About Christmas TV History

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Dan Budnik

Bob and Doug McKenzie discuss beer nog in SCTV's "Staff Christmas Party."
Christmas TV Party 2014: Dan Budnik, co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching?
A Charlie Brown Christmas - It was either this or Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. I was born in 1973. So, chronologically, I think it was Chuck and his pals. I still watch it every year and I still love it. It’s not quite the same, though, without the commercials for Dolly Madison products. I remember those Zingers commercials as if I’d watched them yesterday. I think we only got Zingers at Christmastime and it was because of this special. I also felt a tie to the special because of Linus's Scripture quoting interlude. Sometimes, growing up, I felt like Linus. It was good to see him take command of the show and prove his point with textual backup. My kind of kid.

2) Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round. 

SCTV - "SCTV Staff Christmas Party" – I try not to watch too much Christmas-related stuff outside of December. (I probably should because it brings me great joy.) But, this episode, from 1981, is one I can watch at any time. It’s funny all the way through. The linking bits, involving the employees of SCTV at a Christmas party, are wonderful. And the sketches themselves are superb, from the Dusty Towne Sexy Holiday Special to Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite to the recipe for Beer Nog. My wife and I quote from this episode randomly throughout the year. ("No problem. Just a hysterical wife.")

Honorable Mention: Magic Christmas Tree (1964) - It is crazy and I love it.

3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program. 
Meet Corliss Archer – “A Christmas Story” I saw this for the first time around Christmas 2012. It is almost infinitely charming. I know very little about this show (or its radio origins). But, the gist of it is: Dad hides the presents. Mom and Corliss look for them. Some clumsy neighbor kid named Dexter is building everyone gifts. Every once in a while the show cuts to a wacky drawing and the narrator lets loose with a gag. That was unexpected and cool. I wasn’t alive in 1954 but somehow this is exactly how I imagine the entire decade looking at Christmastime. (Yes, I do include the laugh track in that.) This episode puts a big smile on my face.

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet.
Branded In The 80s

An extra for the Old Time Radio fans:

Archive OTR Christmas

Lisa, Oliver, and Eb admire the Christmas tree on Green Acres.

5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama? 
Happy Days – “Guess Who’s Coming To Christmas?” An absolute favorite. Starts off as a regular entertaining Christmas episode of a sitcom made in the 1970s but set in the 1950s. But then, once the Cunningham’s car breaks down, it just gets better and better. Funny and touching, this episode usually brings a couple happy tears to my eyes. Written by Bill Idelson, who played Rush on my favorite OTR show Vic & Sade.

Green Acres – “An Old Fashioned Christmas” An episode from 1966 that is not only a great Christmas episode but also a perfect encapsulation of what the show was about. Oliver Douglas wants to have a perfect old-fashioned Christmas down on his farm in Hooterville involving every single tradition/ cliché he associates with the holiday. And, no one in Hooterville has any idea what he’s talking about. As always, they think he's nuts. Things go from funny to sentimental to funny again in the blink of an eye.  

You Can't Do That On Television - "Christmas" Fast, funny, slime-filled sketches all centering around Christmas. I was 9 when YCDTOTV appeared on Nickelodeon. I still watch it regularly. This Christmas episode hits on every cliche/ situation/ moment that a kid could want to see from the best time of the year for kids (and me). In December of 2009, I watched this episode on every single work day. I would get home from work, take a shower and then sit down and watch it. I haven't done that since then but for that particular month it made perfect sense. 

Honorable Mentions:
B.C.: A Special Christmas - Mainly because Bob & Ray provide the main voices. I can (and have) listened to Bob & Ray all day long. If you hunt around the Archive site I linked to above, you'll find some great B&R Christmas radio stuff.

Any of The Bob Newhart Show Christmas episodes. My wife and I don’t have a favorite. But, every Christmas, we have a Christmas With Bob Night and watch 3 or 4 of them.
Doctor Who Christmas Specials – I wouldn’t know which one to pick. I could be perverse and say The Feast of Steven. But, I won’t. Probably 2010's A Christmas Carol captures everything I love about the show and Christmas together in one 60 minute package with Michael Gambon included.


  1. So fantastic! (and thanks Dan for choosing my site as one of your links! Verklempt)

    The craziest part of this list is that I had no idea there was a Green Acres Christmas episode. How did I not know that?

    And I really want a Zinger.

  2. Virtual Zingers for everyone!
    That will be followed by a virtual teeth cleaning.

    Joanna, Thanks for allowing me to take part in this. And, pardon me, but I remembered three more specials/ shows I love.

    The Liberace Show - The Christmas Episode from 1954. Liberace is incredibly charming. Watching the episode is like sitting in front of a very warm fire with someone you love and a tasty drink of your own choice.

    Winnie The Pooh And Christmas Too - Pooh and the gang teach me about Christmas and engage in shenanigans.

    Santa & The Three Bears - Animated special from 1970. I adore the look of the whole thing. And the Ranger is a favorite character of mine for assorted reasons too complex to explain here.

    5 Months 'Til Christmas!

  3. Now that is one post filled with some surprises! I am thrilled that someone mentioned You Can't Do That on Television! I used to LOVE that show.

  4. All good choices, I love the SCTV episode too, my father and I quote it all the time! I remember watching it when it was brand new in 1981 and taping it off Nick At Night in the late 80s. I was relieved to finally see it released on dvd, as my VHS tape was dying in the early 2000s.

  5. Ah the Green Acres episode. A tree that squirts spruce juice, drops plastic needles and oozes fake sap. What an artificial mess!!

  6. I like that "Virtual Zingers for everyone." NOW it's a party! Yeah--that SCTV Christmas installment is pretty terrific year round, that's for sure. I love the Liberace/Elton John sketch an awful lot. I think that's the same episode in which Divine (John Candy, of course) joins Dusty Towne--classic! I'm gonna dig that out and watch it again!

  7. Terrific contribution to the Christmas Party, Dan. SCTV, Green Acres, Happy Days... all wonderful. I must admit I have never seen even one episode of Meet Corliss Archer. I'm looking forward to seeing the Christmas episode, thanks to you.