Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The nightmare of writing the Thanksgiving episode

Thanksgiving. I look forward to the holiday, never writing about it. Every sitcom I’ve ever worked on, we’ve had the obligatory Thanksgiving episode. How many variations can you have on the big family dinner going awry? I think I’ve written the “turkey gets burned”, “relatives clash”, “nutty friends invited”, “can’t find a restaurant”, “kids break something”, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner variation, “Meet the Parents variation”,“football gambler loses big”, “tofu turkey substitute”, “someone accidentally gets dragged seven blocks by the Mr. Potato Head balloon”, “mom’s a terrible cook”, “relative accidentally not invited”, “someone is allergic to something in the stuffing and has a funny seizure”, “power outage”, “thawing frozen turkey last minute”, “food fight”, and “the pilgrim re-enactment” episode fifteen times.

Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your BILL ENGVALL SHOW spec script halfway written.

Happy Thanksgiving.

36 comments:

Graham Powell said...

The best Thanksgiving episoed EVAR: "With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your BILL ENGVALL SHOW spec script halfway written.

Still valid for job-seeking at other productions even though it's been cancelled? ;)

Tom Quigley said...

It's too bad that HANK didn't even make it as far as Thanksgiving... At least they may have had a shot at doing one episode that people might remember -- like maybe his wife calls 911 when she thinks that one of their kids has just taken off in a balloon shaped like a turkey that somehow became untethered, and.... Oh, wait -- that's been done...

Bob said...

As good as the WKRP Thanksgiving episode was, the Bob Newhart Show's version was even better. More goo to go!

Mac said...

@ Bob...

"Turn it up to a thousand!"

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I wonder what Phoef Sutton did for his pilgrim series...

Rory L. Aronsky said...

It's too bad that HANK didn't even make it as far as Thanksgiving...

ABC aired their Thanksgiving episode three weeks before the holiday, and I unfortunately watched it because Swoozie Kurtz guest-starred as Hank's mother-in-law, and I am forever devoted to those who were either on "Pushing Daisies," wrote for "Pushing Daisies," was the DP for "Pushing Daisies," or is Bryan Fuller, the creator of "Pushing Daisies."

It involved Hank refusing his brother-in-law's offer of assistance in cooking the Thanksgiving meal, confident that he can do it on his own. Swoosie Kurtz chain-smoked and remained her wonderful sarcastic self, while the turkey was too frozen to be cooked properly, so Hank and his wife took it to the bathtub upstairs to let it thaw out, later finding the cat on top of it, licking it.

As expected, the brother-in-law helps out by deep-fat frying the turkey, which leads to an offscreen explosion and a dinner of whatever turkey parts they could locate.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Had to post this:

WV: norear - A feature of size 0 women.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Oh, and the episode also had a wonderfully clever title: Hanksgiving.

I'm going to go drink now.

Rick said...

I'm a huge admirer of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and their Thanksgiving episode is a nice tart tonic for Turkey Day sentimentality.

Anya (about Thanksgiving): " It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie."

It's also a amusing touch that spirits of the exterminated Amerindians lay siege to the Thanksgiving dinner festivities. With arrows.

Kay Richardson said...

As I live in the best city in the world (London), I don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I shall, however, be stealing a turkey. That is not a euphemism.

sephim said...

Rick: There were budget constraints and problems with the script... and not enough excuses and Joss wasn't over his story editor experiences from working on ROSEANNE... and shut-up.

I gather from your tone that Native Americans didn't actually use arrows? I suppose I would be somewhat incensed if they had an Indigenous Australian vengeance spirit who only fought his enemies with boomerangs.

Or I'd be pissing myself laughing.

Rick said...

Actually what you might have gathered from my tone was that I was making my comment-structure parallel the line I quoted...

Jayne said...

Top 3 Thanksgiving Episodes in Order:

Turkey's Away-WKRP
Over the River and Through the Woods-The Bob Newhart Show
Thanksgiving Orpahns-Cheers

Jayne said...

umm.....Orphans

John Leader said...

Did you know that Butterball™ turkeys are actually injected with Techron (☢) to keep them moist?
(Okay, I'm done now.)

Chalmers said...

I wasn't a huge fan of the series, but "Mad About You" did a very funny "dinner goes awry/annoying in-laws" Thanksgiving epsiode.

WV: adimant - I am SURE that this is the correct spelling!

brickben said...

I vote "Turkeys Away" also:
http://www.hulu.com/watch/322/wkrp-in-cincinnati-turkeys-away#s-p4-so-i0

To bad they can't use the original songs due to licensing issues.

Gawain said...

I enjoyed President Bartlet calling the Butterball Hotline. Does that count?

A. Buck Short said...

John Leader: Is your 3-day callback of Ken’s Techron a Guinness record? As we Native Americans like to say on Thanksgiving, mazeltov.

Rory: Thanks for filling us in on the Hank exploding deep-fried turkey episode I missed. I’m sure the oil gusher would have been a hit here in the heartland, where, each Thanksgiving, too many of our denizens tragically remain unfamiliar with Archimedes’ Principle, much less Bernoulli’s.

For some reason, stuff just sticks in your mind:

The Story of the first Thanksgiving
Roger Miller Show, 1967*

(An approximate re-creation.)

Many years ago...hundreds of years ago...when America was still a foreign country, our forefathers (John, Paul, George and Ringo) came to our shores on three ships: the Anna, the Maria and the Alberghetti. A long winter was setting in and the Pilgrims had nothing to eat. So they decided to hold a dinner for the Indians, and asked them to bring the food. But the Indians didn’t have any either.

It was then that one of the Pilgrims, a monkey breeder named Miles Gibbon, discovered that the monkeys he had been breeding could really be quite tasty, not to mention filling. So he rustled up a mess o’ them, and offered some to the Indians when they came over with not even a covered dish. The Indians were so grateful, they turned to Myles and said, “Why thanks, Gibbon.” And ever since then, we’ve celebrated that first Thanksgibbon Day.

Favorite Roger Miller writer’s quote: “The human mind is a wonderful thing, it starts working from before you're born and doesn't stop till you sit down to write a song.” (Referred to the process of trying to get out of that block as “inducing labor.")

* Ken, if you ever find yourself calling minor league ball for either the Tulsa Drillers or Oklahoma City Redhawks, you’ll want to include this historic location in whatever travelogue you deem appropriate to filter back. The Roger Miller Museum, located at Exit 7, I-40 (historic Route 66) in Erick, Oklahoma, is open Weds. – Sat. 10am.-5pm., and Sunday from 1-5. A wonderful rest stop, being at the exact halfway point on Rte. 66 between Asheville, NC and Barstow.

Discovered this one Christmas driving cross country from Tucumcari with two women, a German Shepherd and a Labrador Retriever, in a Toyota. Cal’s CafĂ© in Erick, the fluorescent-white equivalent of Hemingway’s clean, well-lighted place, shone like a beacon as we passed through and was the only place we found still open at 9:30pm. where you could get coffee. After discovering the place was full of oil and cotton field workers just getting off, the next thing you’ll notice is they’re all so dogged tired, every last one of them walks precisely like Walter Brennan. If you’re wondering how we wound up there. We rode in on this Tangent.
Happy Thanksgibbon, Ken.
.

RDaggle said...

Incredibly, "Heroes" had a very special Thanksgiving episode this week.

Four years ago that series was an epic adventure about superhumans. On Monday we got to see the main characters sitting around a table squabbling.

Although, one of them almost was decapitated after the dessert course, so maybe I'm being a little too harsh.

Tom Parker said...

Most memorable Thanksgiving bit on Bob Newhart: Howard is assigned cooking the turkey. Doorbell rings. Howard is standing there in a singed Chef outfit holding a platter with the smoldering, charred remains of a bird.
Emily "Howard, what happened?"
Howard "I don't know. I followed the directions: 20 minutes a pound at 325. I weigh 175..."

Steven said...

I've always liked the Everybody Loves Raymond episode "The bird" even though it falls into the relatives clash category, with the Barones and McDougals arguing over the fate of an injured bird. They end up putting on a children's play with each side representing the Pilgrims and idians.

Bill Engvall's show has been cancelled? Thank God

Mike said...

Broadway Danny Rose. One of Woody's best movies, and that's saying something.

Both the Thanksgiving scenes and the scene where they are being chased by the gangsters through the balloon hanger and the bit with the helium. Priceless.

deborah Nathan said...

West Wing "There's an Indian in the Lobby" with the President (Martin Sheen) doing a Bob Newhart phone gag with Butterball Turkey corporation while no one wants to meet with the Native delegation.

Mary Stella said...

Rick said:
I'm a huge admirer of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and their Thanksgiving episode is a nice tart tonic for Turkey Day sentimentality.

Anya (about Thanksgiving): " It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie."


What about Buffy and Willow debating the holiday? One of my favs.

Willow : Buffy, earlier you agreed with me about Thanksgiving. It's a sham. It's all about death.

Buffy : It is a sham, but it's a sham with yams. It's a yam sham.

Willow : You're not gonna jokey-rhyme your way out of this.


God, I miss that show.

wb= rablest = only the finest rabble

emily said...

Fade in on endless Thanksgiving dinner table with turkeys and side dishes as far as the eye can see. Seated around the table are countless blog commenters. Suddenly, they turn to the camera and say in unison:

All: HAPPY THANKSGIVING KEN!

Roll credits.

amyp3 said...

Off the top of my headachey and still at "work" (tho' I'm not working much right now) head, I thought of the Cheers and Friends episodes. The latter notable for the now awk-ward image of Brad guesting on Jen's show.

And now that posters here remind me, the West Wing episode's also memorable.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Fade in on endless Thanksgiving dinner table with turkeys and side dishes as far as the eye can see. Seated around the table are countless blog commenters. Suddenly, they turn to the camera and say in unison:

All: HAPPY THANKSGIVING KEN!

Roll credits.


We need a few drunk fans in there for color, in place of relatives. WHO WANTS TO BE ONE OF THE DRUNK FANS? ;)

Ref said...

I lved the Mad About You thanksgiving show where they invited their parents and one of the fathers was played by (THAT GUY who played Hesh on The Sopranos.) He made a scene wherein he demanded canned, jellied cranberry sauce because he liked the sound it made coming out of the can. The next year, they repeated the idea, but jumped the shark by bringing in Carol Burnett and some other names to play the parents.

Great Big Radio Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rockgolf said...

The relevant West Wing scenes:

BARTLET
This time of the year there should be a hotline you can call with questions about cooking turkey. A special 800 number where the phones are staffed by experts.

CHARLIE
There is.

BARTLET
What do you mean?

CHARLIE
The Butterball hotline.

BARTLET
[pause, takes off his glasses and stares at Charlie] Butterball has a hotline?

CHARLIE
Yeah. It's an 800 number, the phones are staffed by experts.

BARTLET
Are you kidding me?

CHARLIE
No.

BARTLET
God, I'm sorry, I love my country. Charlie, get me the number for the
Butterball hotline.

CHARLIE
Yes, sir.

Charlie turns to leave.

...

WOMAN
[on speaker] Hello, welcome to the Butterball Hotline.

Bartlet runs to the phone.

TOBY
What the hell is...

BARTLET
Shhhh. Hello!!

WOMAN
[on speaker] How can I help you, sir?

BARTLET
Well, first let me say, I think this is a wonderful service you provide.

Toby comes closer.

WOMAN
Well, thank you. May I have your name please?

BARTLET
I'm a citizen.

WOMAN
I'm sure you are, sir, but if I have your name I can put your comment in our customer feedback form.

BARTLET
[sighs] I'm Joe Betherson...sen. That's one 't', and with an 'h' in there.

WOMAN
And your address?

BARTLET
Fargo.

WOMAN
Your street address, please?

Bartlet looks at Toby desperately.

TOBY
[picks up another phone, into it] Zip code, Fargo, North Dakota, right now. [hangs up]

BARTLET
[with evident strain] My street address is 114... 54 Pruder Street, and it's very important
that you put 'street' down there because sometimes it gets confused with Pruder Way and Pruder Lane. Apartment 23 R... Fargo, North Dakota...

Charlie walks in with a piece of paper, Bartlet grabs it.

BARTLET
Zip code 50504.

WOMAN
Thank you. Your voice sounds very familiar to me.

BARTLET
I do radio commercials for... products.

WOMAN
And how can I help you?

BARTLET
[sits down] Stuffing should be stuffed inside the turkey, am I correct?

WOMAN
It can also be baked in the casserole dish.

BARTLET
Well, then we'd have to call it something else, wouldn't we?

Toby sits down and puts his
hand under his chin.


WOMAN
I suppose.

BARTLET
If I cook it inside the turkey, is there a chance I could kill my guests? I'm not saying that's necessarily a deal-breaker.

WOMAN
Well, there are some concerns. Two main bacterial problems are salmonella and camplyobacter jejuna.

BARTLET
All right. Well, first of all, I think you made the second bacteria up, and second of all, how do I avoid it?

Toby and Charlie smile.

WOMAN
Make sure all the ingredients are cooked first. Saute any vegetables, fried sausage, oysters, etc.

BARTLET
Excellent! Let's talk temperature.

WOMAN
One hundred and sixty-five degrees.

BARTLET
No, see, I was testing you! The USDA calls for turkeys to be cooked to an internal temperature
of 180 to 185 degrees.

WOMAN
Yes, sir, I was talking about the stuffing which you want to cook to 165 to avoid health risks.

BARTLET
Okay. Good testing!

WOMAN
Do you have an accurate thermometer?

BARTLET
Oh yeah. It was presented to me as a gift from the personal sous chef to the king of...
[Toby raises his hand.] auto sales in...

TOBY
[whispering] Fargo.

BARTLET
Fargo. Phil Baharnd. The man can sell a car like... well, like anything.

WOMAN
Very good, sir. You have a good Thanksgiving!

BARTLET
And you do, too. Thanks a lot! [hangs up the phone, stands up] That was excellent! We should do that once a week.

Tom Quigley said...

Ref said...

"I lved the Mad About You thanksgiving show where they invited their parents and one of the fathers was played by (THAT GUY who played Hesh on The Sopranos.) He made a scene wherein he demanded canned, jellied cranberry sauce because he liked the sound it made coming out of the can. The next year, they repeated the idea, but jumped the shark by bringing in Carol Burnett and some other names to play the parents."...

I worked on that particular show. The character who uttered the line was Paul's father, played by Louis Zorich. I still love to watch it myself and as a matter of fact will play it on DVD tonight along with the WKRP episode.

And Rory: Thanks for the update on HANK. Shows you that I didn't even watch the show after the first couple of airings, so I didn't even know a "Thanksgiving" episode had aired. It was so feeble and way beneath Kelsey Grammer's talents.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

And Rory: Thanks for the update on HANK.

You're welcome, Tom. I had to get it out of my system somehow. Maybe now the nightmares will stop.

WV: somen - Are you ready to hold your wife's pocketbooks and other shoulder-strap related fashions during this day, the blackest Friday of all to you? Don't be afraid. She'll give you your balls back after if you behave.

Ref said...

Pardon my mistake on Louis Zorich. In my defense, he does look a LITTLE like Jerry Adler!

Watch west wing said...

there was no one who wants to talk with the native,and president knew that.