and he can finally do it. He tells her to get dressed because they are going to make a date of it.
Alice asks if the tickets are for that night and Ralph tells her they are. She tells Ralph that she cannot go because her mother is coming over for a visit. He cannot believe that she would give up a night to go to a real show because her mother is coming. She tells him that it is impossible and that she cannot go because he mother is going to arrive any minute. She suggests that Ed Norton go with him. Ed agrees and goes up to change.
Ralph is more and more angry at the thought of Alice not going because of her mother. It is obvious that she and he do not get along with each other. He cannot believe that he is going to the play with a “space cadet” because of her mother. He bad mouths her and Alice says that she knows her mother isn’t the easiest person to get along with and tells Ralph that is no reason to act the way he is. He tells her that he acts that way because “Your mother is a blabbermouth.”
This word is obviously not one that Alice likes at all and tells Ralph to stop calling her that. He replies, “All right, you’re the expert on crossword puzzles. Give me another word for blabbermouth.” He then explains why he dislikes her so much. He tells Alice that from the moment she arrives until the moment she leaves, she’ll be talking about why she should have married one of her other boyfriends, why he is so fat, and why there isn’t new furniture in the apartment. He says she is nosy and “if there is one thing I hate, it’s a nosy blabbermouth!”
With this Alice delivers an ultimatum. “Now listen Ralph. I am warning you for the last time. You call her that once more, and when my mother leaves here tonight, I just might go with her.” Ralph tells her he won’t say a word to her or her mother. Alice says that would be fine because there won’t be any arguments that way. Ralph then asks, “You think because I don’t say a word, there won’t be an argument? I’ll bet you a million dollars that she won’t be in this apartment three minutes before she starts an argument! I won’t have to say a word!”
With this there is a knock at the door and Alice’s mother comes in. As she enters, in a very funny move, Ralph grabs the alarm clock and sets it for 3 minutes. He holds up three fingers to Alice as if to say, “She’s got three minutes!” As soon as mother is in the door, she complains that Alice lives too far from the subway. She slams Ralph by saying that she guesses that they can’t do better with the rent they can afford and how important it is to have a husband who is a provider. She then says that Alice looks think and accuses her of not eating – she even goes a step further to slam Ralph by insinuating that maybe she’s not getting enough of the food in the house. With each little jab, Ralph gets more uncomfortable and rolls his eyes.
Just as predicted, Alice’s mother then begins to talk about an old boy that “used to be crazy” about Alice. She tells him how tall and handsome he is and then jabs at Ralph again saying, “I guess a man doesn’t have to get fat if he doesn’t want to.” She then goes a step further and says “of all the boys you brought to our house, he’s the only one I had any use for.” (Ralph had obviously been to her house – so we have yet another jab at him.)
Alice pours her mother a cup of coffee and asks Ralph if he wants some, but he just grunts (keeping his promise not to say a word). Her mother asks what’s wrong with him, and Alice tells her he is fine and that he is going to the Broadway show. When she tells her mother the name of the show, she brushes it off and simply says “oh that.” Ralph continues to be agitated as Alice’s mother says that her neighbor has seen it. She goes on about how it was supposed to be suspenseful and give you chills and thrills, and then says, “and all that stuff about ‘don’t tell your friends the surprise ending.’ Well it was no surprise to Mrs. Finley (the camera is on Ralph as Alice’s mother is about to spoil the whole thing). She knew the whole time that it wasn’t the uncle who committed the murder – it was the husband!”
What follows is the moment that brings this episode to my list of favorites:
As if on cue, as soon as Alice’s mother ruins the ending of the play, the alarm clock rings. The three minutes are up and Ralph is done. He stands up and slams his hand on the alarm clock to shut it off. He turns to his mother and in classic Jackie Gleason style yells, “YOU. Are a Blabbermouth! A Blabbermouth! You! Blabbermouth!” and then tells her to get out! Throughout his rant Alice is trying to get him to stop. Alice’s mother get’s up and leaves. Ed walks in as Alice walks out.
Ralph tells Ed that Alice’s mother ruined it all for him. He tells Ed the outcome of the play. That doesn’t bother Ed, who still wants to go. When Ralph questions why he’d want to go now that he knows the ending, Ed says he’ll watch it right up to the end and then get up and walk out.
In the next scene, we see Ralph sulking because Alice is still at her mother’s house. She’s been gone 5 days and Ralph is miserable. He tells Ed that if he could find a way to talk to her, he would pour out his heart to her and she’d forgive him. Ed has an idea. He pulls out a recorder and tells Ralph he can record an apology on a record and that way, Alice will know exactly how sorry he is.
As Ralph begins to apologize to Alice. He tells her how miserable he is without her there. He then even apologizes to her mother. As he does so, he says that “she doesn’t mean the things she says. It’s just her nature. She doesn’t mean to be mean. She’s just born that way.” The more he talks about his mother-in-law, the more angry he becomes. It’s like he is reliving the entire moment all over again. As he continues, he gets louder and angrier. “When she spilled the beans about the end of the play, I shouldn’t have got mad at that. I should’ve expected it from her. I know how she is. It’s never gonna be any different Alice! She’s gonna be the same old way, Alice! She’s a Blabbermouth! ….”
Ed jumps in and stops him and asks him what he is doing. He explains that every time he thinks of her mother he flips. He tells him to stop thinking about her mother and to think about Alice. Ed puts his last blank record on the recorder, leaves the room at Ralph’s request and Ralph records a very heartfelt apology. We really see the tender side of Ralph as he records this. When he is done he calls Ed back into the room. Ed begins to cry because he has been listening.
Ralph gives Ed Alice’s mother’s address and he addresses the envelope. Ed asks his wife to hand him the record from the recorder, and she hands him the first record! In the next scene, Ralph is questioning Ed – Did he send it? Did he send it to the right address? He cannot figure out why Alice hasn’t come home. There is a knock on the door and it is one of the members of Ed’s stickball team. He tells Ed that one of the members can’t play the next day because he has the measles. The boy also says that Ed’s wife told him he’d be down with Ralph and that she was upstairs talking to Alice.
Ralph is excited because she is in the building and MUST be coming home. He tells Ed to go back upstairs so he can be alone when Alice comes back. He thanks him for mailing the record. When Alice comes in, she is quiet. Ralph asks if she got the record and says he meant every word. She looks at him and says, “So my mother was born mean, huh? It’s in her nature, huh? Once a blabbermouth always a blabbermouth ….” She tells him she is glad he sent her the record because now she knows how he really feels and leaves. Ralph pleads as she leaves and tells her she got the wrong record. After she is gone, he calls up to Ed Norton to come down. He wants to tell him “how it came out.” As the scene fades out, Ralph is smacking the stick from the stickball boy on the kitchen table awaiting Ed’s arrival.
The next scene opens with Ed entering Ralph’s apartment. Ralph angrily tells him to leave. He calls him a menace and tells him to leave. Ed informs Ralph that Alice is coming back. He took the right record over to Alice’s mother’s house and played it for her. He tells Ralph that she cried and cried and forgives him. He tells Ralph that she is on the way home, and will be bringing him a steak for dinner.
There is a knock on the door and it is someone from the Health Department. He asks if there are any children living there. Ralph says no. The doctor explains that there is an outbreak of measles in the building and names off the children who have it – all of who are on Ed’s stickball team. The doctor asks if Ralph has ever had the measles and he says no. He gives him a quick exam and says he has them now, and explains that he probably caught them from hanging around Ed.
When Alice finally arrives home, she is prevented from entering by the Health Department doctor. Ralph begs the doctor telling him that he hasn’t seen his wife in three weeks. Ralph reluctantly tells Alice to go back to her mother’s until the outbreak has subsided. Ed tells Ralph how impressed he is, sending his wife away so she don’t get the measles, especially when he really wants her there. He says how sad it is tat he’ll be there alone to cook and clean. Ralph grabs the stick, begins to slam it on the table and says, “She didn’t leave me with the mess, stickball coach!” and yells at Ed to put on the apron.
I think that this is just another example of a great story and great writing. The story has twists to it (wrong record mailed, catching the measles) and we get to see not only the typical angry Ralph, we get to see the tender side and just how much he and Alice love each other. We also see some wonderful gestures from Ed as Ralph’s friend. It is just a great all around episode with some very touching and very funny moments.
My third pick for favorite TV Episodes comes from the pen of Rod Serling. It also comes to us from The Twilight Zone.
Personally, I think Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone was such a big hit because of the formula it followed. Each episode started with a sort of teaser – something to introduce you to the characters or the situation. This was usually followed by a narration by Rod. You then have “Act 1” which furthers the story and identifies the “conflict”, if you will. “Act 2” the characters try to resolve the conflict, we are led to the climax, and the fake or false resolution and the pay-off/twist at the end.
This is far from original, as many radio shows in the 1940’s followed this same format. You can give a listen to Suspense, The Mysterious Traveler, or The Whistler to find examples of this. Rod, obviously listened to a lot of radio growing up to the radio and was influenced by this. He used some of the same elements as he wrote shows for the Twilight Zone.
If you had to pick a show from the Twilight Zone series that exemplified a “classic” episode, Time Enough At Last would easily be one of the choices. It has characters we connect with and feel for, it has a plot that is believable (and very possible at the time it aired), very real dialogue (Rod was very particular about making sure the words spoken by the actors were genuine), and a very ironic twist at the end.
The Twilight Zone – Time Enough At Last (Originally aired November 20, 1959)
As the story opens, we are introduced to Henry Bemis (played by the amazing Burgess Meredith), a bank teller who sees the world through “Coke Bottle” glasses and loves to read. As a matter of fact, he is reading on the job, and his reading has caused him to not give enough money to his customer. He is so enthralled by the book he is reading, he even asks his customer if she’s read it. He goes on about the characters and the story, but by the time he looks up from the book, she has already left. No one seems to be as interested in the book as he is.
Reading on the job is taking a toll on his work. He is reprimanded by his boss, the bank president who tells him to read on his own time. He is told that is he is caught reading on the job again, he can basically look for another job. Reading is also getting him in trouble at home. His wife detests that he spends so much time reading and has basically told him it is not allowed at home. His wife is a real witch who says that when he is reading he is “sacrificing conversation”. (In all honesty, she isn’t very pleasant and I can’t imagine conversation with her being pleasant either.
She tells Henry that they are going to visit friends. He grabs a book from under a couch cushion and sticks it in his jacket pocket. His wife asks him what is in his pocket and he acts like he has no idea. It is a book of poetry. She asks if he would like to read her something from it. He gets excited that she is interested to hear poems and he opens the book to find that she has gone through with a pen or pencil and scribbled out every word on every page of the book. He is visibly upset by this and she grabs the book and rips out the pages and throws them on the floor. He drops to the floor and begins to scoop them up.
I love the opening narration from Rod Serling:
“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself – without anyone.”
The next day, we see Henry look at the clock, grab his book and newspaper, put up his “this window closed” sign, and he heads off to read at lunch. We see him walk to the basement, he enters the bank vault, pulls the door shut and sits down to read. The newspaper headline foreshadows what is to come: “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”
While in the vault, Henry is knocked unconscious by a huge shock wave. When he wakes up, he walks upstairs to find total desolation. The bank is in ruins there is complete destruction. As he wanders outside, we hear the eerie sounds of howling winds and see a smoldering landscape.
As he wanders through what is left of the world, the Rod Serling narration returns:
“Seconds, minutes, hours, they crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness, a neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox that was once his house and now is rubble; they lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more. Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight hour tour of a graveyard.”
As he continues to walk and examine the rubble, he finds what is left of his mailbox. He calls to his wife, but there is no answer. It is becoming more and more obvious that he is the last man on earth. On the bright side, there is plenty of food. There are cans of food available in the remains of grocery stores. Sadly, he is alone. He even states that the “worst part” is “being alone”.
As time continues to pass, despite Henry telling himself that it’s ok, he is desperately searching for someone – anyone! He wants to find something to do and someone to do it with. He stumbles on what is left of a sporting goods store and on the ground he sees a revolver. He thinks of the terrible loneliness, picks up the revolver and decides to commit suicide. As he puts the gun to his head, and notices in front of him the remains of the public library.
He runs to find books – hundreds of books! He picks them up and reads off titles and authors. He has hit the jackpot! He can get lost in the stories of romance, adventure, and more! There is no one to tell him whether he can or cannot read! No one is there to tell him what to read and what NOT to read! He has found the mother load of books and they are all his for the reading!
He stacks the books into piles. He has 12 piles for every year. Each pile contains the books that he will read for that month. He has piles for years to come. He has planned it out and is excited to know that he will be able to spend the rest of his days lost in books. He was a man who never had enough time to read. As he sits on the library steps he says that “the best thing is there’s time. There’s all the time I need. All the time I want. Time. Time. Time! There’s time enough at last!”
We see Henry Bemis in a moment of perfect jubilation, and it all changes in the blink of an eye. He sees a book on the stairs, and as leans down to reach for it, his glasses fall from his face and the lenses break. He searches for them with his hands and eventually finds the frames. He lifts them up and the lenses, which are cracked, fall out and fall to the ground. In the classic Twilight Zone twist, Henry says simply, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!” He bursts into tears, surrounded by books he will never be able to read.
As powerful as this is, what makes the ending even more powerful is the final narration of Rod Serling:
“The best-laid plans of mice and men – and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis – in the Twilight Zone. “
It’s interesting to note that the final narration may be a tip of the hat to actor Burgess Meredith’s acting credits – he was in the 1939 movie “Of Mice and Men”. Rod Serling must have liked him as he, and Jack Klugman each starred in 4 episodes of the series. He is also in the episodes Mr. Dingle The Strong, The Obsolete Man, and Printer’s Devil. he also appears in the Twilight Zone movie.
Why is this one of my favorite TV episodes? To me it is just perfect. I don’t care how many times I see it, I am always blown away at the ending – and ending that I know is coming, and yet, still love it. It is a masterpiece!
My final entry to this blog is a selfish one. For 30+ years, I worked on the radio as an on air personality. So I guess it makes sense to give a nod to one of the greatest “radio” oriented TV shows, WKRP in Cincinnati. This sitcom is funny to watch whether you work in radio or not. It’s a bit funnier if you work in radio, because you truly know someone just like each of the characters of this show!
While in radio, I worked as a Program Director (Andy Travis’ job on the show), Promotions Director, Music Director, Assistant Program Director, Production Director, and even held the position of General Manager (Arthur Carlson’s job on the show) for a short time. Usually, the Promotions Director and the Program Director get together to come up with an promotional idea for the station – usually a giveaway or something like that. A Salesperson (Herb Tarlek on the show) then goes out to find a sponsor to tie in with the promotion. It is then executed on the air with the personalities (Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap on the show).
This episode made my list of favorites because, first of all, it has all the great things that a good sitcom should have (mentioned above), second, I’ve had to deal with radio promotions that didn’t go as planned, the pay-off of this episode is one of the greatest in television, and finally, the premise of the show is based on a real event! Over the years, the origins are not quite clear, but MOST of the stories say that a radio executive named Clarke Brown who said that an Atlanta radio station did a similar promotion where the turkeys were given away.
As I stated, the pay-off to this episode is so good, it really is the reason why it makes all the “best of” lists. The story is a slow go to get there. The first act of the episode sets up the premise and it isn’t until halfway through the show that we start to see where it is going and finally get to the pay-off.
WKRP in Cincinnati – Turkey’s Away (Originally aired October 30, 1978)
General Manager Arthur Carlson just wants to be a part of things. His mother owns the radio station and he is managing it. He is nosing around the on air studio, he is asking questions of everyone and Program Director, Andy Travis is hearing all about it. “You gotta do something about Mr. Carlson…”
The station had just recently flipped formats to a rock format, and Mr. Carlson is starting to feel left out of the day to day operations, and a bit unappreciated. He seems to be up in everyone’s business. We learn that Mr. Carlson has come up with a Thanksgiving promotion and only he and Herb know about it. There is a lot of concern among the staff, but Andy is ok to let Mr. Carlson have his promotion.
As the stage to the second act is set, Les Nessman, WKRP’s newsman has now been brought in to go to the spot where the “event” will happen and broadcast live. We still don’t know what the secret promotion is! We just know it will be big and Les will do a play by play.
The pay-off begins when Les begins his broadcast from the Pinedale Shopping Mall. As he begins to broadcast, we see Dr. Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap, Andy Travis, and Bailey Quarters in the studio listening to the broadcast. Les begins by saying:
“I’m here with hundreds of people who have gathered to witness what has been described as perhaps the greatest turkey event in Thanksgiving Day history. All we know for sure is that in a very few moments there are going to be a lot of happy people out here.”
It is obvious by his play by play that he has really no idea what is about to happen either. He says he hears the sound of a helicopter. Andy is also intrigued as he asks those around him, “A helicopter?”
In a very funny moment, Les says there is something being pulled behind the helicopter. It is a banner. “and it says H a p p y… T h a n k s… giving… from W… K… R… P!” What is funny to me (as a radio guy) is that he reads it, and even though he works for the station, he drags out the call letters one at a time…..” Even the people in the studio at the station are trying to help him drag out the call letters!
Note: The Hindenburg was a huge airship that literally exploded and the disaster was broadcast on radio. When the writers wrote Les’s broadcast, they had that broadcast in mind.
For what happens next, here is the script of Les’s broadcast courtesy of http://www.imdb.com:
Les Nessman: “What a sight, ladies and gentlemen. What a sight. The ‘copter seems to circling the parking area now. I guess it’s looking for a place to land. No! Something just came out of the back of a helicopter. It’s a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air… There’s a third… No parachutes yet… Those can’t be skydivers. I can’t tell just yet what they are but… Oh my God! They’re turkeys! Oh no! Johnny can you get this? Oh, 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! Everyone’s running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Folks, I don’t know how much longer… The crowd is running for their lives. I think I’m going to step inside. I can’t stand here and watch this anymore. No, I can’t go in there. Children are searching for their mothers and oh, not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don’t know how much longer I can hold my position here, Johnny. The crowd… (Silence)”
Richard Sanders, who plays Les, is brilliant in this scene. You can totally see the horror in his face as he realizes what is happening. That, along with his wonderful read of the dialogue, makes this a very believable story!
Johnny Fever, in shock as are the rest of the staff in the studio, turns on the microphone once he realizes they have lost communication with Les and in a brilliant live ad-lib says:
“Thanks for that on-the-spot report, Les. For those of you who’ve just tuned in, the Pinedale Shopping Mall has just been bombed with live turkeys. Film at eleven.”
We then see Jennifer, Andy, and others fielding complaint calls. Les walks in and he is stunned and in a state of shock.
When asked what happened, Les replies:
“I don’t know. A man and his two children tried to kill me. After the turkeys hit the pavement, the crowd kind of scattered but, some of them tried to attack me! I tried to jam myself into a phone booth. Then Mr. Carlson had the helicopter land in the middle of the parking lot. I guess he thought he could save the day by turning the rest of the turkeys loose. It gets pretty strange after that. ”
When Mr. Carlson and Herb walk in to the station, they look like they have been through hell. Their clothes are torn, there are feathers on them, and they look disheveled. Mr. Carlson is in disbelief! He tells the staff that he doesn’t understand how it didn’t work. He tells them that he had planned it out down to the last detail. He went as far as to say, “It was perfect!”.
Mr. Carlson and Herb walk into his office and the rest of the staff continue to ask Les about what happened. Terrified, Les says that it was like the turkeys mounted a counter attack and were “organized”. The credits of the show begin to appear on the screen and then we have the classic pay-off. Carlson emerges from his office and says the ten words that make this episode a classic:
“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”
As I said, it was a slow build up, but the pay-off remains one of the most quoted lines from the show. As mentioned earlier, the episode is based on a real radio station event. In real life, the turkeys were thrown off trucks to listeners, and sadly, the results were about the same.
I chose these episodes after thinking on it for about 5 minutes. In that time I came up with about 15 episodes and narrowed it down to these. After I made the decision, I realize that I could have written about my favorite episodes of Perry Mason, Sanford and Son, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, The Monkees, and the list goes on and on…. These were just the ones that hit me immediately. I suppose it is nice to know that I will have a few in the bank for next year’s blogathon.
I want to thank Terence for indulging me and allowing me to write about four episodes instead of one. Thank you for reading!
How about you? What is YOUR favorite classic TV episode??