About Christmas TV History

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Do You Remember...The Addams Family?

They may be creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky but the Addams Family loves Christmas.

In their 1965 holiday episode, the Addamses are worried that Pugsley and Wednesday may listen to the neighbor who told them that Santa doesn’t exist. To ensure that Santa visits them this year, Gomez and Morticia ask Uncle Fester to dress as Santa Claus and visit the children. But when he gets stuck in the chimney and fails to show up, all the others don a Santa suit in order to bring the children the gifts they asked for. Lovingly, the children experience six Santa Clauses: Gomez, Morticia, Grandmama, Lurch, Cousin Itt and eventually Fester. The children easily catch on to their thinly disguised family members but appreciate the gesture. Will the real Santa ever show up? For the most non-traditional family on TV, this is a very traditional Christmas celebration.

You can’t miss Morticia singing “Deck the Halls.” My favorite quote: Wednesday explains how she so easily recognized Lurch through his Santa Claus suit: "I could tell by his smile." Be sure to check out the family Christmas tree--it has no needles! And, at episode’s end, the whole cast breaks the 4th wall to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to the viewers.

This episode is located on disc 1 of Volume 3 on the DVD release. It is also available on Hulu.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

RIP Gary Coleman

"Wha-choo talkin' 'bout, Santa?"

Like many others, I've been touched by the recent, sudden death of actor Gary Coleman. I've been a longtime fan, and I want to point out that he appeared in several Christmas programs--including several forgettable roles in made-for-TV Christmas movies. However, this holiday episode from the TV series Diff'rent Strokes is my favorite. The 1982 episode is entitled 'Santa's Helper' and guest stars funny man Garrett Morris, a veteran of the sketch comedy institution Saturday Night Live and the sitcom Martin. This episode is awesome because Arnold (Coleman) takes on work as a bell-ringing, sidewalk Santa Claus under the tutelage of the dubious Mr. Jones (Morris).

RIP Dennis Hopper

When I think of Dennis Hopper and Christmas, I think of this claymation tribute to the film Apocalypse Now. Animated by genius Corky Quakenbush, this stop-motion short, A Pack of Gifts Now, uses the characters from Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Animagic classic to re-tell the Coppola classic. It was broadcast on MadTV. Look for Dennis Hopper's wacked out journalist character, here played by Hermie the elf.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

David Bianculli

This is a happy milestone for me and my blog! This is my 100th post. (Cue the release of the confetti)

Tonight was an exciting one for me--I got to shake hands with TV critic/writer David Bianculli. He's on book tour right now promoting Dangerously Funny: the Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, his latest book about the Smothers Brothers variety show in the late 1960s and their legendary battle with the network censors over their political humor.

Bianculli's tour brought him to our local library where he spoke for an hour about the TV series and then signed books afterwards. I'm such a book nerd, I brought my old dog-eared copy of his earlier book Teleliteracy for him to sign. Above right is a photo of his inscription which reads:

Look at this! Thanks Joanna for bringing this to sign. My first book! (his signature)

It was exciting meeting him. He would probably respond that I need to get a life--and he wouldn't be wrong. But I admire him. He's a smart guy and I appreciate and envy what he does. Those that write about television for a living don't make up a large group. But I'm glad I'm in it. If you don't already follow it, check out his blog:

www.TV Worth Watching.com

J.T. (1969)

Do You Remember...the one hour program entitled J.T. first broadcast in 1969 about a young boy and his unhealthy cat?

Few who have seen it will ever forget this emotional story of the young Harlem kid, J.T. Gamble, based on a book written by Jane Wagner. It was originally produced for the CBS Saturday morning Children’s Hour program but was also re-broadcast in primetime and has won the prestigious Peabody Award.

A troubled little boy living in the ghetto finds his connection to the world through a sickly cat he cares for in an abandoned building. As Christmas approaches, J.T.’s transistor radio is stolen and he’s chased by two bullies from the condemned building, only to witness his cat run over in the street by a car. A despondent J.T. is consoled by his visiting grandmother. Later at Christmas, the boy’s life is transformed when the neighborhood grocer gives J.T. a kitten and a chance at a new start. This story will warm the coldest of hearts. Lingering images include J.T. fixing a bed for the cat inside a broken down oven inside the abandoned building. I can't forget the compassion of the grocer's gift, offering the young boy a second chance for a special, nurturing relationship to endure a world that often seems cruel and unforgiving.

It stars actor Kevin Hooks as the young lead. Hooks is recognizable from his later role as Morris Thorpe, on the TV series The White Shadow and he currently works as a director for dramatic TV series including Lost, 24, Monk and Prison Break. The role of J.T.’s mother is played by actress Ja’net DuBois who also appeared as the upstairs neighbor, Willona on the ground breaking, 1970s sitcom, Good Times and more recently working as a voice actor on The PJs.

If you haven't seen this classic: Part One

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Set Your DVRs: Chowder's "Hey, Hey It's Knishmas"

One of my favorite holiday episodes from a children's TV series is airing next week. It must be seen to be believed!! The animated series based on a food theme runs on the Cartoon Network.

Set Your DVRs: SUNDAY, MAY 23rd, at 4pm on the Cartoon Network

for Chowder's holiday episode "Hey, Hey It's Knishmas." I've written about this incredible episode before--in my book The Christmas TV Companion and on this blog from Dec. 16th.

Don't miss it if you haven't seen it yet. It's both psychedelic and adorable. Then, let me know what you think of it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Upcoming History Channel TV Special

My specialized knowledge of Christmas on TV has opened many doors for me. Last week I was in Los Angeles being interviewed for an upcoming TV special for the History Channel. I got to sit before cameras and talk about everybody's favorite Christmas TV specials and programs, as well as the history of Christmas programming on television. I talked about Bing Crosby's annual Christmas shows--including 1977's "Merry Olde Christmas" with special guest star David Bowie. I also talked about The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1977, Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special from 1988 and the first Hallmark Hall of Fame production, 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors--the very first opera written specifically for television. I even gave a bit of commentary about the animated classics including The Grinch, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Rankin/Bass classics Rudolph, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Frosty the Snowman and The Year Without a Santa Claus. I really talked about more than this but these are the highlights. I went on and on for over an hour--they eventually had to shut me off!

I have no idea how much of what I said (if any, really) will be included in the final program. I believe the result is an update of the documentary program, The History of Christmas. But it is quite an honor to be given this opportunity to share my passion and commentary for Christmas TV. And, if my portion of the interview ends up on the editing room floor, at least I had a fantastic adventure and new experiences in Los Angeles. Now I just have to sit and wait for seven months to watch the finished documentary to see what clips of my interview they will use. Did I mention that I'm not good with the waiting? The funnest part of this experience is that my name may have to be included in one of my own summaries that I write about Christmas programs! I feel like I'm John Malkovich sliding down the head of John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich. yay!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Six Million Dollar Man holiday episode

How did I spend my birthday? Watching A Bionic Christmas Carol of course.

In this fourth season episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, Col. Steve Austin is asked to cut his Christmas vacation in order to check on a company developing a life support system for a landing on Mars that is plagued with problems. Austin meets the company’s owner Mr. Budge (played by Ray Walston) and learns that the equipment testing problems are not sabotage but a greedy company owner who is going by the lowest equipment specification recommendations--the equipment fails because it’s too cheap. Steve also meets Crandall (played by Dick Sargent), Budge’s nephew and chauffer that Budge had demoted from his accountant when Crandall desperately stole company money to pay his wife’s medical bills. Steve spends the holiday with Crandall’s impoverished family--even getting them a Christmas tree and promising gifts from Santa Claus that they weren’t expecting. Conveniently, Mr. Budge over-medicates himself on Christmas Eve, going in and out of consciousness with hallucinations. Under doctor’s orders, Steve Austin is instructed to keep Mr. Budge from falling asleep until the medication wears off--so Steve gives Budge the Dickens’ treatment! Disguised in a Santa Claus suit and without speaking a word, Steve spends Christmas Eve showing the groggy Budge the consequences of his greedy actions.

This adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may play fast and loose with the spirit of Christmas but is fun none the less. Two of Crandall’s young children are played by child actors Adam Rich and Quinn Cummings. Who doesn't love seeing actor Ray Walston--that's Mr. Hand to some, and Uncle Martin to others--getting scared straight at Christmas? My favorite scenes are Steve Austin jumping to the top of a fir tree in the Crandall’s back yard in order to rip the top off for the family’s Christmas tree. And, the scene where Steve uses his bionic hand to chisel a tombstone to help scare Budge into reconsidering his life!

If you need more Lee Majors in your Christmas diet, don't hesitate to watch him in 1965's The Big Valley Christmas episode "Judgment in Heaven" and on The Fall Guy's holiday episodes, 1984's "The Winner" and 1985's "Escape Claus."

I'm also spending my birthday eating as much cake as I can without getting sick. Time for another piece!