About Christmas TV History

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

My three favorite Christmas specials with an environmental message:

Frosty Returns

Jonathan Winters narrates this secondary Frosty tale where the lively snowman, voiced by John Goodman, befriends kids Holly and Charles. The children in this town are looking forward to the Winter Carnival but a businessman develops a chemical spray called ‘Summer Wheezes’ which makes the snow disappear. Most of the adults in town who find snow only a chore are quick to buy the new snow removal product but Holly, Charles and Frosty are concerned with the effects of the elimination of snow. Implied is the kid-friendly, environmental message that we need snow and the water it brings in order for the Earth to remain healthy.

This TV special is produced and directed by Bill Melendez, who also produced/directed A Charlie Brown Christmas. John Goodman sings ‘Let There Be Snow,’ an original song by Mark Mothersbaugh.

The Christmas Raccoons (1980)

This ecological Christmas story attempts to address the problem of chopping down trees at Christmas time. A young brother and sister, Tom and Julie, fall asleep worried about trees being chopped down in the forest where they live. They dream about three raccoons who lose their home in the forest to a reckless, profiteering lumber baron, Cyril Sneer, who is chopping down all the trees, devastating the forest. Cyril’s son, Cedric tries to convince his father of the damage he’s doing but the father is too greedy to appreciate the consequences of his actions. Eventually, Tom, Julie and the raccoons convince Cyril to replant saplings in an effort at responsible, sustainable lumbering. But is it too late for the raccoons to find a home for Christmas?

Narration is voiced by Rich Little and music provided by Rita Coolidge and Rupert Holmes. The characters of the Raccoons inspired an animated TV series popular in Canada.

The Energy Carol (1975)

This popular cartoon was supported by the National Film Board of Canada, directed by Les Drew and produced by Sidney Goldsmith. Obviously inspired by Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, this environmental tale sees Mr. Stooge, the head of the energy company not stingy but rather wasteful with his power sources during an energy crisis. Power employee, Bob Scratchit is more conscientious and conservative about energy at the holiday. Three ghosts visit Stooge overnight, teaching him about energy resources in the past, present and the future, and the consequences of wastefulness. Produced in part by The Office of Energy Conservation, this Canadian cartoon is a blast from the past with a message that’s become contemporary again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

As Earth Day draws near, I find myself reflecting on environmentalist/singer/songwriter John Denver. Since I'm a Christmas TV writer, I'm frequently asked about the 1979 special John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together. The Muppets seem just as popular now as ever while many others fondly remember this TV favorite from their childhoods. A soundtrack from the TV special has been available for years. However, most people bring it up in order to ask me if it is on DVD yet. Sadly, it is not. But I can speculate why it is not and why it may never be released.

Most people don't realize that is has never been released to consumers in any format before. So it's not just a waiting game for it to be updated from a previous VHS or laser disc package.

But I think the biggest headache must be the music rights and licensing--a problem that plagues other DVD releases. I've even seen programs released onto DVD that have been edited to eliminate musical performances where rights couldn't be cleared. My first thought goes to the TV series Hullabaloo which on DVD is missing large chunks. But this is so common, there are many, many examples. A Christmas Together has several obvious music rights issues. If you've seen it recently (there are bootlegs floating around and segments are viewable on YouTube), you may notice that there are songs in the TV special that aren't on the soundtrack. (There are also songs on the album that are not in the TV special.) Three songs in the TV special are from musical theater. These songs must surely come with their own unique set of licensing problems:

'Pleasure of Your Company' and 'Camaraderie' are both from the 1974 stage production of The Good Companions. The original music and lyrics are by Andre Previn and Johnny Mercer. John Denver sings 'Pleasure of Your Company' as he enters the set of the snow-covered city square after the Muppets argue about the script. This song appears in the beginning as the second musical number. 'Camaraderie' is sung by the toy wooden soldiers in the production number Denver shares with Miss Piggy.
'I Will Wait for You' is from the 1964 French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Miss Piggy sings this in the role of Fifi the French doll in the same production number she shares with Denver who plays a wooden soldier.
The song 'It's In Every One of Us' was originally written by music legend Cliff Richard while two more songs, 'A Baby Just Like You' and the spoken word 'Alfie the Christmas Tree,' are credited to John Denver. 'The Christmas Wish' is credit to Danny Allen Wheetman while 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' belongs to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

I mention all this because these rights must be paid in order for this TV special to be released onto DVD. Now consider who would do it? John Denver tragically passed on in 1997. His estate may not have the desire or the resources for such an undertaking. There appears to be no plans to release any of Denver's other TV projects on DVD either.

And Disney now owns the Muppets. Disney, I'm sure, has no interest in investing capital into paying the licensing rights to someone else's creativity. Unfortunately, I can't imagine who else would be interested or motivated in making this Christmas TV classic available on the market despite consumer interest.

Like a lot of people who grew up in the 1970s, I'd love to see A Christmas Together made available--in its entirety. Nothing would make me happier than to have this blog post made irrelevant by Disney or whomever. I'd be the first one in line to buy my copy of the DVD.

Monday, April 19, 2010


My book is now being sold through Oldies.com! For those not already familiar, Oldies.com carries many of the great old and rare Christmas programs on DVD that I wrote about in the book. Many of these titles are available now but they expand their holiday listings closer to Christmas as well. Oldies.com also sells an overwhelming catalog of television on DVD, music on CD and vinyl, and rare and classic movies--horror, exploitation, drama and comedies--and of course books on music, television and film.

I recommend going to the website and signing up for at least one of their mail order catalogs. These are fantastic to peruse and keep up to date on what's being released.

Or, go to Oldies.com and search their DVD database/catalog with keyword 'christmas' and you'll see that even in the off-season, you'll find that they carry an array of holiday classics from the Abbott and Costello Christmas TV episode (from the Colgate Comedy Hour) to Yogi's First Christmas. Perhaps even a few new surprises.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A New Testimonial for my Book!

I am so very excited to announce that actor/singer Barry Williams has given my book, The Christmas TV Companion, a recommendation to be included on the back cover of the next printing. This is what he said:

“From my appearance as a child actor on Dragnet to A Very Brady Christmas to my more recent musical performance on The Wiggles, this book contains an amazing wealth of Christmas TV splendor.”

I write about his appearances in these Christmas programs in the book. Of course, he's also in the holiday episode "The Voice of Christmas" on the first season of The Brady Bunch.

This testimonial is just one of the many great things going on recently with my work. I'm working on a large promotion centered around "Christmas in July"--stay in touch for the official announcements and a few surprises. One thing for certain is that the publisher is planning a special sale of The Christmas TV Companion during the month of July. If you haven't gotten you're copy yet or are looking to get one for a friend, this might be a great opportunity for that.

My next book Tis the Season TV: The Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials and Made-for-TV Movies is being finalized for release this upcoming Fall by 1701 Press. This is the reference book you've always dreamed of--from Ab Fab to Ziggy's Gift--this ultimate guide to Christmas on television. It is the larger project from which the Christmas TV Companion was derived. I'm soooo excited about this book finally being released.

I'll be announcing more details about the next book and Christmas in July in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

James Garner

Happy Birthday James Garner. I've been the hugest fan of this actor my whole life. If you've read this blog before, you'll probably already know this about me. I love, love, love The Rockford Files and Maverick. This is one of the several autographed pics I have of him from when I belonged to the James Garner Fan Club. Yes, the inscription reads 'To Joanne Happy 1980!' I never cared that he got my name wrong. Close enough. The tape and holes in the corners of this pic come from the years I had it hanging on my walls--in college dorm rooms and the many apartments I've had across the country. Enough about me.

Sadly, I know of no Christmas-themed Rockford Files or Maverick episodes. However, Garner is in the 1999 holiday movie, One Special Night. The story begins at Thanksgiving when Catherine (Julie Andrews) offers Robert (Garner) a ride home in the blizzard from a nursing home. Catherine had been there visiting the room where her now deceased husband had spent his final months and Robert was in the facility keeping company with his wife who is suffering from Alzheimers. Their journey home in the storm is treacherous and their car slides off the road, forcing them to seek shelter in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Though they don’t get along at first, they come to share one special night in that cabin, safe and warm by the fire. They promise to meet again but circumstances interfere. That is, until Christmas Eve when Catherine is called in to the hospital where she works to help deliver a premature baby--Robert’s grandchild.
Fans of the 1964 movie The Americanization of Emily will appreciate the romantic reunion of Garner and Andrews in this film.

Garner also appears in the 2006 film based on a best-selling book, The Ultimate Gift which also stars the amazing cast: Abigail Breslin, Drew Fuller, Lee Meriwether and Bill Cobbs. Here, Garner plays a billionaire that dies and leaves a special request for an estranged grandson in his estate. The request offers the self-centered party boy, Jason (Fuller) a chance to face a string of challenges to earn an undisclosed ‘ultimate gift.’ Jason soon learns that these challenges are more character building exercises than financial gains but he transforms himself to rise to each challenge in a way that would impress his deceased grandfather. Along the way, Jason befriends a death-obsessed little girl, Emily (Breslin) and her mother who see him for the person that he is and not the former spoiled, rich boy. Jason’s character building exercises from his deceased grandfather are further enhanced when he learns that little Emily is death-obsessed because she’s dying from leukemia. There’s a wonderful Christmas scene where Jason insists on making Emily’s perfect day wish come true by providing a day of horseback riding with her mother. Watching his best friend struggle with a terminal illness leaves Jason with a new perspective on the value of money and what to do with his grandfather’s estate. Meriwether and Cobbs appear as two lawyers representing the billionaire's estate. This film incorporates a significant Christmas scene and the theme of second chances, a very powerful and common Christmas theme in movies.

On TV, Garner also appears in the Christmas episode of the final season of 8 Simple Rules... as the grandfather character. Don't miss Garner donning a Santa suit just to please C.J., played by David Spade. This episode is entitled 'A Very C.J. Christmas.'

Monday, April 5, 2010

John Forsythe RIP

Actor John Forsythe will be well remembered for years to come for the many roles he played in film and on television. My favorite is Blake Carrington. In this holiday episode of Dynasty, Blake demonstrates just how hard it is to put up some family members at Christmas time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

From the Big Screen to the Little Screen, Part 2

Okay, I'm running a little late to end my tribute to the Oscars...so let's just call this March 32nd.

In Part Two, I wanted to acknowledge Oscar-honored Christmas films that have inspired television re-makes. 1946's It's A Wonderful Life was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. However, it was interpreted as a made-for-TV movie in 1977 as It Happened One Christmas starring Marlo Thomas as the story's female lead Mary Bailey, Orson Welles as Harry Potter and Wayne Rogers as the husband, George Bailey. This movie is very rare and as far as I can tell, hasn't re-aired on television in decades. Though many critics didn't like it, I'm dying to see how they re-interpreted the story to fit a female lead.

1947's Miracle on 34th Street was nominated for Best Picture but won three Oscars (Best Actor: Gwenn, Best Screenplay: Seaton, Best Original Story: Davies). The story was adapted several times for television anthology series episodes. However, it was also a 1973 made-for-TV movie starring Sebastian Cabot as Kris Kringle. This version has never charmed the critics but it is still worth seeing. The last several years, it has seen a resurgence in popularity and has been re-broadcast nationally at Christmas time.

And, 1944's Going My Way starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald won seven Oscars. Okay, I know, I know--this film is NOT Christmas-themed however, it has been broadcast nationally on TV at Christmas time for decades. (It does contain a scene with Bing Crosby singing 'Silent Night' with his boys choir.) With the sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's, these two films share a very close association with Christmas. Anyway, the movie inspired a TV series also entitled Going My Way with Gene Kelly in the role of Father O'Malley. This program appears to have a Christmas episode, 1962's 'Keep an Eye on Santa Claus.' I'd love to see the holiday installment of this rare series.