About Christmas TV History

Monday, December 20, 2010

Make Your Own Marathons

Last year, my friends and I gathered for a private special screening at a friend's home to watch some cool Christmas programs. The above photo is from our program guide. We watched:

--"Too Many Christmas Trees" the 1965 episode of The Avengers (pg. 80)
--"The Star" the 1985 episode of The New Twilight Zone (pg. 36)
-- Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life from 1993 (pg. 13)
-- My Santa, the 2005 anime (pg. 104-105)
--"Christmas Shopping" the classic episode of The Jack Benny Show (p.114-115)
--1957 Russian-made cartoon Christmas Visit (pg. 42-43)
--the short film, Santa Claus' Story from the 1950s (pg. 124-125)

The above page numbers reference where in The Christmas TV Companion these selections are discussed.

This year, my friends and I are gathering for another marathon of Christmas programs. We're watching:

-- The Junky's Christmas (pg. 358)
--"Hey, Hey It's Knishmas!" the 2008 episode of Chowder (pg. 120)
--"Low Tidings" the 2009 episode of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack (pg. 434)
--"Rebel With A Claus" the 2006 episode of Squidbillies (pg. 660)
--"Mr. Grumpy-Pants" the 2008 episode of Superjail! (pg. 676)
--"Christmas With the Addams Family" the 1965 episode of The Addams Family (pg. 6)

The above page numbers reference where in the book, Tis the Season TV, these programs are discussed.

I organized last year's selections to include several science fiction stories and several others that my friends had asked to see. This year's selections I've chosen in order to include another literary one (last year had Franz Kafka--this year is William Burroughs) and then several weird ones in increasing bizarreness, closing with the feel-good episode of The Addams Family.

Christmas is certainly a time when we work extra hard to make ourselves happy. Watching television programs and movies is one way to make ourselves feel the way we want at the holidays. Have you compiled your own marathon of Christmas programs to watch? is it gathered around a theme? Share your experiences.

Set Your DVRs: Doctor Who Christmas Marathon

On Christmas Day, Saturday Dec. 25th, BBC America is running a marathon of Christmas episodes of the hit British sci-fi series Doctor Who. Fans of the show know that there have been several holiday-themed episodes produced since the show's recent reincarnation. Christmas day's marathon includes: "The Unquiet Dead;" "The Christmas Invasion;" "The Runaway Bride;" "Voyage of the Damned;" and "The Next Doctor." The episodes will repeat throughout the day so check the schedule on BBC America for the listings--or search on TVGuide.com.

But the best news is that the newest Doctor Who Christmas episode debuts on Christmas night at 9pm (EST) after the marathon. 2010's "A Christmas Carol" stars the latest Doctor played by Matt Smith with special guest, actor Michael Gambon. I can't wait!

2007's "Voyage of the Damned" with special guest Kylie Minogue

2008's "The Next Doctor" with special guest David Morrissey

2010's "A Christmas Carol" Doctor Who Christmas episode--premieres Dec. 25th

Of course, Doctor Who has dealt with Charles Dickens before. The nineteenth-century author is a character in the 2005 episode "The Unquiet Dead" and the familiar Dickensian subject of exploited orphans in Victorian London is incorporated into the 2008 episode "The Next Doctor."

Book Tour: Cleveland OH recap

Blue Arrow Records and Boutique on Waterloo Rd. in Cleveland, OH

Last Saturday, December 18th--Blue Arrow Records and Boutique was the final stop on my book tour. I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of their Holiday Extravaganza event where I signed books and read from the encyclopedia. Since Blue Arrow Records is a hip vinyl record store, I read three summaries from Tis the Season TV with a cool musical connection: 1977's Johnny Cash Christmas Special (with special guests/fellow Sun Studios recording artists Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins who perform a tribute to the then-recently deceased Elvis Presley); 1965's The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood with special guests Eric Burdon and the Animals; and, 1975's The Christmas Messenger which includes recording artist/rocker David Essex.

That's me on the right--reading from the encyclopedia

Both the 1977 Johnny Cash special and The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood are also included in my book The Christmas TV Companion--in the TV Variety chapter. If you are interested in more out-of-the-ordinary Christmas titles with a musical connection, check out the movie Christmas on Mars--made by several members of the band The Flaming Lips. Or, look for the 2004 episode Santa's Rockin' of the children's musical program The Wiggles. This installment includes Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer John Fogerty and actor/singer Barry Williams performing holiday songs for pre-schoolers.

Sorry about the foreign subtitles :(

Another favorite is George Michael guest starring as himself on The Catherine Tate Show Christmas special in 2007. He sings karaoke with Tate's nurse Bernie character at the hospital staff holiday party. Together they sing "Fairytale of New York" the much beloved Christmas song made popular by the Irish band, The Pogues.

Book Tour: Chicago IL recap

Joanna reading from Tis the Season TV

Last Wednesday, Dec. 15th on my book tour, I made a stop in Chicago's Northside. Along with three local authors, I had a book reading and signing at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. I read three summaries from the encyclopedia, Tis the Season TV, and the opening paragraph from the Introduction of The Christmas TV Companion. The three summaries I read were 'something older, something newer, and something rare': 1966's Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory from the dramatic anthology series ABC Stage 67; 2009's animated Yes, Virginia; and, 1964's TV movie Carol for Another Christmas.

Thanks to the Book Cellar for hosting this December event and much kindness to the three wonderful authors with whom I shared the evening.

Joanna and Kelly: We should be a recruitment poster for studying film!

Visiting Chicago also gave me the opportunity to meet up with a friend I hadn't seen in years :) My hotel as within walking distance of my favorite diner, Ed Debevic's, and the downtown Macy's. There's no place like Chicago for Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chicago Christmas in the Snow

left to right: Bob, Howard, Carol, Jerry and Emily on The Bob Newhart Show

As I sit here snowed-in because of a blizzard currently dumping on Northeast Ohio, I'm reminded of the second season Christmas episode of The Bob Newhart Show. In 1973's "I'm Dreaming of A Slight Christmas," Dr. Bob Hartley and his wife, Emily, anticipate spending Christmas Eve together. Unfortunately, Bob finds himself stuck at the office--comforting an anxious Mr.Peterson and controlling the drunken office party. A power outage brought on by a blizzard adds further complications to the evening. Bob finally makes it home only to sleep through Emily’s ruined dinner.

Carol is enjoying her holiday Irish coffee!

You can watch this episode on Hulu. Click here for that link.

Fans of the Bob Newhart Show may be delighted to know that there are six Christmas episodes--one each year the series was made:

1972's "His Busiest Season"
1973's "I'm Dreaming of A Slight Christmas"
1974's "Home Is Where the Hurt Is"
1975's "Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital"
1976's "Making Up is the Thing To Do"
and 1977's "'Twas the Pie Before Christmas"

This series also produced an incredibly funny Thanksgiving episode (and my all-time favorite Bob Newhart Show episode)--the 1975's "Over The River and Through the Woods." This fourth season episode is available for viewing on DVD and on Netflix.

Speaking of Chicago: I'll be signing copies of both of my books at The Book Cellar in Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 15th at 7pm. See you there!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Joanna on TV: updated schedule

If you haven't already seen my recent appearances on television, here is an updated schedule when the programs will air again.

I provided commentary on The Real Story of Christmas now airing on the History Channel. I'm in one brief segment near the end. This program will broadcast again on Wednesday, Dec. 22nd at 10 pm and later that night again at 2 am. It is also available for purchase--see the History Channel store for details.

I'm also on 25 Most Hilarious Holiday TV Moments now running on TV Guide Network. I appear in several places throughout the program. My favorite moment is when I name the band members of KISS who lend their voices to the 2000 Christmas episode of Family Guy. This program is re-airing:
Monday, Dec. 13th at 3 pm
Friday, Dec. 17th at 2 pm
Saturday, Dec. 18th at 3 pm and again at 5 pm
Tuesday, Dec. 21st at 2 pm
Wednesday, Dec. 22nd at 3 pm and again at 7 pm
and Saturday, Dec. 25th at 11 am.

Me on Teen Focus airing throughout December

I also have a half-hour interview now airing on Teen Focus, a Cleveland OH cable access show. It is airing in Cleveland on Cable 9 throughout the month of December: Mondays at 7 am and 11:30 am; Tuesdays at 5:30 pm; and Saturdays at 6 pm.

If you don't live in Cleveland, OH, you can watch the interview on-line on Cable9.org

--go to Cable9.org
--click on box on left 'Cable 9 on-line'
--click on box on right 'Cable 9 on-line'
--drag drop-down menu marked 'All Folders'
--click on 'Teen Focus'
--select my interview

It's not that complicated. But this interview will only be available during the month of December. So if you're curious, watch it now.

That's me on the monitors!

Set Your DVRs: Yes, Virginia

The latest adaptation of the story inspired by real-live event, Yes, Virginia is airing on Friday Dec. 17th at 8pm (EST) on CBS. This charming 2009 animated TV special is sponsored by Macy's. It tells the story of the the turn-of-the-century Virginia O'Hanlon who writes a letter to the newspaper asking about the existence of Santa Claus. The inspiring response written by the New York Sun's editor, Francis P. Church, begins with the now famous line "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus..."

This story inspired by actual events has been adapted for television several times. There was a 1991 TV movie entitled Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus which starred Richard Thomas as Virginia's father, Mr. O'Hanlon and Charles Bronson--yes, that Charles Bronson as the newspaper editor, Church. Unfortunately, this made-for-TV movie is difficult to find.

Actor Richard Thomas

Many of us grew up watching the half-hour animated 1974 adaptation. It is produced and directed by Bill Melendez, the same producer/director who made A Charlie Brown Christmas. This 1974 adaptation also features the title song performed by Jimmy Osmond, the youngest of the Osmond family's brothers.

Part 1 of 1974's Yes Virginia There Is a Santa Claus

Did you know: Virginia O'Hanlon actually appeared on the 1960 Perry Como Christmas Special? And, the original letter written by the young Virginia O'Hanlon turned up on an episode of PBS's Antiques Roadshow? It was authenticated and appraised by Kathleen Guzman.

Click here to see that episode of Antiques Roadshow.

Book Tour: Milwaukee WI recap

This past Wednesday I was at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee for a speaking engagement and book signing. Those in attendance were a great crowd--eager to talk about their favorite Christmas TV programs. Not only am I grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for Christmas on TV but it's always wonderful to talk with others that are equally passionate about it.

Thanks again to Boswell Book Company. I've been on the road now since early November which can be difficult at times. But I enjoyed my time spent in Milwaukee--and I'm already making plans to return. While there, I ate dinner at the espionage-themed restaurant, Safe House, found the Fonzie statue and toured the Miller Brewing Company.

As I was leaving the site of the brewing facility, it just happened to be a shift change and factory workers came pouring out of the brick buildings into the very cold winter air. It reminded me of brief scenes from the TV series Laverne & Shirley where the employees of Shotz Brewery huddle together to punch their time cards entering and exiting the factory in the winter time. Okay, maybe it was just me--but those thoughts actually occurred to me in the moment and made my trip just that much more interesting.

My favorite brewery workers, Laverne and Shirley

My next book tour stops: Wednesday, Dec. 15th I'll be at the Book Cellar in Chicago, IL at 7pm. I'll not only be speaking for a few minutes but I'll be signing both The Christmas TV Companion and Tis the Season TV, the encyclopedia.

On Saturday, Dec. 18th I'll be signing both books at Blue Arrow Records and Boutique in Cleveland, OH starting at 6pm. See you there!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Days in Milwaukee

I'm in Milwaukee for my book signing tonight, Wednesday Dec. 8th at 7pm at Boswell Book Company. This is my first time visiting the fine state of Wisconsin but as soon as I drove over the Illinois border I was flooded with false memories. I saw signs for Kenosha and Lake Geneva--locations referenced by the characters on TV's Happy Days. And, I somehow knew Milwaukee was only an hour and a half's drive from Chicago--from the bus schedule repeated on TV's Laverne and Shirley. These aren't exactly false memories as much as knowledge attained not my own life experiences. But I love it and it makes being in Milwaukee comfortable and familiar. You gotta know my first stop after arriving in town last night was to visit the Fonzie statue downtown.

Aaayyy! Welcome to Milwaukee Joanna

Being here also reminds me of the fantastic Christmas episodes with our favorite TV characters from Milwaukee. There are many holiday episodes from Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and even one from Joanie Loves Chachie. Of course, all of these Christmas installments are included in my book Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials and Movies.

Below is my favorite Happy Days Christmas episode "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" from 1974. This story takes place before Fonzie lives above the garage with the Cunningham family--and includes a tenderness and generosity that warms the heart. This 1970s series that takes place during the 1950s also incorporates a sense of nostalgia inherent in it's storytelling. This too adds to the emotional impact for a Christmas story--even if the viewer didn't originally experience or live through the 1950s (or the 1970s!). I also love the berserk robotic Santa Claus decoration for the Cunningham's front yard. Enjoy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Tour: Indianapolis recap

Joanna and Ralph

Tonight was my latest author appearance and book signing--this time I was at Mudsock Books and Curiosities in northeast Indianapolis, Indiana. The shop cat, Ralph, took over immediately as my assistant, ably managing my affairs as I greeted people in the book store. Thanks to Cindy and Marcia at Mudsock Books for hosting me.

Next I'll be signing books in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Dec. 8th at 7pm, I'll be at Boswell Book Company (2559 N. Downer Ave. 53211). See you there!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

1980s Christmas: A Christmas Story (movie)

This feature film was first released into theaters but it has since earned its top spot as a favorite Christmas tradition because of its repeated broadcasts on television. In fact, it has been airing as a 24 hour marathon on Christmas every year since 1997 on one of the Turner Broadcasting channels. This popularity as a favorite holiday tradition can be measured as the 24 hour marathon continues to achieve higher and higher TV ratings with each successive year. That’s not bad for a movie made almost 30 years ago!

It’s no wonder that we love this holiday movie. The story has nostalgia built right in to it with a narrator providing adult reflections of his childhood Christmas. It doesn’t matter if viewers are aware that the story takes place sometime in the 1930s or ‘40s, long before most of us were alive. The movie effectively creates a sentimental, familiar time within the past whether you recognize the references to Little Orphan Annie and Ovaltine or not.

The movie is also just quirky enough charm the coldest of hearts from the scene where the boys triple dog dare their pal to touch his tongue to the frozen metal pole through the scene where the mother screams at the Chop Suey Palace’s Christmas duck served with a smile on its face.

This movie often seems more like a collection of short vignettes rather than one narrative sequence. But if there’s one overarching theme, it is probably the fear of not getting what you most want for Christmas. A very human story that everyone, whatever your age, can relate to.

What's your favorite scene(s)? Mine is the scene where Ralphie scrambles back up the slide to speak with the department store Santa--only to be told his Christmas wish is denied while Santa pushes him back down the slide by placing his boot on Ralphie's head!

"Back of the line, kid!" Jean Shepherd on the left.

This movie’s story is based on the novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” written by author and radio personality, Jean Shepherd. Not only is it Shepherd himself who provides the voice of the narrator but he also appears as the man in the department store in line to see Santa Claus who points out to Ralphie where the end of the line is.

"It's a major award!" Darren McGavin and Bob Clark

The film’s director Bob Clark also appears in the movie as the Swede, the character the father speaks to when they stand across the street, eyeing the new leg lamp in the window, repeating “it’s a major award.”

The cast includes: Peter Billingsley as Ralphie; Darren McGavin as the father; Melinda Dillon as the mother; Ian Petrella as Randy; Zack Ward as Scut Farcus; and Scott Schwartz as Flick.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Tour resumes: Indianapolis, IN

After taking a week-long break to celebrate Thanksgiving, I've returned to my book tour--heading into the Midwest.

Monday, Dec. 6th I'll be signing books at Mudsock Books and Curiosities from 5-7pm, in Northeast Indianapolis, Indiana. Please see listing along the right hand side of this blog marked '2010 Author Events' for details and the link for an address.

Then on Wednesday, Dec. 8th I'll be at Boswell Book Company at 7pm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I've already received some press in Milwaukee and I'm hoping for a good turn out. That always makes for better energy and fun event.

And, Wednesday Dec. 15th I'll be in the Book Cellar at 7pm in Chicago.

I'm really looking forward to these Midwest events--there's already a significant amount of snow on the ground in Indianapolis. I found myself singing "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" as I entered the city. Snow in December always makes it feel more Christmasy. Come out and support your local indie book sellers and meet the author of The Christmas TV Companion and Tis the Season TV.