A still from the classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode, "Turkeys Away." (Via NYMag)

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How to (correctly) watch WKRP’s “Turkeys Away”

I look forward to two things about Thanksgiving: eating an inordinate amount of sweet potato casserole, and watching the classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode, “Turkeys Away,” from its first season.

If you are unfamiliar with WKRP—the late 70s/early 80s sitcom about a scrappy rock-n-roll radio station—and haven’t seen “Turkeys Away,” read on. No spoilers!

If you think you have seen “Turkeys Away,” there’s a very good chance you actually haven’t seen it properly, the way it originally aired in 1978.

And that’s a big problem, because some of the edited versions circulating online are nothing short of creative violence.

But fear not! I will tell you how to watch “Turkeys Away” in all of its disturbing glory.

Before I go on, here’s what’s leading the Washington Monthly website:

WKRP in Cincinnati has long had DVD and internet streaming challenges because the broadcast TV version routinely used copyrighted music from the original rock artists.

“Turkeys Away” uses three songs: “Dogs” by Pink Floyd, “Fun Time” by Joe Cocker, and “It Came Out of the Sky” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

A 2007 DVD of the first season from Fox Home Entertainment replaced many of the songs—including all three in “Turkeys Away”—with generic music. The collection sold poorly and no other seasons were released.

Then in 2014, Shout! Factory wrangled the rights to use most of the songs and released the complete series on DVD. This was much better received, but still wasn’t perfect. For “Turkeys Away,” the small, superfluous snippets of Cocker and CCR were retained, but not Pink Floyd.

This is a big problem because the scene with “Dogs” is about “Dogs.” It’s not just filler music.

The clueless, stuffed shirt station manager Arthur Carlson (who until recently was running a classical music station) awkwardly tries to connect with the minimally communicative burnout disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever, as the slow psychedelic Pink Floyd track drones in the studio. Carlson asks Fever about the song, hoping to sound cool but clearly confused.

Fox Home Entertainment brutally dealt with the copyright problem by excising most of the scene.

Shout! Factory concocted a similar sounding track, including dog barks. That allowed most of the scene to remain, but still required removing a funny, stilted exchange that used the name of the band. (You can see the Shout! Factory, with the images reversed, at this link.)

Streaming platforms have used the Fox Home Entertainment version. (At least, I’m pretty sure this is the case because only the first season has been available to stream.) It had been available on Hulu and Prime Video, but now I only see WKRP and “Turkeys Away” available for streaming on Apple TV ($10 for the season, $2 per episode).

If your past viewing of “Turkeys Away” has been of the Fox Home Entertainment version, you didn’t just miss a funny scene. You missed a pivotal scene, essential to grasping the depth of Carlson’s disorientation at being suddenly surrounded by rockers.

I say without hyperbole that the “Dogs” scene is the difference between a mediocre sitcom episode saved by a boffo ending, and a pristine work of comedic art.

Outside of buying the pretty good-but-not-perfect Shout! Factory DVD (if you even still have a DVD player) what can you do?

Two options, at least for now:

1) The Internet Archive option: An unedited online version of “Turkeys Away” is available at archive.org, which is just fine for watching on a laptop in bed. But the low resolution probably isn’t great for watching on a large screen with family and friends. (Also, who knows how long this copyright violation will stay online.)

2) The Apple TVYouTube combo option: If you prefer to remain on the correct side of the law, pay the $2 for the Apple TV download.

Then—and here’s the crucial part—stop at the 3:50 mark, watch the “Dogs” scene in this YouTube clip, and pick up where you left off in your legal version.

That’s my Thanksgiving TV tradition. Before signing off for the week, I asked my Washington Monthly colleagues what they plan to watch over the break:

Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris: “My kids and I aim to binge the rest of season two of Reservation Dogs, the brilliant, slightly absurdist FX dramedy about four petty criminal Native American teenagers with vague dreams who are trying to escape the ennui and tragedy of their Oklahoma reservation and the often-dysfunctional adults who love them.”

Executive Editor, Digital Matt Cooper: “I will turn to season 4 of Apple TV’s For All Mankind, the counterfactual series where the Russians are the first to land on the moon in 1969, turbocharging the space race for decades and upending everything from the war of the sexes to politics. (Ted Kennedy canceled his Martha’s Vineyard vacation in 1969 to tend to the lunar crisis following Moscow’s triumph. With no Chappaquiddick, the Massachusetts senator defeats a humiliated Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential race.)”

Editor Will Norris: “I plan to finish Hijack, a new-ish Apple TV 7-part miniseries about a flight from Dubai to London that gets hijacked by a group of British terrorists. Idris Elba plays a passenger who’s trying to outsmart them so he can get back to his son and estranged wife and save everyone on board. The writing isn’t exactly Bergmanesque but it’s good genre fun and Elba is superb as ever.”

Advertising Sales Manager David Greene: “I plan on watching The Crown and the new Fargo over the weekend. Also a new show on Hulu called Obituary, which writers might really enjoy.”

Editorial Projects Consultant Dorian Friedman: “Our tradition is sappy but sacred: The Sound of Music.”

Consulting Editor Haley Sweetland Edwards: “We binged a French language literary thriller called Lupin that was a lot of fun!”

Intern Jacob Indursky: “I’m going to probably binge all of Slow Horses, continuing in the tradition of watching British crime thrillers whenever I’m home. Also as a Boston-area family, in trying to pick a movie each year we just inevitably end up re-watching The Town.”

Intern Marc Novicoff: “Thanksgiving football is my tradition!”

Adam Shapiro (Adam Shapiro Public Relations): “Planes, Trains & Automobiles, a reminder that our infrastructure needed improvement and Biden is delivering!”

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Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.