About Christmas TV History

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love Boat Christmas (1977)

I know I'm not the only one looking forward to more seasons of The Love Boat being released on DVD.
With the hundreds of hours of new holiday programming generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics. Sometimes we can lose track of our Christmas spirit unless we actively incorporate the past into the present. How long has it been since you've seen this The Love Boat holiday episode? The first season's "Lonely At the Top/Divorce Me, Please/Silent Night" is certainly one of those classic episodes that evokes not only nostalgia for Christmases past but warm TV memories as well.

Father Mike is played by actor Dick Sargent.

The 1977 Christmas episode follows the same, familiar Love Boat formula of three story lines.  In "Lonely At the Top," the crew welcomes Father Mike and six orphan boys from the home he runs.  It is explained that Father Mike brings the orphans each year on the Christmas cruise courtesy of an anonymous benefactor.  The captain seeks Father Mike's advice about feeling lonely over the holidays.

The happy couple that really hates each other is played by actress/singer Florence Henderson and comedian Shecky Greene.

In the second story line, "Divorce Me, Please," a happily married couple embarks on the holiday vacation.  By all appearances Audrey and her husband seem like newlyweds however, viewers can hear the characters' inner dialogue--both the husband and wife "voice" their dissatisfaction with the relationship. Each hopes the other will request a divorce before the cruise is over.

Lila (Donna Mills) tries to calm her angry husband Dan (John Gavin) after he's spent three years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

The third story "Silent Night" is the more serious drama of the three.  Recently paroled from prison, Dan Barton, joins his wife Lila on this Christmas cruise to begin their life together again.  Dan is extremely bitter and resentful for being wrongly convicted of embezzling from his law firm.  When his former business partner Perry also shows up onboard the cruise--Dan confesses to his wife that he's figured out that Perry actually embezzled the money and framed him for the crime.  Now Dan is set on revenge!

Gavin's character is moved by the spirit of Christmas to embrace peace and forgiveness.

Dan confronts his former partner with his awareness that he thinks Perry is the thief--Dan even pulls a gun on Perry!  But when he hears carolers singing the emotional "Silent Night" off in the distance, Dan tosses his gun in the ocean and walks away.  His wife Lila witnesses her husband's act away from vengeance and knows her words of love and second-chances have not fallen on deaf ears.

You know Florence Henderson is a professional singer too--right?

The more lighthearted, comical story of "Divorce Me, Please" sees the husband and wife each trying to sabotage their marriage.  Audrey attempts to spend all her husband's money to make him angry while the husband tries to embarrass his wife by drinking to excess and making a fool of himself.  Neither one gets the reaction they desire and somewhere along the way, the couple re-discovers what they love about each other.  With their love renewed, Audrey entertains the passengers and staff on Christmas day in the dining room by singing the carol "The First Noel."  (Can't get enough? Florence Henderson sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the 1969 Christmas episode of The Brady Bunch too.)

The captain tries to be pals with his crew but he's not a very good joke teller.

And in "Lonely At the Top," Captain Stubing seeks a better relationship with the crew.  Following the advice of Father Mike, Stubing tries to become more involved in the interests of Julie, Doc, Isaac, and Gopher--but Merrill fails time after time.  Playing Santa to the orphan boys, Capt. Stubing forgets a gift for one little boy--and ends up giving away a cherished sextant his own father gave him.

Danny gets the spirit of Christmas.  He may not have received the football he asked for but he did receive a neat gift after all.

This lesson helps Merrill understand the value of enjoying what you have--not necessarily what you think you need.  Though each of the crew members bemoans not being able to spend Christmas with their own families, they can still value the good times spent together with their friends on crew for the holidays.

Merrill breaks his own rule about not exchanging gifts with the staff!

These workplace friends end up exchanging gifts and having a fine Christmas--even if it isn't the traditional family holiday they imagined for themselves.  Television has created quite a few stories of friends and workplace friends celebrating Christmas together--just like families.  I'm immediately reminded of Christmas episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Friends, and even The Office (those workers seem to resent each other much like family members who at times painfully struggle to get along!)  There are many, many more examples of friends acting like family at Christmas--got a favorite episode?


  1. I wish The Love Boat came on one of the many channels we get on DirecTV! I miss this show so much.

    1. I feel your frustration! I miss it too--and there are several awesome Christmas episodes I can't get access to very easily. Love this show :D

    2. Hey Susan, it is on direct TV. It comes on 9-11 times a week on TVGuide channel (273)

  2. I watch this one every year on DVD - and I wish the rest of the series would be released - though I don't recall how many more holiday shows they tried.

    1. Good question--I believe there are four more Christmas episodes of LOVE BOAT. I'd feel more confident with that answer if I could watch the full run for myself. My fav is the 1980 Christmas episode with guest star Jack Jones. He's the same guy (for those that don't know) that sings the Love Boat theme song. But in this special holiday episode, he appears with his real-life father Allan Jones--who is also a professional entertainer/singer. i love Christmas episodes that include real-life family members. http://youtu.be/uujr05kvGio

  3. Great review, Shecky Greene's collar is amazing!

    Florence Henderson is no "One Holiday Wonder". In addition to caroling in Christmas episodes, she also performed 'That Old Black Magic' in 'The Paul Lynde Halloween Special':

    1. She's fantastic, isn't she? Henderson also sings in several Christmas installments of the musical Bell Telephone Hour--too bad those are old shows are hard to find intact--if at all. We all know she repeats her "O Come All ye Faithful" in the TV movie A VERY BRADY CHRISTMAS. I'm happy to see ABC Family Ch airing that TVm in 2014 on several dates. That's always a feel good/gut buster! Thanks for the link, JA.