About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

From the Big Screen to the Little Screen, Part 1

There have been many Oscar winning (and nominated) films that inspired made-for-TV sequels and even TV series based on the same characters. I've recently noticed how often these TV extensions of the Academy honored films are Christmas programs or include Christmas episodes. Here are just a few that I've decided to highlight:

The 1963 Oscar nominated movie for Best Film of the Year was Lilies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier as the GI that comes across a group of immigrant nuns in the desert that are trying to build a church. In 1979, a made-for-TV sequel was broadcast entitled Christmas Lilies of the Field now starring Billy Dee Williams as the GI that returns to the church he helped build in the desert and the ambitious nuns that are now looking to erect a schoolhouse.

The 1967 Oscar winning movie for Best Film of the Year was In the Heat of the Night starring Rod Steiger and again, Sidney Poitier. To refresh your memory, this powerful film is about an African-American, Philadelphia homicide detective that finds himself in a small racist town in Mississippi having to work with an uncooperative and inexperienced sheriff's department to bring a murderer to justice.

Of course, this film inspired a television series that began it's incredible eight season run in 1988, starring Carroll O'Connor and Howard E. Rollins Jr. in the iconic roles. This series includes two Christmas episodes--1989's "My Name is Hank" and 1990's "Blessings." The first episode centers on a murdered convenience store worker and a stranger in town--a young man from Viet Nam who claims to be the offspring of a former U.S. soldier, perhaps even Chief Gillespie's son. The second Christmas episode is a clip show, nostalgically referring back to earlier stories from previous episodes--an appropriate Christmas sentiment.

The 1970 dark film about a military hospital and its staff, M*A*S*H, was Oscar-nominated movie for Best Film of that year. It too inspired a long-running TV series based on the same characters. The television series includes five holiday inspired episodes:
1972's "Dear Dad" where Hawkeye narrates a letter he's writing home to his father describing his Christmas in Korea.
1978's "Dear Sis" where Father Mulcahey narrates a letter he's writing to his sister describing the war from his perspective.
1980's "Death Takes a Holiday" in which the hospital staff try to keep a brain dead soldier alive past midnight in order to spare his family the legacy of knowing their loved one died on Christmas. And, Winchester learns about charity when his expensive box of chocolates he donates to the orphanage is in turn sold on the blackmarket.
Another episode from 1980, "A War for All Seasons" includes significant New Year's scenes in a narrative that begins on New Year's Eve 1951 and concludes on New Year's Eve 1952--showing a full year in the camp and how its residents rely on the Sears and Roebuck mail order catalog. Don't miss seeing Klinger dressed ridiculously as Baby New Year and Col. Potter as Father Time at the New Year's party.
1981's "Twas the Day After Christmas" sees the camp experiencing a new holiday tradition--the British custom of Boxing Day. In the spirit of the season, the officers offer to switch roles with the enlisted men for one day.

If you're a die hard M*A*S*H fan--and why wouldn't you be?--you should try to catch the 1983 holiday episode of the spin-off series After M*A*S*H, entitled "All About Christmas Eve" where it's Christmas time in the General Pershing Veterans Administration Hospital. Soon-Lee and Max announce to their friends that they are expecting their first child and Miss Cox gets a little too drunk on egg nog at the staff Christmas party.

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