About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Waltons Christmas Recap

Everybody has those couple of Christmas episodes, specials, and movies they grew up watching that remain emotional touchstones throughout their lives.  I'm not alone when I include the 1971 Christmas TV movie The Homecoming on my favorite's list.   Making this Christmas TV movie even sweeter--it introduced the Walton family to TV audiences.  Let me remind you of these past essays I've written about The Waltons at Christmas time.

In "The Best Christmas," Miss Fanny's car slides off the road during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. 

The Waltons 1976 episode "The Best Christmas"

War refugees Tess and Pip come to stay with the Walton family in "The Children's Carol."
The Waltons 1977 episode "The Children's Carol" Parts 1 and 2

In "Day of Infamy," it is December 1941 and Mary Ellen (here with her young son John Curtis) braces herself for bad news from Pearl Harbor.

The Waltons 1978 episode "Day of Infamy"

There's a stranger on Waltons Mountain one Christmas, in the 1979 episode "The Spirit."

The Waltons 1979 episode "The Spirit"

As the expert on Christmas TV movies, I was invited to take part in the 40th anniversary screening (and cast reunion) of the movie The Homecoming, in 2011.

Are you a fan of The Waltons TV series?  Which is your favorite Christmas episode?

From the 2011 cast reunion and anniversary screening of The Homecoming in 2011.  (I'm seated wearing the black dress).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Christmas TV Specials 2013

This past summer, I wrote an essay about annual Christmas TV specials--click HERE to see that post again.  For clarity, this update is about annual Christmas TV specials--the ones that are made new each year.  As we get closer to these upcoming air dates, let me remind you about these special programs--many of which are never released on DVD.

For more information: http://thenationaltree.org/

The 2013 National Christmas Tree Lighting is taking place on Friday Dec. 6th this year.  The annual outdoor ceremony and musical concert are presented by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation and are broadcast from President’s Park in Washington, D.C.  The President and his family attend and push the button that illuminates the grand, outdoor National Tree near the White House.
This year's celebrity musical guests include Train, Janelle Monáe, Arturo Sandoval, Prince Royce, and other artists.  Check out the website's list of performers.  This outdoor ceremony and musical concert are broadcast on TV on PBS each year.  Check your local PBS listings for when the TV special will air throughout the month of December.  For more information, please check out the website http://thenationaltree.org/  Here, you can also see video of the 2012 ceremony.
You can also follow the @TheNationalTree on Twitter.

Diana Ross brought down the house during the 2012 concert of Christmas in Washington.

The annual Christmas music concert known as Christmas in Washington airs this year on Dec. 20th at 8pm(ET) on TNT.   It is a prime time TV special that takes place in Washington DC's National Building Museum for a very special live audience which includes the President and his family.  This year's event is hosted by Hugh Jackman and includes musical guests Pat Monhan (from Train), Janelle Monáe, Anna Kendrick, Sheryl Crow, and Backstreet Boys.  This year will also include special guest Charles Barkley. 
For more information, please check out the website at TNT.

Country Music Association pulls out all the stops each year for this annual Christmas concert.

Jennifer Nettles will once again host the CMA Country Christmas show, this year airing on Monday, Dec. 2nd, 8pm(ET) on ABC.  This year's musical guests include Trace Adkins, Luke Bryan, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen, as well as Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige, and Christian singer Michael W. Smith, and more.  For more information about the show and a more complete list of guests, check out the website.

Don't forget about Christmas in Rockefeller Center, the annual music concert that proceeds the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center.  This year's TV special is airing on Wednesday, Dec. 4th, 8pm(ET) on NBC.  The outdoor live concert is usually pretty exciting to watch as the performers have to deal with whatever surprises the weather and the crowds bring!  This year the event will be hosted by Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie and the special guests include Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Goo Goo Dolls, Ariana Grande, and Jewel.  Check out the website at NBC for more information.

Which is your favorite Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float?

And of course, the official start of the holiday season occurs when Santa Claus arrives at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Though the annual New York City parade airs on several TV networks, I prefer to watch the NBC coverage.  This year's parade TV coverage begins at 9am(ET) on Thursday, Nov. 28th.  For more information from the NBC website, check out this link.

What other annual Christmas TV specials do you look forward to watching?  I usually watch the annual concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which airs on PBS each year.  This year's event includes Tony-winner Alfie Boe and news anchor Tom Brokaw.  Check your local PBS listings for broadcast times this December.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Live Tweeting Christmas TV Party

Do you follow me on twitter?  What are you waiting for? I'm @TistheSeasonTV

In addition to several upcoming events, I'm hoping you'll join me for a Christmas TV party on Twitter.  Watching TV is often done at home, alone--so I thought I'd host a couple opportunities to enjoy Christmas on television in the company of others!

Yes, I'm going to tweet live during several Christmas TV programs.  So far, this is the schedule. 

*Friday, Nov. 29th, 2013 at 10pm(ET) during the holiday episode "The Alan Brady Show Presents" of The Dick Van Dyke Show airing on Me-TV.  We'll be using: #thedickvandykeshow

**Friday, Nov. 29th, 2013 at 11pm(ET) during the much-beloved 1960 episode "Night of the Meek" of The Twilight Zone also airing on Me-TV.  We'll be using #twilightzone

For both of these live tweets, I'll be joined by retro TV queen, Amanda (@madefortvmayhem) from the blog Made for TV Mayhem, as we discuss these 2 episodes of the classic TV series.

***Friday, Dec. 6th, 2013 at 8pm(ET) I'll be tweeting live during the 1973 made-for-TV movie A Dream for Christmas airing on Me-TV.  I'll be using #dreamforchristmas
This rare TV classic features an outstanding African-American cast and the sort of small and charming story that TV movies do quite well.  I hope you'll join me.

Let's put social networking to good use--and watch holiday TV together.

If you don't get Me-TV in your area, I'd still like to invite you to join the conversation on Twitter.  You may get a kick out of it anyway.  If you aren't able to join the conversation live, you still may enjoy checking in later to read the hashtag comments.  Let me know what your experiences are.  I've never done this before--so there will be a learning curve and hopefully a bit of fun along the way.

If you have any suggestions for more Christmas TV programming live tweet parties--let me know.  And, if you plan on live tweeting any Christmas programming, let me know--maybe I'll be able to join you!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Upcoming Events--2013

A book signing event last September.

 It has been a busy year for me and I'm looking forward to a few new events coming up soon.

I'll be giving a presentation at Reed Memorial Library in Ravenna, Ohio on Wednesday Dec. 4th, at 6:30pm.  Come and join in the discussion entitled Entertaining Spirits:  The Many TV Adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  I'll also have copies of my books for sale--and I'll be glad to sign copies, if you like.  Library website: calendar events

I'll also be joining another roundtable discussion on TV Confidential.  We did a similar thing in 2011 (Show #118) and I'm really excited to be doing it again.  We'll be discussing our favorite holiday TV programs--and a few rarer but still cherished ones as well.  You can follow TV Confidential on Facebook.  I'll update this information when I know when the program will air--and when it will be available as a podcast.

And, I'll be on the radio show Radio Once More with Johnny Holmes on Wednesday, Dec. 11th, at 9pm(ET) discussing classic Christmas TV programming.  Click HERE to check out their facebook page--a place you can ask questions for my interview on the 11th.

I'm also doing a radio interview on The Bloomington Review with Jim Inman--which will stream on the internet on Friday Dec. 13thCheck their website for more information as it becomes available.

I hope you can either attend the library event--or tune in and listen to my upcoming interviews.  I'll update this information when I know more.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Classic TV Blog Association--2013 Recap

Member since 2013

This past year, I was honored to become a member of the Classic TV Blog Association and to be able to participate in their blogathons.  Since I write about such a specialized topic, I'm proud that I've been able to participate so fully in the topics selected for everyone.  As we approach the end of the calendar year, please indulge my recap of the three Classic TV Blog Association's blogathons.  Please feel free to click the link to the master list of participating blogs and check out what everyone else had to say about the specific topics.  It's never too late to join the conversation.

The Classic TV Variety Show blogathon master list.  The participating bloggers wrote about their favorite TV variety series and variety specials.  It's quite a diverse list.

In this spectacular Christmas episode of Sinatra's variety show, he welcomes special guest Bing Crosby!

I participated by writing about the 1957 Christmas episode of The Frank Sinatra Show.

In March, we honored the life and career of Valerie Harper.  This blogathon was hosted by Made for TV Mayhem which includes this master list of participating links.

Rhoda has the holiday spirit.

I participated by writing about the 1974 holiday episode of TV sitcom Rhoda.

This summer, the Blog Association joined forces with the digi-net TV network Me-TV to blog about our favorite series in their summer programming.  Check out the master list of links of participating blogs.

The 1966 Christmas episode of That Girl connects to A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in interesting ways.

I participated by writing about the 1966 Christmas episode of That Girl--which was later broadcast the following weekend during a Christmas in July marathon of holiday programming on Me-TV.  You gotta love Christmas episodes in re-runs!

This past fall, I participated in another blogathon--this one organized by the Classic Film & TV Café.
All the writers shared about their favorite or noteworthy Hammer Film production.  Check out the master list of participating blogs.

Like many other Hammer films, Cash On Demand stars Peter Cushing.

I participated by writing about the 1961 Hammer film Cash On Demand.  Although its not much of a movie you'd be drawn to watch at Halloween (though it is quite suspenseful), the film's story does take place at Christmas time. 

If you're a television blogger and meet the requirements and guidelines, why don't you join the Classic TV Blog Association?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sherlock Holmes Christmas (1968)

Hopefully you saw that I recently blogged about the Hammer Films production Cash On Demand starring Peter Cushing.  That essay sparked an additional conversation I had with a group of people about actor Cushing and his diversity of roles.  In that conversation, I brought up this Christmas TV episode of Sherlock Holmes with Cushing in the title role--and I think I blew a few minds.  Many TV fans are familiar with the 1980s TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes.  I wrote about the 1984 Christmas episode "The Blue Carbuncle" last year.  So I thought I'd share my thought on the 1968 Christmas episode "The Blue Carbuncle" from this earlier British-made series as well.  Which actor plays your favorite version of Sherlock Holmes?

The Christmas tale "The Blue Carbuncle" is adapted from an original story penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in 1892.  The title refers to a stolen blue gem that is owned by Lady Morcar, an upper-class woman living in a London hotel. 

This precious gem, the Blue Carbuncle, is part of the jewelry collection of Lady Morcar.

The obvious thief is a workman who had access to Morcar's hotel room--a man with a criminal past.  The great detective refuses to take on Mrs. Morcar’s case as it doesn’t prove of any interest to Holmes.  Instead, this Christmas, Sherlock is more interested in finding the original owner of a hat and a fresh goose dropped by the victim of a failed robbery on the street. 

Holmes asks his partner Watson to examine the lost hat and deduce what he can about its owner. Watson here is played by Nigel Stock.

When Officer Peterson, the police officer who originally found the hat, also discovers the missing precious gem within the carcass of the goose, Holmes sets off to investigate the two cases together.

When Sherlock realizes the poulterer is resistant to answering any sort of inquiry, the detective devises a clever way to get information from him anyway.  In this 1968 TV version, Sherlock's scheme unfolds quite clearly.

This 1968 TV version of the ninteenth-century mystery differs slightly from the 1984 TV version.  Some story elements unfold more richly, such as the introduction of the crime and the hotel staff at the beginning, Sherlock’s refusal to accept Lady Morcar’s commission, and Holmes' bet with the poultry dealer Mr. Breckinridge.  Some of the story elements are revealed in an awkward way for contemporary audiences--for example, there’s little explanation as to why Peterson would have kept the goose and cooked it.  I fear few twenty-first century viewers would be aware of the timely need to prepare and cook freshly slaughtered meat without being reminded of it.   However, I think this particular version of "The Blue Carbuncle" is quite strong. 

Holmes has compassion for the thief once he confesses his crime--though Watson worries for the man currently sitting in jail wrongly accused for the theft.

Does the popularity of Jeremy Brett's Holmes eclipse this earlier series and its Christmas episode?  You tell me.  If you've seen both versions--which is your favorite?  Have you read the original story?  How does this TV adaptation differ from the literary version?  Share your comments below.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Knight Rider Christmas (1983)

I blogged about the Christmas episode of Knight Rider several years ago.  Since 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the Christmas episode's release (how is THAT possible?),  I thought I'd expand on the previous essay and add photos.  You know you loved it when it originally aired on television--this is one of those "so bad, it's good" story lines.  How's your memory for this second season episode entitled "Silent Knight?"

The three bank robbers disguise themselves as two circus clowns and a Santa Claus.

Three bank robbers commit a daring heist in broad daylight--and one steals the bank manager's pocketwatch during his escape.  The thieves are able to make a fast getaway but wouldn't ya know it, a gypsy boy picks the pocket of the robber holding the bank manager's gold watch!  The desperate criminals quickly realize that the boy has the only evidence to connect these three men to the bank robbery--and they are trying to track him down.

ALL that advanced technology and K.I.T.T. still hits children in the street? sheesh.

Trying to escape from the men he's just pick-pocketed, the boy runs into traffic and is hit by Michael Knight driving K.I.T.T.  Though Michael is in a hurry to return to the Foundation's annual Christmas banquet, he offers to drive the injured boy to the hospital.  It turns out Timo, the gypsy boy, is faking his injuries--and Michael becomes savvy to his other lies and schemes, learning that the boy was being chased because he stole a pocket watch.  Listening to the radio news broadcast, Michael quickly puts all the pieces together:  the men are bank robbers and they are after Timo--the only person who can identify them!  (We're only 12 minutes into the episode at this point!).

Timo's beautiful sister (sorry, her back is to the camera here!?) can't control her younger brother.  WHAT will Michael do?

That's not the General Lee--it's K.I.T.T. after the turbo boost button has been engaged, leaping over the bad guys' car!

Though the police offer no protection for Timo, Michael feels obligated to help him.  Michael takes the boy to his older sister who runs a florist shop but Timo refuses to stay with her.  From the sister, Michael learns of Timo's Uncle Stefano, an itinerant King of the Gypsies, who has set up camp out of town.  Sure enough, the bad guys are following Michael, Timo, and K.I.T.T. to the gypsy caravan. 

Uncle Stefano gladly accepts the responsibility to look after his young nephew and protect him from the three desperate bank robbers.  Uh-oh!

After Michael drops Timo off at the gypsy caravan, he begins to regret his decision.  Perhaps he was asking too much from the family to protect Timo from the dangerous criminals?  When Michael returns to the site of the caravan, they have pulled up stakes and disappeared!  No worries: K.I.T.T. will use his chemical analysis skills to follow the dripping oil stains from one of the campers in the caravan.

Who can you trust if not the King of the Gypsies?

When Michael catches up to the caravan, he discovers that Uncle Stefano has already sold his nephew to the three bank robbers--so Timo's not even there.  Meanwhile, the three criminals hear on the radio news broadcast that the bank manager's pockwatch has been in police custody all day.  Timo has already given them up to the authorities--so they might as well kill him.  Fearing for his life, Timo jumps from their vehicle and runs into a corn field.

K.I.T.T. takes on corn reaping machinery!  I can't lie--it's actually kind of disappointing for a Christmas episode.

Luckily, K.I.T.T. and Michael drive into that same corn field and are able to block the farm machinery that may have run over young Timo.  The three bank robbers are caught and Timo is returned to his sister, who he is now willing to live with.  Michael coaxes a promise from Timo to learn how to read (were there scenes cut from the script?).  Finally, Michael heads off into the sunset, on his way to the Foundation's formal Christmas party.  K.I.T.T. offers a Christmas gift to Michael--a wrapped box containing argyle socks--he's supposed to give to Devon.  The joke is that Michael is relieved that the socks aren't for him--he hates getting argyle socks for Christmas.  But I think the joke is on viewers--why are we watching a TV show about a talking car that gives thoughtful Christmas gifts anyway?

Merry Christmas, Michael--you're NOT getting socks for Christmas!

No joke, this show is entertaining whether you love it for what it is--or for being so bad, it's good.  One glaring problem I have with this episode reflects its advanced age.  This episode's story depends upon horrible stereotypes of gypsies.   Except the beautiful sister, the gypsies (today we would usually refer to them as Romani) are characterized as scheming con-men, thieves, liars, untrustworthy, illiterate, disloyal, and willing to sell each other out!  It's an uncomfortable stereotype--one that makes this thirty year-old Christmas episode a little awkward as well as culturally insensitive. But the 1980s were a different time. 

I guess we have to face it--this show is quite dated!  K.I.T.T. solves too many of Michael's problems with GPS--a technology not considered ADVANCED any longer.

Check out the marquee in the background:  movies Eddie and the Cruisers and Wavelength are showing!

Another 1980s relic: looking through the windshield of K.I.T.T.--do you see the old-school sign for Taco Bell on the left side of the road?  It's been forever since I've seen that national logo.

In addition to the above 1980s visual references, you can also hear several 1980s songs.  At the beginning of the story, in the background you can hear a rocking cover of Yes' hit song "Owner of a Lonely Heart."  Later in the episode, there is a cover version of Fleetwood Mac's song "Gypsy" and a cover of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."  Like it or not, this episode is a slice of 1980s mindless fun.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ideal Christmas Eve Line-Up (2013)

This essay is my contribution to a larger project in which three Christmas bloggers imagine an ideal line-up of Christmas Eve TV entertainment.  Please visit ChristmasFlick for Snow Miser's essay and Jing's essay also at ChristmasFlick.

An ideal line-up of Christmas Eve entertainment for me would include a few traditional favorites that I watch every year as well as several sentimental titles.  Selecting just the right entertainments will put me in the Christmas spirit that I desire on that one special night of the year.  For me, an ideal Christmas Eve line-up must include the 1965 animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I still have this record from my youth--and yes, I remember most of the dialogue.

As soon as I hear the opening strains of Vince Guaraldi's jazz composition "Christmas Time is Here" and see the Peanuts kids skating around on the frozen pond, I instantly sense that Christmas-y feeling again.  I also have a personal connection to the story as well--you can read about those experiences in this blog post from last year.  Somewhere between the scenes of Charlie Brown's search for happiness, Snoopy's over-the-top decorated dog house, the sad and broken little Christmas tree, and the chaotic, disorganized pageant, I reconnect with my inner child and I recapture some of that joy of childhood again.  What more can you ask from a Christmas TV special?

"I want to be a dentist."

Another tradition each Christmas is watching the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  I've been watching this TV special for what must be my entire life.  I even remember being so young, I was unable to stay awake long enough to see the end!  I still recall how seeing the frightening Bumble was both terrifying and thrilling--he is a monster, you know.  Watching it again, I never feel too old to root for the underdogs, Rudolph and Hermey on their quest for their place in this world.

Put a little love in your heart, Frank Cross!

On Christmas Eve--or anytime, really--I like to watch a good comedy.  The 1988 movie Scrooged always makes me laugh.  Bill Murray comedies are some of my favorites and this is no exception.  I also love the ridiculous promos for the Christmas TV specials airing on the IBC Network--seen in the beginning of the movie.  They include the ultra violent The Night the Reindeer Died starring Lee Majors as a commando that saves the North Pole, Bob Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas with the popular entertainer singing and boating through the swamps, and a sappy sitcom holiday episode of the TV series Father Loves Beaver.  These parodies aren't that far off from actual Christmas TV specials--and these fake commercials crack me up.  As a pop culture junkie, I also love this movie for its diverse cast.  

Another must-see movie comedy is 1983's A Christmas Story.  Watching this movie on Christmas Eve has become a tradition ever since it began running as a 24 hour marathon on cable each year.  I've also just read Caseen Gaines' new book A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic and I'm looking forward to seeing it again this year--on its 30th anniversary--with new insights.  Check out my review of this new book here.

I love the sensibilities found on British TV--yes, I watch a lot of PBS.

Since I watch Christmas entertainment all year long, my ideal Christmas Eve line-up will also include a few favorites that I don't watch as often as I wish I couldBlackadder's Christmas Carol always reminds me why I love the original British Blackadder TV series and Rowan Atkinson as the hilarious Blackadder character.  In this adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the original lesson learned by Scrooge is flipped upside down.  Here, the most kind and generous man in Victorian England, Ebenezer Blackadder, is visited by a ghost who shows him the benefits of the villainous lifestyle.  This comedy is always entertaining--can you see (along with Scrooged) that I enjoy irreverent versions of A Christmas Carol?

I love the old Hollywood classics.

I can't imagine a list of ideal Christmas entertainment without including an old Hollywood movie.  I like quite a few of the old standards--many of my favorites air on Turner Classic Movies.  The top of this long list includes 1955's We're No Angels--with Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, and Basil Rathbone.  But I like to watch Remember the Night with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck, The Man Who Came to Dinner with Monty Woolley and Bette Davis, Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland, and The Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart.  Any and all of these movies fits the mood.

Left to right: Twiggy, Ron Moody, and Bing in the 1977 TV special Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.

Watching TV variety shows makes me feel nostalgic--even though I'm a little too young to have watched these TV programs when they originally aired.  No matter!  I love love love classic TV and my Christmas entertainment each year always includes watching at least one classic musical variety special.  This year, I'll put watching the 1977 Christmas special entitled Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas on this list. 

Moody has the rare distinction of appearing in Crosby's first and last Christmas TV specials!

I was lucky enough to meet actor/singer Ron Moody this past year and Moody starred in the 1977 special.  This is also the same special with David Bowie in it, so there's that too!  You can read what I wrote about Ron Moody's participation in Bing's 1977 Christmas special here.  

Just looking at this image makes me want to start crying again.  Teenager Tommy Bradford (Willie Aames) is given a Christmas gift found after his mother has passed away.

Rounding out my list is 1977's "Yes Nicholas, There Is a Santa Claus," a favorite Christmas episode from the TV series Eight Is Enough.  This two-hour story is an especially emotional one--one that made me cry when I watched it in the 1970s and still manages to make me cry.  

Young Nicholas (Adam Rich) catches the thief and mistakes him for Santa Claus!

In this episode, not only does the Bradfords' home get broken into but the thief steals the family's Christmas gifts.  This holiday is made even more difficult for the family because it's the first one they must experience since their mother passed away.  (This was an emotional story for the show's fans too--the actress who played the mother, Diana Hyland, had died of cancer and the series' producers worked her sudden death into the storyline).  The unforgettable plot in this tear-filled holiday story includes Tommy receiving a personalized gift from his mother, hidden before she died.  I've written about this touching episode before--click here to see Part 1.  Click here to see Part 2 of the two-hour episode.

Can you name a more charming burglar than one played by actor Will Geer?

I restricted my list to Christmas entertainments that are also released on DVD.  What Christmas TV entertainments would be on your ideal list?  Can you name your eight favorite titles in the comment section below?