Giving Thanks, TV Style: Thanksgiving with WKRP in Cincinnati and The New Adventures of Old Christine

by Karen A. Romanko

Giving thanks is a lovely concept for a holiday, but in practice, especially in recent years, Thanksgiving has become a pit stop on the way to other things, especially football games and early Black Friday doorbusters (my least favorite term). Yeah, we don't do right by Thanksgiving anymore. But, if TV is any indication, we've been ruining it for a while now, as I realized when considering the hijinks depicted in some classic Thanksgiving episodes.

Rather than coming up with a list of favorites eps, I decided to take a word association approach to the holiday. “What is the first episode that comes to mind when I think of Thanksgiving?” The quick answer for me was “WKRP.” (My husband had the same response when I asked him.) More precisely, I’m talking about “Turkeys Away,” a darkly hilarious 1978 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, wherein radio station manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) decides to run a Thanksgiving promotional giveaway for WKRP, and hides the exact details from his staff (and the TV audience). As the episode reaches its climax, newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) does a live remote, and reports in horror as live turkeys are thrown from a helicopter to a crowd gathered at a shopping center. Viewers never see the ensuing carnage, but rely on Nessman’s reactions and words, as the turkeys hit the ground “like sacks of wet cement.” Les even invokes the Hindenburg disaster when he exclaims, “Oh, the humanity!” Funny stuff, and one of the most memorable Thanksgiving TV episodes ever.

Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) reports on a disastrous turkey giveaway in “Turkeys Away.”

The second show that popped to mind during my Thanksgiving word association game was of more recent vintage, The New Adventures of Old Christine, specifically “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?” (2008). Like most episodes of Christine, this one’s a hoot from start to finish, but we also get the bonus of finally meeting Christine’s oft-mentioned, but heretofore unseen mother Angela (Brenda Blethyn), who is too critical of Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and too close to her grown son Matthew (Hamish Linklater). A motley crew, which includes Christine’s ex-husband (Clark Gregg) and his girlfriend, “New Christine” (Emily Rutherford), arrives for a Thanksgiving overnight at Angela’s, and speculation builds as to why Christine’s father is absent. More than the usual dysfunctional family dynamics ensue, and they reach a crescendo when the guests conclude that Angela must have murdered her husband. (Not to worry--Dad turns up alive.) Leave it to the Kimble/Campbell clan to get Thanksgiving so wrong.

Emily Rutherford, Clark Gregg, Hamish Linklater, Brenda Blethyn, Julia Louis Dreyfus, and Wanda Sykes in “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?”

What's the first TV episode that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? If you draw a blank, you can find an extensive list of Thanksgiving episodes at the Classic TV Database.

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