About Christmas TV History

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Andy Griffith Show Christmas (1960)

Can you whistle the theme song?

I'm frequently asked which Christmas TV episodes are my personal favorites.  The holiday episode of The Andy Griffith Show is right at the top of my list--I've been watching it all my life and it could be the one Christmas episode I've seen more times than any other.  It's also one that I still look forward to seeing each year.  It's certainly one of the best Christmas stories that TV has to offer.

Mr. Weaver holds the evidence: a jug filled with spirits made by Sam to make his Christmas merrier.

In the 1960 episode “The Christmas Story,” Sheriff Taylor and his deputy Barney Fife know that they can’t leave prisoners unattended so they send home all the men sitting in their jail and plan on spending Christmas with their family.  But local businessman Ben Weaver insists that Andy lock up a moonshiner, Sam, a Mayberry resident that isn’t buying Weaver’s store’s liquor but illegally making his own.

Not wanting to split up a family over Christmas, Andy shows Ben Weaver that he's arrested Sam's wife and childen on accessory charges.

Now the Taylor family will move their Christmas celebration--dinner, tree and all--to the jailhouse.

Unable to convince the curmudgeonly Weaver to change his mind, Andy and Barney move their Christmas celebration to the jail so the moonshiner won’t be alone--even inviting Sam’s family to join him there.  Aunt Bea brings in a Christmas dinner and the adults begin singing “Deck the Halls” as they decorate the Christmas tree.  But Ben Weaver is still angry about the prisoner’s “privileges” as the holiday party begins.

Outside standing on a fruit crate, Ben peers through the barred window, watching the holiday festivities.

Though it takes a little while for Andy to catch on, the lonely Weaver commits several petty crimes, forcing the sheriff to arrest Weaver so he can enjoy a traditional family Christmas with Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Opie and Sam and his family.  After he’s arrested, Ben reveals he’s remembered to bring Christmas presents for everyone.

Once you've seen it, you'll never forget seeing Barney as Santa Claus.

Andy and Ellie singing "Away in a Manger" at the Christmas party.

This classic heartwarming episode includes a wonderful scene with Andy and his girlfriend Ellie, played by Elinor Donahue, singing “Away in a Manger” while Andy plays his guitar.  These souls are so filled with the Christmas spirit, it’s no wonder Ben Weaver wanted to do whatever it took to join them at their party.

Turns out, Ben Weaver has more than enough Christmas spirits.

Do you remember how this episode concludes?  In the past, I've seen this ending edited out during re-runs in order for TV stations to cram in more commercials.  At the end of the evening, Andy sends Sam and his wife and children home due to a lack of evidence.  Turns out Ben Weaver was having so much fun at the Christmas party, he drank the contents of the jug and is now sleeping it off in a nearby jail cell. 

What's the one Christmas TV episode you've probably seen more times than any other?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome Back Kotter Christmas (1977)

Every child in my elementary school, including myself, knew how to imitate Arnold Horshack to get the teacher's attention.

Actor Ron Palillo passed away two weeks ago and I'd like to honor his legacy by recalling one of his contributions to popular culture.  I remember Palillo best for his role as Arnold Horshack on the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.  Do you remember watching the 1977 holiday episode "A Sweathog Christmas Special?"

Did you know the theme song to this series was written and sung by John Sebastian--the same guy that founded the 1960s Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame group The Lovin' Spoonful?

In this third season episode, it is the evening of Christmas Eve and the Sweathogs drop by their favorite teacher’s home to reminisce about their experiences and lives together.

The Sweathogs, costumed as reindeer and Santa, arrive on the doorstep of Mr. Kotter on Christmas Eve.

This is a clip show that features the unforgettable catch-phrases, and some of the best jokes and scenes from several of the most popular moments from previous episodes.  The flashback clips are intercut with original footage of the students and their teacher sharing their time together on Christmas Eve.

The friends spend Christmas Eve together talking and reminiscing about their common experiences.  Don't we all do this with our family and friends during the holidays?

Though the clips are many and usually quite brief, I was able to identify three of the episodes from the short clips.  These include the first season's "The Sit-In" in which Kotter encourages his students to challenge the school's cafeteria by staging a sit-in protest.  There are clips from another first season episode entitled "One of Our Sweathogs is Missing" in which Juan Epstein is defeated in a fist fight by a classmate and feels humiliated.

Remember the bully Carvelli?  He's played by Charles Fleischer--the cartoon voice of Roger Rabbit!  He's not THAT intimidating.

And, there are clips from the second season memorable episode "Horshack vs. Carvelli" in which Arnold stands up to a bully named Carvelli in the schoolyard and challenges him to a boxing match.  Near the end of this Christmas show, Vice Principal Woodman also dressed as Santa Claus comes to Mr. Kotter’s apartment to deliver his own holiday greetings.

Mr. Woodman tells Barbarino: "Up your nose with some mistletoe!"

Clips shows are not uncommon for Christmas episodes on TV.  If asked to defend the clip show, I would argue that Christmas is that one special time of year that we often indulge ourselves in our memories, looking back to funny moments and the highlights of our year.  So why not reflect this practice for our favorite TV characters?  I think it is best accomplished when the clips are woven together with original footage--just as it's done in this Welcome Back, Kotter episode.  Several other Christmas flashback clip shows include I Love Lucy, Diff'rent Strokes, In the Heat of the Night, Beverly Hills 90210, Friends and even 2011's Power Rangers Samurai.  And, sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live has made an industry out of reconfiguring clips from past episodes into Christmas TV specials.  Do you like clip shows?  why or why not?

(left) Robert Hegyes passed away in January 2012--and (right) Ron Palillo died in August.  We will miss them.

There are two more Christmas episodes of Welcome Back, Kotter but I felt like sharing this one today to remember actor Ron Palillo.  It seems like a clip show, by virtue of its structure, encourages remembering the good times from years past--an appropriate sentiment with the passing of a TV friend.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Year's Eve movie (2011)

I recently reviewed writer/producer/director Garry Marshall's new book My Happy Days in HollywoodClick HERE to see that review again.  His reminiscences on his work in television sent me to seek out Christmas episodes from some of his past series.  Many of these Christmas episodes are some of my personal favorites--episodes I love to watch over and over again. So far, I've recounted Christmas episodes from The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachie.  Click those titles for the link to return to those posts.  Since the early 1980s, Garry Marshall has been more focused on his career as a film director.  Remember a little movie called Pretty Woman?  Yeah, he's had quite a bit of success with that.  Among his many titles, Marshall directed last year's holiday film New Year's Eve

This mega-ensemble love story takes place in New York City on December 31st, 2011.  The storylines all converge as the characters find love and togetherness on the one night of the year filled with so much hope and expectation.  The characters’ storylines intersect and merge in the most romantic places throughout New York City including Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, an elite party of celebrities and eventually even a hospital.  The charm of this movie however is the abundance of celebrities filling both major and minor roles throughout the film.

Zac Efron as bike messenger Paul (left) with Michelle Pfeiffer (right) as the dowdy, senior Ingrid.  I found this storyline to be the least believable.
Bike messenger Paul helps timid office assistant Ingrid fulfill a long list of resolutions before the end of the year.  The two race around the City in pursuit of completing her long wish-list before the midnight hour.

Ashton Kutcher as Randy (left) with Lea Michele as Elise (right) while still trapped in the elevator.

Paul’s best friend Randy spends the day trapped in an elevator with back-up singer Elise before they part ways--and re-meet at Times Square.

Teenager Hailey (Abigail Breslin, left) wants to meet up with a cute boy in Times Square at midnight against her mother's wishes (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Paul’s sister Kim is chasing after her fifteen year old daughter Hailey who has been forbidden to go to Times Square where she had made plans to kiss her boyfriend at midnight.

Would you say no to Jon Bon Vovi? Katherine Heigl as Laura (left) and Bon Jovi as Jensen.

Head chef Laura is catering the elite New Year’s Eve party for Ahern Records only to learn her ex-fiance, rock n' roller Jenson, is performing at the party.  Knowing he’s hurt Laura, Jensen regrets ending the relationship a year ago and now wants Laura back.

Hilary Swank as Claire Morgan (right) with Kaminsky, the only man who can repair the ball in Times Square.  Kaminsky is played by actor Hector Elizondo (left) who has appeared in every Garry Marshall film to date.

In charge of the ball drop in Times Square, Claire Morgan knows her career is in jeopardy when there is a malfunction with the lights and she has fired the only man who knows how to fix them.

Harris is played by Robert DeNiro (left) and his nurse Aimee is Halle Berry (right).

Stan Harris is lying in the hospital with only hours to live while his nurse Aimee watches over him.  Painfully, Aimee is spending the holidays away from her husband who is serving in Afghanistan.  It's interesting (be patient!) to see how these two characters are connected to the other storylines!

Josh Duhamel as Sam.

After serving as Best Man in a friend’s wedding, Sam desperately tries to make it back to the City in time to meet the woman of his dreams.

Griffin and Tess Byrne are trying to have the first baby born in the new year (Seth Myers and Jessica Biel)
And, two couples, the Byrnes and the Schwabs are in the maternity ward of the hospital both competing for the prize money for the first baby born in the new year. 

I don't want to spoil too much of the plot--the fun is seeing how all the characters and plots intersect by midnight.  Pay close attention because there are far more celebrities in the cast.  Also look for: Cary Elwes as Stan’s doctor; Alyssa Milano as another of Stan’s nurses; Common as Aimee’s husband in Afghanistan; Carla Gugino as the Byrnes’ doctor; Sofia Vergara as Laura’s sous chef; Jim Belushi as the building manager who fixes the broken elevator; Joey McIntyre as the groom in Sam’s story; Larry Miller as Sam’s tow truck driver; Yeardley Smith as Maude, the woman in the RV with Sam; Penny Marshall as herself at the Ahern party; Cherry Jones as Mrs. Rose Ahern;  Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Brendan the police officer friend of Claire; Matthew Broderick as Claire’s boss; Sarah Paulson as Grace Schwab; Til Schweiger as James Schwab; and, Ryan Seacrest and Mayor Bloomberg as themselves in Times Square.

Director Garry Marshall at the New York premiere (2011).
In his book, Garry Marshall says he really likes making these ensemble movies (Marshall also directed 2010's Valentine's Day) because he can schedule the biggest Hollywood stars asking only that they be available on set for three days or so at a time.  This arrangement makes it quite easy for busy actors to take part.  And, Marshall says the constant changes brought by a cycle of three days shooting per segment makes it exciting for him as his time on set is constantly changing.  I found those details about Marshall's work process to be quite interesting.

Have you seen New Year's Eve yet?  Which of these celebrities in the cast do you most admire?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Joanie Loves Chachie Christmas (1982)

Remember the theme song? "You Look At Me."

I recently reviewed writer/producer/director Garry Marshall's new book My Happy Days in HollywoodClick HERE to see that review again.  His reminiscences on his work in television sent me to seek out Christmas episodes from some of his past series.  Many of these Christmas episodes are some of my personal favorites--episodes I love to watch over and over again. So far, I've recounted Christmas episodes from The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy.  Click those titles for the link to return to those posts.  Though Marshall didn't have much to say in his book about the spin-off series Joanie Loves Chachie, this series did produce a Christmas episode.  The 1982 holiday episode is entitled "Christmas Show."

Joanie (Erin Moran) and Chachie (Scot Baio) were characters originally created for Happy Days.

On Christmas Eve, Al closes the restaurant so the family can be home together quietly celebrating the holiday. But Uncle Rico lavishes the young band members with expensive gifts and has booked the band to perform on a Christmas radio broadcast.  On the road to the radio station, the van gets stuck in deep snow preventing both Al and Rico from having that ideal Christmas they wanted--or so they think.  

No summary could ever replace the experience of watching it yourself.  How long has it been since you've seen this one?  Check it out:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mork & Mindy (1979)

I recently reviewed writer/producer/director Garry Marshall's new book My Happy Days in HollywoodClick HERE to see that review again.  His reminiscences on his work in television sent me to seek out Christmas episodes from some of his past series.  Many of these Christmas episodes are some of my personal favorites--episodes I love to watch over and over again. So far, I've recounted Christmas episodes from The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley.  Click those titles for the link to return to those posts.

The 1978 Mork & Mindy holiday episode is entitled "Mork's First Christmas."

Another TV series by creator/producer Garry Marshall is Mork & Mindy.  I wrote about the 1978 Christmas episode of Mork & Mindy last month during our SCI-FI Christmas in July celebration.  Click here for the link to see that post again.  What I'd like to share today is another episode of Mork & Mindy, one from the first season entitled "It's A Wonderful Mork."

Mork inadvertently chases away customers seeking music lessons.

Though this episode didn’t originally air at holiday time, this story is inspired by the everyone's favorite Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  Mork unintentionally ruins Mindy’s job opportunity, grandmother Cora's music teaching gig and Mindy's father’s dating relationship.

Without much sensitivity, Mork reveals to Margaret what Mindy's father Fred had said about her--and she takes offense.  Recognize Margaret?  That's Linda Henning--Betty Jo Bradley from Petticoat Junction.

Feeling like he's unneeded and useless, Mork goes to Orson with his regrets and is offered a solution: with the aid of Orkan technology, Mork can be 'reversified' to see what his friends’ lives would be like if he had never arrived on Earth.

"Mork Calling Orson, come in Orson."
Without being seen nor heard, Mork observes that Mindy would have a husband but she would be unhappily married to a compulsive gambler.  Mindy would be gainfully employed, but all her money would be spent on her husband Cliff's gambling debts and she wouldn't be free to pursue her own passion for a career in journalism.  Mork also observes that Mindy's father and her grandmother would also be unhappy as Mork has brought a great deal of support, encouragement and joy into their lives.

Mindy's unsupportive husband Cliff is played by actor Sam Freed, a TV veteran I remember best as Bob Barsky--Allie's eventual husband on Kate & Allie.

Though this isn't a Christmas-themed episode, it is filled with the spirit that we love to feel at holiday time--a spirit of reflection and love and appreciation for our family and friends.  This episode also serves as a reminder that those sentiments are appropriate all year round as well.

After Mork learns that his influence has improved the lives of his loved ones, he asks Orson to return him to his present circumstance and proudly proclaims "It IS a wonderful life!" Very sweet, indeed.

This is certainly not the only TV episode that adapts its plot from It's A Wonderful Life.  Can you name any others?  Let's make a list in the comments below.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Laverne & Shirley Christmas (1976)

Sing along: "We're gonna do it our way, yes, our way.  Makin' our dreams come true---for me and you."

I recently reviewed writer/producer/director Garry Marshall's new book My Happy Days in HollywoodClick HERE to see that review again.  His reminiscences on his work in television sent me to seek out Christmas episodes from some of his past series.  Many of these Christmas episodes are some of my personal favorites--episodes I love to watch over and over again.  Though I've seen this first Laverne & Shirley Christmas episode referred to by the title "Christmas at the Booby Hatch," it is officially titled "Oh Hear the Angels' Voices" on the second season DVD setHow long has it been since you've seen this one?

Carmine asks his friends at the Pizza Bowl to join him in entertaining at a hospital at Christmas time.

Here, the Big Ragoo asks his friends to perform at a Christmas show he’s organizing at a hospital.  Not until they arrive do the Pizza Bowl Players realize they are performing at a psychiatric hospital!  Though Laverne, Shirley, Lenny, Squiggy, Carmine, Mrs. Babish and Frank DeFazio feel awkward and even a little afraid, they realize these patients need cheering up at the holiday too and they decide to stay. 

In this variety show-within-a-show, Frank serves as emcee.

This Christmas episode is another one of those show-within-a-show storylines.  I don't know about you, but I LOVE THESE Christmas episodes.  It's a chance for some very talented cast members on sitcoms to showcase their singing and dancing skills they may not get to show off during a typical scripted comedy series episode.  These holiday variety shows often play up a kind of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland-spirited "Let's put on a show in the barn!" kind of excitement that I just love!  And, there are a bunch of them including 1961's Car 54, Where Are You? Christmas episode, 1963's Dick Van Dyke Show holiday episode, 1978's Good Times Christmas episode, and 1984's Facts of Life Christmas episode just to name a few.  Are you familiar with these?

Lenny and the Squigtones perform an original Christmas song.

At the hospital, the friends from the Pizza Bowl perform song and dance numbers including Lenny and the Squigtones playing an unforgettable original song “The Jolliest Fat Man.”  This song's music and lyrics are credited to Michael McKean and David L. Lander, the actors/musicians behind the characters of Lenny and Squiggy, respectively.  

Recognize that drummer playing in the band as Carmine dances?  It's none other than the show's creator/executive producer Garry Marshall himself!

Carmine sings and tap dances to “Jingle Bell Rock."  Next up: Laverne and Shirley, dressed as elves, singing, dancing, and twirling batons to the Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland.” 

Laverne and Shirley's baton twirling big finish--and there's Penny Marshall's big brother Garry again seated at the drum kit.
The performers all come back on stage for the big finalé.

Singing 'Silent Night' together, the friends from the Pizza Bowl know that they have done a good thing performing for an appreciative audience.

At the the end of the episode, the entertainers and the patients at the hospital come together to sing “Silent Night.”

Shirley is terrified of the patient that stares at her while Laverne is shamelessly flirting with another patient!

Some of the best comedy in this episode is in the small details.  Remember how terrified Shirley was to be in a psychiatric hospital?  She explains that as a child, her parents used to frighten her into behaving by threatening to send her to a mental institution. (What horrible parents!?)  Making matters worse, there's a female patient that keeps staring at Shirley.  The same patient creepily turns away each time Shirley returns her gaze.  It's funny because no one else sees what Shirley sees--and Laverne is preoccupied with her own new friend.

Laverne and her new friend singing 'Silent Night.'

Remember Laverne shamelessly flirting with one of the psychiatric patients?  The character is introduced as Mr. Van Horn in the story but in the closing credits, his name reads Vincent Van Eagle.  No matter.  Laverne's friend is actually David Duclon, the writer of this hilarious Christmas episode. 

On the left: Roger Garrett as Mr. Pulper impersonating a doctor.  On the right: Howard Hesseman as an actual member of staff at the hospital, Dr. Grayson

TV veteran and funnyman Howard Hesseman plays Dr. Grayson the psychiatric doctor in charge at the hospital.   And, one of the more memorable characters is Mr. Pulper, a psychiatric patient who first introduces himself to the Pizza Bowl Players as one of the members of staff.  Did you know that Roger Garrett who plays Mr. Pulper was also a member of the writing staff on Laverne & Shirley?

The doctor is taking notes!

Another small detail: whenever Lenny and Squiggy seem to be around, Dr. Grayson is seen nearby taking notes on their awkward and strange behavior.  It's as if he's documenting the abnormal twosome or perhaps preparing a file for their inevitable commitment.  Too funny!

Edna Babish (on the right) is clearly in costume for her own variety show performance--what was it?

My only question: what kind of act was landlord Mrs. Babish dressed up for?  In costume, she joins the others on stage at the end of the show but we never see her performance!  She kind of looks like a ventriloquist's dummy--maybe Edgar Bergen's Mortimer Snerd?  I don't know if Mrs. Babish's act was ever filmed for the original 1976 broadcast or if it was cut out later, never making it to the DVD release.  Anyone remember seeing her performance?

Anyone else see a resemblance?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Days Christmas (1974)

I recently reviewed writer/producer/director Garry Marshall's new book My Happy Days in HollywoodClick HERE to see that review again.  His reminiscences on his work in television sent me to seek out Christmas episodes from some of his past series.  Many of these Christmas episodes are some of my personal favorites--episodes I love to watch over and over again.  This touching Christmas episode of Happy Days is certainly a fan favorite and one readers often ask me to share.  How long has it been since you've last seen this episode?

Happy Days originally ran on TV from 1974 through 1984.
This second season holiday story "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" is the first of many Happy Days yuletide episodes.  The episode begins with father Howard Cunningham insisting that this year's Christmas will be a traditional event for family members only.

The gang meet at Arnold's to exchange gifts.
At Arnold's diner, Potsie, Ralph and Richie are happy to see that the Fonz is in high spirits for Christmas.   Fonzie is there to hand out gifts for the waitresses and each of his friends.  When asked about his holiday plans, Fonzie claims he's looking forward to a large celebration with his family just outside of Milwaukee.

Richie walks in on Fonzie eating ravioli from a can, alone on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, Howard and Richie have car trouble and ask for Fonzie's help.  The Fonz fixes the Cunningham's car but then insists that he has to close the garage and catch a bus to join his own family for Christmas.  But when Richie returns a few moments later to give Fonzie a  Christmas gift, he finds the car mechanic sitting alone, eating food from a can.  Clearly, Fonzie doesn't really have anywhere else to go on Christmas Eve.

Awkwardly, Fonzie insists he has to catch a bus to join his family for Christmas.
Despite Howard's plans for a traditional Christmas, the rest of the Cunningham family insists Richie go back and invite Fonzie to come over on Christmas Eve.

Oldest sibling Chuck is home for Christmas!

When Howard and Richie return to knock on Fonzie's door, the loner still insists that he has plans for Christmas.  Not wanting to embarrass their friend, Howard and Richie plead with Fonzie to come to the house in order to help them repair the broken mechanical Santa Claus they have in the front yard.

The robotic Santa Claus that pulls a gift from the bag over his shoulder swings wildly out of control, striking Richie in the head over and over!

Fonzie repairs the Santa Claus as well as the Christmas tree lights.  However the hour is late and Fonzie has missed the last bus out of Milwaukee.  Now he's obliged to stay at the Cunningham home for the evening.  Joining the family in their traditional celebration, Fonzie happily pops popcorn and even offers to read the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' out loud for everyone.  It's touching that the Fonz may not have felt comfortable asking to be included in the Cunningham home on Christmas Eve--perhaps he didn't want to feel like a charity case or to be pitied for being alone.  However, Howard and Richie were sensitive enough to see this and allow their friend to join their family celebration on his own terms.

Aware that Howard knows about his ruse, Fonzie leans into the fireplace next to Howard and thanks him.
This episode tells its emotional story just right--the sitcom's laugh track is minimized and Fonzie is doing his best to maintain his dignity even if he's alone on Christmas Eve.  It's sweet and tender without stepping over into saccharine territory.

Talk about traditional--the Cunninghams asks Fonzie to say grace before their Christmas dinner.  Fonzie simply states "Hey God--thanks!"
This is a Christmas story that has several layers of nostalgia to experience.  It is a story set in the 1950s (told in the 1970s) reflecting back onto what seems like simpler times with emotional highs.  Now watching it in the 21st century, it allows some of us to feel sentimental about our own 1970s experiences (and our cultural reflections of the 1950s).  Christmas is certainly one time of year that we indulge ourselves in feeling good about our pasts and our childhoods.  I too can't help but feel nostalgic for Happy Days--and my own happy days--of the 1970s and its Christmases.  What about you?