TV writer and sometime actor Bill Dial has died of a heart attack at the age of 64.
He had a whole bunch of different credits in comedy, drama and sci-fi (he wrote for some of the Star Trek shows and one of the many revamps of Sliders), but his most famous credit was, and will be, one of his earliest: he wrote the “Turkey’s Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. He also appeared in two episodes as Bucky the Engineer. When people worked for or with Dial on other shows, like Sliders, the turkey episode was often one of the first things they’d ask him about.
I sometimes wonder if writing a world-famous TV episode is a calling-card for a writer, something that makes his or her reputation. I suppose not, since every episode is collaborative and an episode is rightly thought of as the work of the whole team, not just the credited writer. Still, there are times when a writer becomes semi-famous based on an individual episode. I’m thinking of Drew Goddard, who became a minor internet celebrity based on writing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Selfless,” his first episode of the show and kind of his calling-card among fans.