31. "Turkeys Away," WKRP in Cincinnati (1978)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
The highlight of "Turkeys Away" is a stand-up routine that could have been on The Ed Sullivan Show or on a 1960s comedy record. Les Nessman's narration of live turkeys being pushed out of a helicopter and "hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement" is similar to the absurd situations described by the deadpan Bob Newhart on his "Button-Down Mind" albums — with the big difference that Nessman (Richard Sanders) goes for an overwrought "Hindenburg" delivery of the news.
"Turkeys Away" is still a hugely popular episode (third-highest video result if you Google "turkeys," below "Turkey Dubstep"), despite its staginess and the middling success of WKRP in Cincinnati. It's a rare example of sitcom classic based on viewers' mental images of an event that's never shown on screen.
The "tell, not show" approach is apt for a sitcom about a radio station, but I don't think Les Nessman is what CBS had in mind when it put WKRP on its schedule.
Mr. Carlson: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.