November 19, 2016

IT'S ALL ABOUT LES:

Turkeys Away: An Oral History (Stephen Bowie, November 21, 2012, Classic TV History Blog)

CLARKE BROWN (radio executive): Hugh first started in the business as an account executive for Burton-Campbell Advertising.  He was about to get fired, and they said, "Wait a minute, don't fire this guy.  This guy could be a great writer."  They moved him into a copywriting position, and he became arguably the best copywriter that's ever been in Atlanta, Georgia.  Later he became the creative director, and ultimately he became the president of the agency.  Then he abruptly left.  He got a divorce, and without a job or anything, he moved to California and ended up almost immediately getting a job with Mary Tyler Moore.

HUGH WILSON: Grant Tinker, who was Mary's husband, let it be known one day in the most casual of ways that if anybody had any show ideas, they should tell him.  I know pilot season [now] is more important than Versailles, but in the day he just said that. Anyhow, I was working on a short-lived show, two seasons, called The Tony Randall Show.  Tony had had great success with The Odd Couple, and we did this.  It never quite worked, but that was what I was doing.  Anyhow, I got this idea for a radio station [series], and I told Grant, and we went over to CBS, and they all said, "Yeah, hey, great."  What was lucky for me was that most of those guys . . . had at one time or another been in the radio business.  I hadn't counted on having that kind of built-in affection for the idea.

So I went back to Atlanta, where I had some real good friends, at what was the number one rocker there, and I sat down with the station manager and told him what was going on.  He was very excited, because it was [about] radio and also because it was good publicity.

CLARKE BROWN: WKRP was based on the radio station WQXI in Atlanta, and there were several characters who were very much based on people at QXI, and the others were sometimes amalgamations and sometimes just completely fictionalized.  I was Herb Tarlek.

HUGH WILSON: Clarke Brown was a salesman at WQXI, and I based Herb Tarlek on him, although Clarke's a pretty cool guy.  But Clarke was dressing in these pretty bizarre polyester outfits back in the day.

CLARKE BROWN: Not to that extreme, but I was kind of known for dressing wildly, mod clothing and so forth.  But he was making fun of me, essentially.  It just made me laugh.

HUGH WILSON: The character of Johnny Fever, he was based on a guy I knew in Atlanta called Skinny Bobby Harper.  That was funny, because he was the morning guy, so Skinny had to get up at four in the morning to get in there.  But he also loved being in the bars at night.  He was like Fever - in the pilot, I said [to Howard Hesseman], "You've got to play it like you're sleepwalking, because you should be asleep by eight, but eight is just when you're going out."

CLARKE BROWN: Jerry Blum was "the Big Guy," Arthur Carlson, and there was another guy that some of his personality was in the character also.  His name was Doug Burton, and he was the Burton of Burton-Campbell.

HUGH WILSON: Jerry Blum was a little bit of Mr. Carlson, and Carlson is actually more of a wonderful man that I worked for in Atlanta advertising.  He was my boss.  He was a great, great guy.

CLARKE BROWN: The location was [changed to Cincinnati] because of its central location, with no accents.  And obviously, "WKRP," "W-crap" was the pun intended.

Hugh kind of worked with me in the mornings.  One day he'd go and sit in the control room, and then one day he'd sit in the sales office, and he absorbed the actual workings of a radio station firsthand in that manner.  Then, of course, he and I were drinking buddies, so he heard every story that was worth repeating over the years.  When Hugh was writing the show, a lot of the incidents were real.

HUGH WILSON: I was allowed to see everything, and then Jerry Blum, the station manager, told me about a promotion - I believe in Texas, and I want to say Dallas, but I'm not sure - in which he threw turkeys out of a helicopter, and they didn't fly.  They crashed to the ground, it was just a horrible disaster, and he wound up losing his job over it.  So I said to him at the time, "Jerry, I think you just won me an Emmy."

CLARKE BROWN: 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 Thankgiving promotion.  We thought that we could throw these live turkeys out into the crowd for their Thanksgiving dinners.  All of us, na├»ve and uneducated, thought that turkeys could fly.  Of course, they went just fuckin' splat.

People were laughing at us, not with us.  But it became a legend.  There were other stories of this nature that were embellished [on WRKP]; that one was really not embellished that much.  Although the turkeys were thrown off the back of a truck, as opposed to how it was depicted on the [show].

HUGH WILSON: I didn't dream up the helicopter.  My memory is Jerry said a helicopter.

CLARKE BROWN: It just ended with, the joke's on us.  And of course, our guys played it up.  It turned out to be a great little unintended publicity gimmick, the fact that it failed the way that it did.  Probably got more mileage out of it being screwed up than had it not been.

HUGH WILSON: Since that time, a couple of people have claimed that story, but Jerry said it was him.  He's the one that said to me, "You know, Hugh, turkeys can't fly."

Posted by at November 19, 2016 8:25 AM

  

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