Thanksgiving episodes don’t quite have the same cache as Christmas or Halloween episodes. If I told you I would give you $100 if you could name five TV episodes that revolved around Thanksgiving in the next two minutes, you would probably walk away empty-handed. Most people over the age of 40 can probably only think of one with a little gentle urging. And only because that episode remains, after several decades, the funniest moment in TV history when it comes to Thanksgiving episodes. Here comes the nudging as you will start to recall these other classic Thanksgiving episodes of sitcoms in TV history.
WKRP in Cincinnati: “Turkeys Away”
The “Turkeys Away” episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” is not just the single most memorable episode of that TV show about a local radio station, but also the apex of comedy when it comes to Thanksgiving episodes. WKRP is a struggling Cincinnati radio station that has just made the switch from old people’s music to rock and roll. In an attempt to drum up some publicity for the station and at the same time reinforce the dominance of the old guard who works there, the station manager and adman work secretly behind the back of the newer young rebels to create a Thanksgiving Day promotion that will never be forgotten. The plan involves releasing live turkeys from a helicopter floating above a local shopping area. The punchline delivers humorously explains why this turns out to be a day shoppers in Cincinnati truly will never forget but for all the wrong reasons: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
The Bob Newhart Show: “Over the River and Through the Woods”
Dr. Hartley is left to spend Thanksgiving alone after Emily decides to take off and visit her parents. Bob is not alone for long, however, as Jerry the dentist, Howard from next door and his most neurotic patient, Mr. Carlin, all show up to keep him company. It doesn’t take long for this hilarious gang of four get drunk. Once they realize that the turkey is never going to get cooked, they turn to ordering Chinese takeout and this is where “Over the River and Through the Woods” rises briefly to the level of “Turkeys Away” as one of the funniest moments in Thanksgiving episode history. You will find yourself thinking of “moo goo goo-goo” every time you order Chinese takeout.
Cheers: “Thanksgiving Orphans”
“Cheers” very nearly manages to get to the level of the classic Thanksgiving episode sphere of “Turkeys Away” with “Thanksgiving Orphans.” Only Diane has plans for the big day, so everybody agrees to show up at Carla’s new house for a potluck. Norm has brought the biggest turkey in Boston which gets nicknamed Birdzilla. As Thanksgiving drags on and Birdzilla shows no sign of getting closer to being done, tensions begin to rise. That situation is not helped by Diane’s arrival in full pilgrim costume after her plans go straight down the dumper. Meanwhile, Norm and his wife Vera started off the day with a big fight. Eventually everyone sits down to dinner and the tension erupts into a full blown Thanksgiving dinner food fight. The punchline here is that for the first time in the run of “Cheers” we get the chance to finally see Vera, who until now has remained only referenced and never seen. The payoff is that when we finally get to see Vera, her face has been obscured as a result of the food fight.
Bob: “Mad Dog on 34th Street”
You may hear some people tell you that Bob Newhart’s third sitcom “Bob” doesn’t measure up. Those people are either idiots or are talking about season two when CBS ruined it. The first season of “Bob” is better than the first season of either “The Bob Newhart Show” or “Newhart” and the fact that CBS tinkered with the premise, overhauled the entire format and ruined the show forever is all the evidence needed to understand that network executives are a special kind of stupid. “Mad Dog on 34th Street” is one of the funniest Thanksgiving episodes of all time with a glorious special guest appearance by comedian Steven Wright as a cabbie put in the driver’s seat of chasing down a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon of his comic book character Mad Dog which has gone errant and is on the loose.