“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” – Arthur Carlson, General Manager of WKRP, a fictional radio station in Cincinnati.
It’s Thanksgiving , and I just watched this episode again and it makes me laugh at how it wonderfully pens human nature which tends to be full of lofty, sometimes monetarily-induced, intentions but short on planning.
Even the theme song is memorable.
Baby, if you’ve ever wondered,
Wondered whatever became of me,
I’m living on the air in Cincinnati,
That, and my mother-in-law thinks it is the funniest show she has ever seen. She can start explaining it and then becomes unintelligible from laughing at herself in mid sentence.
That immortal quote came from one of the best episodes of situational comedy ever to grace the airwaves of prime time television. It’s from the “Turkey Away” episode from 1978.
The show itself centers on a lovable and dysfunctional staff at a radio station that struggles to maintain a viable share of the listening market. It was a perfectly cast ensemble featuring the iconic “Johnny Fever” (Howard Hesseman), “Venus Flytrap” (Tim Reid), Less Nessman (Richard Sanders), Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), and Gordon Jump as Mr. Carlson.
The aforementioned episode concerns an elaborate marketing stunt that is high on expectations but low on research. Mr. Carlson wants to have a “turkey drop” dispensing free turkeys to families at Thanksgiving by dropping them out of a helicopter. The station would then have it’s own news reporter, Less Nessman, cover the story.
Makes sense – the thought of helping people with providing turkeys and getting great publicity. A no-lose situation. You can see that episode online here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/322 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Zuj3dwZl64 .
Nessman’s reporting of the turkey drop is priceless. What was supposed to be an act of goodwill toward men turned into an aviary apocalypse. According to Nessman, the live turkeys were falling “like bags of wet cement” upon the unsuspecting people below creating a cacophony of confusion and literal tower of Babel.
A plan with good intentions executed without proper vetting.
It reminds me of how many in government and business want to enact reforms and enact them without properly researching and analyzing all the factors involved. This is especially true in North Carolina.
Think of the Innovative School District. Establishing a district controlled by outside companies to administrate the education of children they do not know and controlling tax dollars of people who will have no say in how these schools are run. Proponents of the ISD district recite their good intentions as well as the need to save students from schools they could just as easily help with state-run turnaround programs. These proponents also dismiss all of the contrary evidence to their claims, especially that ISD’s (ASD’s – Achievement School District) have never improved outcomes where they have been implemented before.
It’s like throwing live turkeys out of a helicopter.
Think of the rapid rise of charter schools, especially in rural areas. In an effort to “save students from failing schools,” those in power have allowed for unregulated charter school growth to occur on the backs of the very taxpayers whose children will not be able to attend. Furthermore, no empirical evidence exists that shows charter schools perform better than traditional schools on a wide scale.
More flightless birds thrown out of a flying machine.
Think of the Opportunity Grants that are supposed to allow low-income students to receive a grant to go to a private school of their choice. Another example of “good intentions.” However, private schools can create their own admission standards and protocols. In addition, there are not many private schools of reputation that only cost $4200 in tuition fees. Also, many of the private schools that receive Opportunity Grants are religious based schools that already operate as part of a non-taxed entity and can teach curriculum that is designed in direct opposition to the curriculum that traditional schools must follow by law.
Beware of more birds!
While the comparisons between the reforming efforts of the North Carolina General Assembly and the “Turkey Away” WKRP episode are not %100 congruent, they are solid nonetheless. For instance:
- “Good Intentions” sometimes are nicely veiled acts of greed and power grabbing. WKRP was looking for ratings as are members of our state government.
- Self-reporting your own accomplishments almost always is positive, but many times misleading. Less Nessman has a flair for the dramatic. Proponents of school reforms have touted results that just do not exist.
- Looking at what the research says, these reforming measures should have never taken place. Vouchers have never really worked, charter schools have not shown improvement, and ISD’s have a terrible track record. Mr. Carlson never bothered to see if turkeys could fly.
I will admit that there are some differences. When the turkeys dropped in the television episode they came down like “bags of wet cement.”
And it sounds like bags of… well, you get the picture.