About Christmas TV History

Monday, November 30, 2009

Didn't make the book!?

SET YOUR DVRs: Sunday, Dec. 6th at 4pm (EST) on ABC for Elmo's Christmas Countdown.

You may ask yourself "Why would Joanna recommend this Sesame Street inspired program when she usually points out only the weird, non-traditional and unusual stuff?" But that question only means you haven't seen it. There is one segment in particular--which I still can't believe EXISTS! It sounds more like the kind of rumor you would hear late into the night at a party and shouldn't believe. I tried to fit it into the book but it didn't squeeze neatly into any of the chapters.

Buried in the middle of Elmo's quest for the boxes of the official Christmas Counterdowner (like an advent calendar), he comes across a production of "The Bert and Ernie TV Christmas Special." But here, Bert is played by actor Tony Sirico and Ernie is actor Steve Schirripa. If you haven't caught on yet--that's Paulie Walnuts and Bobby Bacala from The Sopranos as Bert and Ernie. And why not? I'm not gonna be the one to tell these two guys 'no.'

The rest of Elmo's Christmas Countdown is what you'd expect: it's a great special for the kids with the biggest of celebrities singing Christmas songs with the adorable muppets. But its just this one segment with surprising live actors playing our beloved roommates that sends this special over the top.

Elmo's Christmas Countdown

Denis Leary's Merry F#%$in' Christmas Special

It's that time of year again! Prepare yourself for the purposefully offensive yet funny holiday celebration from the foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, actor/comic Denis Leary.

SET YOUR DVRs: Saturday, Dec. 5th at 2:30 am (EST) on Comedy Central.

I mention this special in several places in the book. This is where you can see the animated parody of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' twisted into "It's Jihad, Farley Towne." A radical muslim Linus takes the unhappy Charlie Brown...er, uh...Farley Towne under his influence and persuades him to express his newfound radicalism by bombing the children's Christmas pageant. Believe me, it just gets crazier from there.

It's Jihad, Farley Towne

This TV special also spoofs the movie Super Size Me and the reality series 30 Days with filmmaker Morgan Spurlock himself attempting to watch the 1988 made-for-TV movie A Very Brady Christmas twice a day for 30 days straight. And a parody of the old beer commercials with Billy Dee Williams shilling for "Colt 45D" a malt liquor that is also a cold medicine.

Pay close attention to the opening segment's stop-motion animation. This segment was created by animator Corky Quakenbush--the same creator behind MadTV's legendary Raging Rudolph, The Reinfather and A Pack of Gifts Now.

More about this special can be read in my book on pages 67 and 85-86. Did I mention it features guest stars Carmen Electra and William Shatner as well? Don't miss it.

Holiday Bogart

Turner Classic Movies channel is featuring the films of Humphrey Bogart this month of December--also his birthday month. I'm disappointed that they are not airing 1955's We're No Angels. This is a rare glimpse at Bogie in a comedy film and a Christmas movie as well. Along with co-stars Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray, Devil's Island prison escapee Bogie sings a song about three angels for the Christmas dinner entertainment to the family the three convicts are staying with. Fortunately, this film is easily available on DVD. See also pg 25 of the book for my discussion of this film.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rare TV Christmas Specials

Today I discovered two new DVDs released this holiday season that (claim to) contain holiday specials from TV's distant past. For as much money as I have spent there, this site should give me free DVDs for this link:

Christmas with the King Family

and, Bell Telephone Hour telecasts: 1959-1966--An Old Fashioned Christmas

There are few things that I love more than watching lost and forgotten television programming. If you already have these, tell me what you think of them--while I wait for the post office to deliver mine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

John Waters Filthy Christmas Freak-Out

I got a postcard in the mail today from Baltimore!! John Waters was responding to my publisher's request for a blurb--those quotes from celebrities on the back cover of books--declining because he just receives too many requests. But he let me know that HE HAD ALREADY PURCHASED THE BOOK before he received my advanced review copy. The idea that he's reading what I wrote is making my head spin. I wish he would have told me--I could have given him a discount.

Of course, I included the awe-inspiring Christmas scene from John Waters' film Female Trouble in my book (see page 122). Dawn Davenport, played brilliantly by Divine, throws one hell of a tantrum on Christmas morning after she doesn't receive the cha cha heels at the top of her Christmas list. Fans of Divine may also want to check out John Candy's spoof of the larger-than-life actress within a segment on SCTV's holiday episode from 1981. See the margin note on page 123 for more details.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Christmas is officially on its way when I see Santa Claus at the end of Macy's parade on Thanksgiving morning. This particular parade has become permanently associated with Christmas because of the popular movie Miracle on 34th Street. There have been several versions of the story including 1947's black-and-white version with Natalie Wood playing the skeptical little Susan Walker and 1994's color version with Mara Wilson in the same role. There is also at least three made-for-TV versions including one from 1973 starring Sebastian Cabot (that's Family Affair's Mr. French to TV junkies), one from 1959 starring Ed Wynn as Kris Kringle, and one from 1955 that was an installment of the anthology drama series The 20th Century-Fox Hour that is floating around under the misleading title "Meet Mr. Kringle."

But if you're looking to see another Christmas story with Macy's parade, check out the 1966 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. entitled "The Jingle Bells Affair." Here spies Napoleon Solo and Kuryakin are providing security for the Russian Chairman who is scheduled to speak at the UN after the holiday. However, the Chairman is so impressed with the parade and the abundance at Macy's department store that his comrades fear that he will betray the Communist commitment. An awesome Cold war episode. See page 81 for the original discussion of this episode in the book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meri Kurisumasu!

That's 'Merry Christmas' in Japanese (so I've been told!?) and if you're an avid anime fan you may want to check out the free download on the book's website. It is an excerpt of the anime listings found within The Christmas TV Companion--including an Astro Boy Christmas episode from 1963, two Lupin the 3rd Christmas installments, and 2005's eye-popping My Santa! and its sequel. This download can be found on the webite's 'About the book' page. Check the book's website again in a few weeks for another free download!


Little Match Girl

I've had to do some research on The Little Match Girl, the 19th century story by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. There are several filmed adaptations that are so different from one another that I've found myself having to read a translation of the original story in order to recognize the original elements. I had to do this with E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker as well. Most people don't know that the original text is quite different than the story told within the ballet. After having watched so many different versions of the ballet, I had to read the original story in order to discern between the different adaptations. So I currently have several translations of the Andersen story checked out from the library to read.

One of the books I grabbed is a brand new book--just released this year--by Gregory Maguire, the well-known writer of fairy tale adaptations. His most notable book is Wicked, the re-interpretation of Baum's The Wizard of Oz that has gone on to inspire the popular Broadway musical production. I know that Maguire's new book Matchless is also a re-interpretation of The Little Match Girl and so not really relevant to my research but I was curious anyway. In Maguire's Note at the end of the book he mentions something that was meaningful to me. This very sad story about the little girl selling matches in the street that dies in the cold isn't a story that connects well with 21st century audiences. Modern audiences have a different lens through which to view the welfare of children as well as the poor. I'm not sure what the point of Andersen's original story is except perhaps that the little one's suffering ends with her death. I admire Maguire's intention with this new re-interpretation in trying to find a way to construct new meanings for modern readers.

I think that was the same intent behind my favorite animated version, from 1990, also entitled The Little Match Girl. Made by Michel Sporn, this version is narrated by actor F. Murray Abraham and aired on HBO. Not only are the images beautiful but the story is given a new life as it's re-imagined as a stage production with a social/political message similar to Dickens that we all share an obligation to help one another. Without giving too much away, I'll add that it is a grand effort to use a familiar story from literature to remind us of human values that never go out of style.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where's the Christmas , Lebowski?

I'm a HUGE fan of the movies made by Joel and Ethan Coen. I've seen them all but most especially love Raising Arizona and Fargo. I also take great joy in The Big Lebowski, proudly wearing my 'Achiever' t-shirts and annoying my friends by peppering my speech with quotes from the film. I've even attended several Achiever (fans of the cult film) gatherings including 2008's Lebowski Fest in Louisville, Kentucky.

So it's no surprise to the people who know me that I would generate a Make Your Own Marathon for my Christmas TV book that includes the cast members from one of my favorite cult films as they appear in Christmas-themed material. Who doesn't want to watch actor Ben Gazzara (who played porn king Jackie Treehorn in TBL) in a Christmas episode of his 1966 TV series Run for Your Life entitled "Time and a Half for Christmas Eve?" How about actor Leon Russom (who played the mug-throwing Malibu Police Chief) in a holiday installment of the medical mystery series Diagnosis Murder entitled "Santa Claude?" Oh, there's even more listed in the book. Or, you could stretch the reference even further and enjoy the Christmas episode "A Proud Town" from Walter Sobchak's favorite western, Branded. I'll have you off egg nog and on to drinking White Russians before you know it.


Check me out on the Lebowski Fest website as an Achiever that's written a book!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Degrassi: TNG Christmas

This Friday, 11/27 at 8 pm (EST), Teen Nick will broadcast a new holiday episode of the teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. I've only seen the commercials so far but the episode entitled "Ghost of Degrassi Past" seems to promise a plot taken from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and includes a vision of a character, J.T., from seasons past. Several years ago, J.T. was tragically killed in a scuffle by students of the rival high school after a school sporting event in a storyline with longlasting impact. Could J.T. be returning to warn another student of the consequences of his/her behavior--much like the ghost of Jacob Marley?

Most teen dramas come and go but this Canadian-made classic has legs. I'm a long time fan, discovering the show when I was in college in the late 1980s airing on my local PBS station on Sunday mornings. Back then it was called Degrassi Junior High but the series eventually evolved into Degrassi High and later as Degrassi: TNG. There are characters (and actors) on the latest incarnation that were on the original series from twenty years ago but there's more to enjoy here than nostalgia. This unique teen drama focuses more on teen decision-making and living with the consequences. It shares more in common with the much loved ABC Afterschool Specials of my youth than it does with more contemporary dramas such as The OC or Gossip Girl. Anyway, there are two previous holiday episodes from this series: Degrassi Junior High's "Season's Greetings" in 1988 and TNG's "Holiday" from 2003--a two--part, hour long special.

Hardrock, Coco and Joe

SET YOUR DVRs: for Thursday, 11/26--Thanksgiving at noon (EST) for WGN America channel in order to record the annual broadcast of the documentary Bozo, Gar & Ray. This history of Chicago TV includes footage from the children's programs: Bozo's Circus, Garfield Goose and Friends, and Ray Rayner and His Friends.

For Christmas TV fans: included in the documentary are the 1950s animated black-and-white shorts Hardrock, Coco and Joe: The Three Little Dwarves, Suzy Snowflake and Frosty the Snowman. Though these shorts are available for watching online, it is more satisfying to see them within this historical context along with the brief discussions provided in the documentary. See my discussion on pg. 51 on these three shorts within the MYOM about cult Christmas TV favorites that deserve a second viewing.

There's also a very funny parody of Hardrock, Coco and Joe called Christmas With Tingles that can be found within the "Christmas Day" episode of the outrageous program, TV Funhouse. For more information, see page 89 of my book.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kolchak Christmas Story

I was in Los Angeles last week and doing the tourist thing. After we took the Paramount Studios tour, we made sure to stop by the Hollywood Forever Cemetary where many actors, directors and celebrities have been interred. Of course, I had to stop and visit with my favorite actor who played the whistling-in-the-dark newspaper reporter of the supernatural on Kolchak: The Night Stalker as well as the cursing/leg lamp obsessed father on A Christmas Story. A quiet visit to the cemetary is always a pleasant reminder that life is fra-gil-ay.

Film Noir Christmas

This is the time of the year that I'm furiously consulting all the TV channel schedules for what holiday specials, episodes and movies will be broadcast this season. Good stuff is airing even before Thanksgiving.

SET YOUR DVRs: Tuesday, Nov. 24th at 6:30 am (EST) Turner Classic Movie channel will air The Lady in the Lake.

See pgs. 111-112 for my discussion of this most unusual film noir and Christmas movie. I LOVE that the dark story unfolds over Christmas, holding up the cheery, optimistic spirit of the season to contrast with its hardboiled Marlowe character. But the interactive, first-person perspective can overshadow the ironic attitude of the film for many viewers. Watch it and tell me what you think of it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"I'm Making My Lunch!!"

Last night I attended a screening at the Cleveland Cinematheque of two films by actor/filmmaker Crispin Glover. After a Q & A discussion of the films, Glover stayed to meet his fans. Graciously, he gave me an autograph and accepted a review copy of my book. I explained that not only did I think he would like the book but that he was mentioned in it for his role in David Lynch's movie Wild At Heart (see pg. 120). He perked up and recalled "I played Santa?..." I said "Jingle Dell." He smiled and added that he had wanted to incorporate more Christmas elements into the role at the time but that it just wasn't possible. Fans of the movie may recall that the character Jingle Dell was Lula Fortune's confused cousin who wished it was Christmas all year long.

I had no idea when I wrote this book that it would take me some of the places that I've been. To talk to Crispin Glover about Jingle Dell is mindblowing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Set your DVRs:

Tonight (11/19) at 9 pm (EST) on ABCFamily Channel is the made-for-TV movie A Carol Christmas starring William Shatner. See page 48 of the book for the discussion on this movie as well as the other recommendations in the Star Trek Make Your Own Marathon (MYOM) listing.