About Christmas TV History

Monday, April 30, 2012

Kate Bush Christmas Special (1979)

Kate Bush during her performance of the song 'Egypt.'

I was recently asked about this BBC TV special and I thought I'd share my comments here.  Kate: Kate Bush Christmas Special is a stage performance by Kate Bush with her special guest Peter Gabriel.  Though most of the songs are not holiday ones, they come from Bush’s first three albums (Never for Ever her third album would be released in 1980 after this 1979 TV special was taped).  The performances include costumes, choreographed dances and a wind machine, creating an eclectic music TV special to say the least.

This is one of the programs that makes my research quite difficult--because it calls itself a Christmas Special yet it contains only one performance of a Christmas song "December Will Be Magic Again"  (a song that wouldn't be released as a single by Bush until the following year, in 1980).  TV programming that calls itself a Christmas Special and yet contains little to no Christmas entertainment is actually quite common--especially on the BBC.

Between the end of November and the end of December each year, there is quite a bit of special programming on television.  Remember Elvis' 1968 Comeback Special--it aired in December that year and includes only one holiday song, a performance of "Blue Christmas."  Is it considered a Christmas special?  No, not really.  And so, despite its title, the lack of holiday programming in Kate Bush's 1979 TV special means it shouldn't be considered a Christmas special either.  But the Kate Bush Christmas Special is certainly worth watching!  Check it out:

Part 1: Kate opens the show singing “Violin” a song which would eventually be released on her 1980 album Never For Ever.  Next she performs “Symphony in Blue” and “Them Heavy People.”

Part 2: Special guest Peter Gabriel performs “Here Comes the Flood” followed by Bush singing “Ran Tan Waltz” and “December Will Be Magic Again.”  Next Bush performs “The Wedding List.”

Part 3: Peter Gabriel returns to join Bush singing “Another Day,” a cover song originally written by Roy Harper.  Next, Kate Bush performs “Egypt”

Part 4 continues: Bush performs “The Man With a Child in his Eyes" and “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak.”

Do you have a special TV program you like to watch each December that isn't Christmas-themed?  I know many people enjoy the movies The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music at Christmas time, even if they're not holiday-themed movies.  How about you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve

Though my main focus is Christmas-themed entertainments, I also write about New Year's, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and various other December holidays.  I cover these other holidays because there is much overlap in our television and filmed stories about these celebrations.  I also discovered in my research that the themes of these specific holiday stories are also nearly identical (themes of coming together, family, forgiveness, second chances, miracles, and tradition and ritual are the most common).

Like so many other TV viewers, I've made it a habit of watching Dick Clark host the live countdown to the ball drop in Times Square each New Year's Eve.  With Clark's passing on April 18th, I'd like to remember him by discussing a TV special which aired last New Year's Eve--a tribute to the past 40 years of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve TV specials.  This two-hour special entitled New Year's Rockin' Eve: 40th Anniversary Party was a live broadcast that aired just before the annual New Year's Rockin' Eve coverage of the ball drop in 2011.

The 40th Anniversary Party aired live, hosted by Fergie and Jenny McCarthy with special appearances by Ryan Seacrest.  Live musical performances included: Hot Chelle Rae; Pitbull; The Band Perry; Florence + The Machine; LMFAO; and, OneRepublic.  This holiday TV special also included a countdown of the 40 best musical performances of top artists from the past 40 years of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve specials.

Dick Clark in Times Square in the 1980s

The 40 best performances countdown includes the following clips:
#40: Celebrate by Three Dog Night in 1973;
#39: Just Another New Year’s Eve by Barry Manilow in 1981;
#38: Like a G-6 by Far East Movement in 2011;
#37: Who Let the Dogs Out by Baha Men in 2001;
#36: All Night Long by Lionel Richie in 2009;
#35: Last Dance by Donna Summer in 2004;
#34: Hold My Hand by Hootie & the Blowfish in 1995;
#33: Home by Daughtry in 2010;
#32: Shoop by Salt-N-Pepa in 1995;
#31: Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles in 1987.

#30: Unfaithful by Rihanna in 2007;
#29: Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg by TLC in 1993;
#28: Girl’s Night Out by Miley Cyrus in 2008;
#27: White Wedding by Billy Idol in 2005;
#26: Conga by Miami Sound Machine in 1987;
#25: S.O.S by the Jonas Brothers in 2008;
#24: Maneater by Hall & Oates in 1983;
#23: I Honestly Love You by Olivia Newton John in 1975;
#22: One Time by Justin Bieber in 2010;
#21: Fergalicious by Fergie in 2007.

From the Archive of American Television: Dick Clark discussing New Year's Rockin' Eve

The countdown continues: #20: Picture to Burn by Taylor Swift in 2009;
#19: Medley by NKOTBSB in 2011;
#18: Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys in 1975;
#17: Shout by Tears for Fears in 1986;
#16: Get the Party Started by Pink in 2002;
#15: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye by Boyz II Men in 1992;
#14: Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band in 1976;
#13: Don’t Cha by the Pussycat Dolls in 2006;
#12: Heart of Glass by Blondie in 1980;
#11: Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield in 1982.

Jennifer Lopez performed in a one-piece outfit in the rain!

#10: Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood in 2008;
#9: We Got the Beat by the Go-Go’s in 1983;
#8: Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas in 2010;
#7: Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in 1989;
#6: Wannabe by the Spice Girls in 1998;
#5: Candyman by Christina Aguilera in 2007;
#4: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club in 1984;
#3: Y.M.C.A. by the Village People in 1993;
#2: We Belong Together by Mariah Carey in 2006; and,
#1: Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez in 2010.

Last year's New Year's Rockin' Eve would be last one.

Though Dick Clark himself did not appear in this 40th Anniversary TV special, there was a short segment of edited clips of Dick enduring snow, cold, wind and talking to people from all over the world in Times Square during his annual New Year’s TV specials over the past 40 years.

Though no summary ever replaces the experience of watching the TV program yourself, it is satisfying to know that Dick Clark's legacy was being celebrated while he was still alive.  These 40 songs selected as the best performances over 40 years are a quick snapshot of popular music over the last several decades.  Though no mention is made on who selected these 40 performances, I assume the aged Dick Clark had nothing to do with it.  However, I'd rather hear about the 40 performances Dick Clark would choose.

Since Clark's stroke in 2004, his hosting duties had been diminished while Ryan Seacrest stepped in to lead the show.  But Dick still made appearances on each of his New Year's Rockin' Eve specials since his stroke despite his frail health.  Clark will be missed.  And, my apologies to Ryan Seacrest but...New Year's Eve will never quite be the same.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

James Garner: One Special Night (1999)

I recently reviewed actor James Garner's book The Garner Files: A Memoir written with Jon Winokur.  Click here to see that review again.  Garner repeatedly refers to his friendship with actress Julie Andrews, having worked with her in three different movies.  She also wrote the Introduction to his book The Garner Files.  The third film on which they worked together is the 1999 TV Christmas movie One Special Night.  This story takes its inspiration from the stage play A Winter Visitor, written by Jan Hartman.

James Garner as Robert, Julie Andrews as Catherine.

The story begins at Thanksgiving when a blizzard prompts Catherine to offer a stranger named Robert a ride home from the nursing facility.  Catherine has been there visiting the room where her now deceased husband had spent his final months.  Robert is in the hospice keeping company with his wife who is tragically suffering from Alzheimers disease.

A blizzard forces the strangers into one car to share a dangerous ride home.

The journey home in the storm is treacherous and their car slides off the road.  Eventually they are forced to abandon the car and seek shelter in an empty cabin in the woods.  Though they don’t get along at first, James and Catherine come to share one special night in that cabin, safe and warm by the fire place.

The emergency situation brings the strangers emotionally closer together.

Catherine and Robert find they share many things in common after all.

After the storm passes and they find transportation back to the city, the couple promises to meet again the following week at a local diner.

Catherine waits at the diner at the appointed time but Robert never arrives.

But at the appointed hour, circumstances interfere and the couple do not reunite as planned.  That is, until Christmas Eve when Catherine is called in to the hospital where she works as a pediatric cardiologist, asked to help deliver a premature baby, the birth of Robert’s grandchild.

Catherine pretends her feelings aren't hurt that Robert stood her up.

When Catherine and Robert see each other on Christmas Eve, the hurt feelings over the missed breakfast date are explained and the couple have one more chance to come together.  The romance here is in the details but I don't want to give too much away and spoil it.  It's a classic romance story with a stellar cast that makes it extra special.  Like some of the best TV movies, it's a small story with great nuanced performances.

Christmas TV movie fans will appreciate this love story.  Its touching romance reminds me of several other classic Christmas TV movie romances including 1969's Silent Night, Lonely Night with Lloyd Bridges and Shirley Jones, and 1988's The Christmas Wife with Jason Robards and Julie Harris.

Will their future hold more than ONE special night?

However, One Special Night has a special place in my heart after reading in Garner's memoirs that it is one of his favorites as well.  What's your favorite Christmas TV movie romance?

This TV movie is available for viewing on DVD--I easily found it at my local library.  Watch the trailer here.   The full movie is worth seeking out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

James Garner: The Garner Files book review

One of the things that I do each Spring (the Christmas off-season) is catch up on a long list of pop culture non-fiction books.  At the top of this list is last year's biography of actor James Garner.

The Garner Files: A Memoir by James Garner and Jon Winokur reflects back on the leading man's personal life and career.  You'll read about Garner's scrappy upbringing in Norman, Oklahoma and his unintentional start in show business.  There are details of his time spent playing the gambler Brett Maverick on the hit TV western Maverick and his iconic private detective Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files--the two TV roles he's most closely associated with.  For more dedicated fans of TV history, you'll love to read Garner's take on the lawsuit he took up against Warner Brothers after Maverick and the one against the network after The Rockford Files

James Garner's first major TV role: the slick fast-talking, gambler Brett Maverick

If you're a fan of Garner like I am, you'll be interested to know that this memoir seems to capture the actor's own voice.  You'll believe him when he discusses his chronic life-long knee problems, his passion for race car driving and golf, and the tenderness of his words when he discusses working with co-star Julie Andrews.

Movie poster for 1964's movie co-starring Garner and Andrews

The affection seems to go both ways as Julie Andrews pens a touching introduction to his book.  You may remember that Garner and Andrews shared the screen in the movies The Americanization of Emily in 1964, Victor Victoria in 1982 and again in the TV movie One Special Night in 1999.

Though Garner doesn't reflect in depth on every movie and TV series in his very long career, he does include comments on the projects he himself liked and felt were important to his career and personal life.  If you're like me, you'll hang on his every word as you read about his time spent in the company of Hollywood royalty such as Marlon Brando (with whom he co-starred in the 1957 film Sayonara), Steve McQueen (with whom he worked in 1963's The Great Escape--they were also next door neighbors in Los Angeles), Lauren Bacall (he brought her in on the sixth season of The Rockford Files), and of course, Julie Andrews.

He spelled my name wrong but I love it anyway!

If you've been in my home, you've likely seen my framed autographed photos of James Garner hanging on the wall.  I joined the Official James Garner Fan Club in 1980 when I was still in elementary school.  I've had those photos of my favorite star hanging up since I received them in the mail--in my childhood bedroom, my college dorm rooms and since.  The corners are torn and the photos are losing their tones from sun exposure but I enjoy having them out and seeing them.  They remind me of my favorite TV shows, The Rockford Files and Maverick, and the young girl with a passion for TV and its stars.  Garner's memoir is a must read for all classic TV and film fans.

My fan club membership card.  The embossed lettering has mostly worn off because I carried it in my wallet for years.

Do you remember reading my book reviews from last year?  Click the link to check them out again.   Alison Arngrim's Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and Melissa Gilbert's Prairie Tale.  You may remember that both of these biographies were written by actresses from the 1970s TV series Little House on the Prairie.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Everybody Hates Chris (2007) Kwanzaa

The TV sitcom Everybody Hates Chris takes its inspiration from the life experiences of comedian Chris Rock.  Rock even serves as the show's narrator.  I previously blogged about the first Christmas episode of this series.  Click here to see that again.  Another holiday episode is the third season's "Everybody Hates Kwanzaa" from 2007.  Since Everybody Hates Chris is currently airing in syndication on several national networks, I see that this episode airs year round and often.

The family in their African garb.

This story takes place during December, 1985.  Upset with the consumption and materialism of the Christmas holiday, Chris’ dad Julius decides the family will celebrate Kwanzaa this year.  The family studies the principles of the celebration, gathers the food, the candles, and the African clothes but they each feel left out on Christmas day.

Kill Moves cardboard box home has a spacious interior much like the TARDIS
Meanwhile, Chris busies himself with his teacher’s assignment of committing an act of charity over the school break.  Chris offers to help his mentally unstable, homeless friend Kill Moves buy a gift for his mother.

Kill Moves' socialite mother lives in a luxurious and spacious apartment on East 63rd Street

Chris even accompanies Kill Moves to the wealthy Upper East Side to visit the woman on Christmas day. Do you recognize Kill Moves mother? It's Phylicia Rashad (she was also Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show). Turns out, Kill Moves' mother Kathleen Deveroux not only cares for her son but financially supports him.  This experience teaches Chris something about charity that he never expected.

On Dec. 26th, the family gets their long-awaited Christmas

Chris’ mom Rochelle finds out that the family is only celebrating Kwanzaa because her husband didn’t receive his Christmas bonus this year.  On the day after Christmas, after the stores open with their 75% off sales, Chris’ family finally has their Christmas.

If you know anything about Kwanzaa, you'll appreciate the joke that Julius will inevitably run into trouble trying to replace Christmas with Kwanzaa.  Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration starting December 26th each year while Christmas takes place on December 25th.  Those who honor the tradition of Kwanzaa know that it is an additional celebration--not usually one to replace Christmas or any other holiday. 

Remember Antonio Fargas from Starsky & Hutch?  He played Huggy Bear, the pimp informant
One of the things I like about this series is that the background characters are often played by familiar actors known for their outstanding black characters on previous hit shows.  This episode includes special guest Phylicia Rashad, as I mentioned before.  It also includes:  Jackée Harry (who played Sandra on 227) as the hairdresser Vanessa; Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch) as store owner Doc; Ernest Thomas (who played Raj on What's Happening!!) as funeral director Mr. Omar; and,  J.B. Smoove (Leon Black from Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays Julius' friend Manny.

You can easily find this episode available for viewing as it currently airs on BET and other networks.  It is also on the second disc of the third season DVD release.