About Christmas TV History

Friday, December 21, 2012

Benson Christmas (1982)

In my new book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1, I discuss the best Christmas music in TV sitcoms and dramas.  Here on the blog, I've already shared excerpts from the book about two of the most memorable TV musical moments: The Dick Van Dyke Show and Glee.  (Click on those titles for the link to return to the posts again).  let me remind you of another favorite musical Christmas episode-- "Mary and her Little Lambs" from the 1980s TV sitcom Benson.  "Mary and her Little Lambs" is an example of a Christmas tradition on television--it is a musical revue, or a show within a show.  Other Christmas musical revues I discuss in the book include episodes from Car 54, Where Are You?, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laverne & Shirley, The Facts of Life, Good Times, Ally McBeal--and even South Park.

Remember this TV sitcom spin-off from SOAP?

In an attempt to re-create the popular structure and entertainment of a musical variety show, sitcoms sometimes create musical revues in a show-within-a-show format.  Viewers get treated to entertainment of the highest quality with complete songs as well as dance numbers and comedic acts, performed by their favorite sitcom characters.

An excerpt from the 1970s-1980s chapter in Merry Musical Christmas:

"The 1980s sitcom Benson mostly concerned itself with the comical affairs of the staff of the Governor’s Mansion in California, however even this unlikely source created an outstanding musical Christmas episode.  In the 1982 episode “Mary and her Little Lambs,” the new assistant cook Mary has a problem that she asks Benson to help her with--she doesn’t have legal custody of the two orphans she’s raising and the state wants to take them away.  Benson runs out of legal options but magically finds a loophole that will allow Mary to spend Christmas with the children in the Governor’s Mansion." 

The cast of Benson gather around the piano during the final third of the episode to sing and entertain in a mini musical revue.

"This touching family storyline is eclipsed by an exceptional musical moment.  The final third of the episode follows the format of the show-within-a-show with the Governor’s Christmas party guests gathered around the piano.  Denise and Pete, seated at the piano, play a simple piano accompaniment while the cast sings “Joy to the World.”

All the cast each take their turn at singing a solo.  Here Governor Gatling (James Noble) takes the spotlight.

The Governor sings “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” followed by several others including Denise and Pete, Clayton, and the young Katie taking solos in “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Pete and Denise seated at the piano.  Remember Didi Conn?  She is also in the 1978 movie musical Grease as Frenchy--the beauty school drop-out.

Didi Conn, who plays Denise, has also shown off her vocal talents in the 1978 movie musical Grease, playing Frenchy the beauty school drop-out and member of the Pink Ladies.  Next, Kraus sings a beautiful German language version of “Stille Nacht” or as we know it, “Silent Night.”

Kraus, played by Inga Swenson, sings "Stille Nacht," or "Silent Night" sung in German.

Don't underestimate Benson.  Robert Guillaume brings down the house with his solo on "O Holy Night."

But Benson wows the audience with an elegant yet powerful rendition of “O Holy Night.”  This reverent moment comes to us not from Benson, the sarcastic, dry-witted member of the Governor’s staff, but from Robert Guillaume himself, the Tony-nominated Broadway singer and actor who has amazing skills beyond his many TV sitcom roles.  This musical moment is followed by the cast of Benson breaking the fourth wall as each delivers his and her own individual holiday greeting to viewers."

If you haven't seen this episode in a while, you can watch it again on Antenna-TV at Midnight (ET) on Dec. 24.  It's often available on youtube.

Below is a segment of that episode which includes Guillaume's breath-taking performance of "O Holy Night."

My book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1 is available for purchase as an e-book at Amazon and in paperback at Amazon and on this website.

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