About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All I Want for Christmas (1991)

The recent passing of actress Lauren Bacall was a sad day this summer. I've always admired her chutzpah both on screen and off. Bacall continues to live on, her legacy being a long career in film which will undoubtedly entertain for generations to come. Did you remember that Bacall was in the 1991 theatrical release movie All I Want for Christmas?  This movie may not have provided Bacall with a role that made critics' lists of highlights of her career.  However, her presence in the film brought some class and warmth--a lasting legacy worth noting.

The misleading movie poster usually includes the tagline: How Far Would You Go to Make a Wish Come True?

Is watching All I Want for Christmas a holiday tradition with your family?  The story's premise is certainly catchy: an adorable little girl named Hallie makes a Christmas wish for her recently divorced parents to get married again. After her mother Catherine (played by actress Harley Jane Kozak--remember the movie Arachnophobia?) announces that she plans on marrying her nebbish boyfriend Tony, Hallie regrets not telling the Santa Claus at the department store that she meant for her parents to marry again--to each other!  Hallie's older brother Ethan decides to correct the situation by planning an elaborate scheme to force his emotionally distant parents to spend time together, hoping that the physical nearness will bring about a romantic change of heart.

If this plot sounds familiar, that's because several similar Christmas stories have been created since All I Want for Christmas' debut.  As you can imagine, a Christmas movie about divorced parents reuniting has all the potential to be a popular, heart-warming fantasy.  If All I Want for Christmas sounds like a familiar title, you're right--it was used again in 2007 for a made-for-TV Christmas movie, and of course, it's also part of two holiday song titles, the novelty tune "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" and the Mariah Carey hit "All I Want for Christmas is You."  Unfortunately, I think the 1991 film is easily lost among holiday entertainment because its title is not descriptive enough.

While All I Want for Christmas is not exactly an overlooked gem--it's not quite charming enough to be considered among the classics--one of its strongest features is its amazing cast. Yes, Lauren Bacall is in this movie as the children's wealthy but loving grandmother, Lillian Brooks. Bacall has quite a bit of screen time however my favorite scene is when she entertains at a Christmas party with her granddaughter Hallie, singing the holiday standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as a duet.

Hallie and Ethan plot to get their parents back together at Christmas time. (Thora Birch and Ethan Embry).

Recognize young Hallie?  This is an early role for actress Thora Birch who eventually would star in the cult classics American Beauty and Ghost World. Her brother Ethan is played by Ethan Embry, another child actor who has been lucky and successful enough to continue acting as an adult.  In addition to Harley Jane Kozak as mother Catherine, the father's role as Michael is played by Jamey Sheridan, a very recognizable face on television including Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the critically-acclaimed Homeland.

Jamey Sheridan played Vice President Walden on the first and second seasons of Homeland.

SNL-alum Kevin Nealon as the boyfriend, Tony.

Tony, Catherine's fiance that the children wish to dispose of, is played by comedian/actor Kevin Nealon.  He's a very convincing loser boyfriend. And, in small but endearing roles are SCTV-alum Andrea Martin, and Renee Taylor from The Nanny.  Last but not least in this list of noteworthy cast members is Leslie Nielsen who plays the Macy's department store Santa Claus.

This 1991 movie isn't Nielsen's only turn at playing Santa Claus--remember 2000's Santa Who?

All I Want for Christmas may never top your list of Best Christmas Movies, however it is an enjoyable story that is made even more entertaining by a stellar cast.  Come holiday time when you hear the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," perhaps you'll once again recall Lauren Bacall and her one-of-a-kind spirit. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Travis Van Hauen

Christmas TV Party 2014: Travis Van Hauen

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching? 

Rudolph (I just loved watching the stop motion specials) and  A Charlie Brown Christmas

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

Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Love at the Christmas Table and Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas

3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program. 

Bob Hope’s annual Christmas Special

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet. 


5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama? 
I am going to expand this to many different categories.

*Favorite made for TV movies: 
Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas (Hallmark)- What happens when a widow finds out her college daughter wants to do her own thing for Christmas, she decides to trade homes with a successful writer (currently with writer’s block) for the holidays to be near her daughter…..of course there are some issues. Combine great acting with dialogue, music & chemistry and this is makes for an entertaining and relaxing movie. 
Love at the Christmas Table (Lifetime)- when a lifetime of holiday traditions, community and holiday spirit combine for a great romance story that really knows how to develop the story. Great acting and music!
Tie between – The Christmas Card,  A Grandpa for Christmas,  3 Day Christmas & Hitched for the Holidays 

*Favorite classic sitcom or short story episodes: 
The Twilight Zone  Night of the Meek
The gift that keeps on giving: He's best known for 'The Honeymooners' (which had a classic holiday episode of its own with ''Twas the Night Before Christmas'), but Art Carney is also the star of this 'Twilight Zone' gem, in which he plays drunkard department store Santa Henry Corwin. Fired after arriving for work late and sloshed, Henry wanders into an alley and finds a bag filled with gifts. The spirit of the holiday is one of the few bright spots in Henry's life, and as he begins handing out the gifts, he realizes the bag is able to produce any gift a recipient requests. After a brief jail stint that ends with Henry changing the mind of his mean, skeptical former boss, he continues handing out gifts until one of his giftees points out that Henry has taken nothing from the bag himself. All he wants? To continue playing Santa every year, a wish that's granted when he finds an elf with a reindeer-driven sleigh waiting to whisk him off to the North Pole.

M*A*S*H  Death Takes a Holiday
The gift that keeps on giving: Series star Mike Farrell wrote and directed this touching episode, in which Father Mulcahy organizes a Christmas party for the local children, and we learn that stuffy Charles Winchester is actually a big old softie who's been hoarding his fancy chocolates not for himself, but to gift to the kiddies. The tearjerking heart of the episode, however, involves a soldier who's mortally wounded, prompting Margaret, Hawkeye and B.J. to do anything they can to keep him alive until Dec. 26, so his family won't have to remember Christmas as the day their father/son/husband died.

The Andy Griffith Show  The Christmas Story
The gift that keeps on giving: Barney Fife (Don Knotts) as Santa is but one of the delights of this simple, sweet episode. Most of the action takes place in the Mayberry jail, where, after department store owner (and resident Scrooge) Ben Weaver demands that Andy lock up local moonshiner Sam Muggins, Muggins' family, as well as Andy's, gather to celebrate the holiday with Sam. After witnessing how Sam and Andy and their broods can turn the jailhouse stay into a warm, inviting celebration, Weaver gets himself arrested so he can be part of the fun, and he ends the holiday by getting a nip of Sam's hooch himself.

*Favorite recent (approx. last 25yrs) sitcom episodes: 
Home Improvement – Yule Better Watch Out  (this series has many good Christmas episodes but this was it’s first).  Tim competes in the neighborhood Christmas light competition. Mark writes his Christmas list to Santa, but Brad and Randy tell him Santa is dead but a mysterious Santa gives him his wish. Brad and Randy participate in a Christmas play as meager parts. 

Frasier- Perspectives on Christmas (this series also has many good Christmas episodes but this one comes from many differing views).  Christmas is approaching, and everyone in the Crane household has been having a miserable time. Martin has volunteered to play the part of a wise man in a local church pageant, and one of the requirements is to sing "O Holy Night", which contains one dangerously high note. He has not told Daphne, but she detects he is keeping something from her, and knowing that he was expecting the results of a recent physical examination, she fears the worst. Niles gets trapped in the Elliot Bay Towers elevator and has to climb out, completely ruining his brand new suit. Frasier takes a phone call from Roz's mother, who will be visiting for Christmas, and advises her to be sympathetic to Roz about her pregnancy weight gain, unaware that Roz has not even told her mother she is pregnant yet. Roz, of course, is absolutely furious when she finds out.

Tie between 3rd Rock from the Sun Jolly Old St. Dick, 30 Rock Ludachristmas and The Office Christmas Party

from the 1971 Christmas episode of Gunsmoke with guest star Jack Elam.

*Favorite Christmas Themed Drama Episodes: 
Little House on the Prairie: Christmas at Plum Creek 
The Closer: You Have the Right to Remain Jolly (2011) 
Monk: Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa (2005) 
Psych: Christmas Joy (2008) 
Eureka: O Little Town (2010) 
Gunsmoke: P.S. Murry Christmas (1971) 
Chuck: Chuck Versus Santa Claus (2008) 
Moonlighting: 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas (1985) 

*Favorite animated Christmas themed shows: 
Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation: The brothers and friends try to save Christmas For Danvill. Great music and jokes. 
Curious George- A Very Monkey Christmas : It is Christmastime but George and The Man In The Yellow Hat have a problem. They must both find out what each other wants for Christmas. 
Justice League- Comfort and Joy:  Members of the Justice League celebrate Christmas

*Favorites Animated Christmas Specials (classics) 
A Charlie Brown Christmas 
A Garfield Christmas Special (1987) 
A Chipmunk Christmas (1981) 
The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982) 
The Snowman
Frosty the Snowman 
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer 

*Favorite recent Christmas specials 
Jingle All the Way (Hallmark) 
Disney’s Prep & Landing 
Robbie the Reindeer 

*Our “guilty pleasure” Christmas specials (some have been panned by media but hold special memories for us) 
Casper’s First Christmas
Christmas Comes to Pacland 
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Yogi’s First Christmas 
Flintstones Christmas Carol 

*Christmas Collection DVD ( a collection of Christmas toons, skits or episodes) 
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas 
The Carol Burnet Show: Christmas with Carol
Saturday Night Live - Christmas

Monday, August 4, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014 Summary

1954's White Christmas

Did you check out all the responses by our party participants?  In case you were late to the Christmas TV Party this summer, here's your chance to catch up.  Below is a complete list of links to each of our guests who participated in July/August.  If you regret never sending in your responses--or are just now discovering this networking opportunity, it's not too late to join in the fun.  Read the original introduction and email your answers to me.

Thanks to everyone who participated and to all who left comments.  I was entertained and amused all month long with everyone's replies--I hope you were too!

Original introduction to Christmas TV Party 2014 and Joanna Wilson's answers

Dinsdale Kringle at Santas Working Overtime

David Hofstede at Comfort TV

Caffeinated Joe at Caffeinated Joe and My Third Parent

Drew Flowers at Christmas Movies and Music

Cathie Nowicki

Linda M. Young at Flying Dreams

Dixon Hayes at TV When I Was Born

Jeff Fox at Name That Christmas Special

Rob Martinez at The Nights Before Christmas

Donna Bock

J.A. Morris at Holiday Film Reviews

Johnny Holmes at Radio Once More

Stubby at Stubby's House of Christmas

Randall Buie

D.X. Ferris, author of Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff and Dave Years

Mitchell Hadley at It's About TV!

Jim Inman

Helen Holmes at Radio Once More

Stephen Lind, PhD at Washington and Lee University

Amanda By Night at Made for TV Mayhem

Juniper Sage

RigbyMel at Holiday Film Reviews

Amanda M. Prok

Ronda Roxbury

Jakki at Tis the Season and Christmas Movies and Music

Dan Budnik, co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey

Jeff Haggar at Classic TV Sports

Dominic Caruso at 1701 Press

Net at It's A Wonderful Movie

Brady Bunch in 1969

Maryam Sarshar

Cheryl at The Stylish Studio

Jim Fanning at Tugley Wood

Travis Van Hauen

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Jim Fanning at Tulgey Wood

1957's Desk Set
Christmas TV Party 2014: Jim Fanning at Jim Fanning’s Tulgey Wood 

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching?
Like just about everyone has said, it was Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer.

2) Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round. 
I don’t know about a specifically Christmas-themed movie, but I have at least two favorite films with Christmas scenes in them (that makes them Christmas movies, doesn’t it?) that I often watch at any time of a given year. One is probably on the list of a lot of Christmas fans: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The Christmastime (Winter 1903) scenes are so beautifully done and are the emotional heart as well as climax of the story; no wonder it is at Christmastime that Papa decides the Smith family will stay in their St. Louis home instead of moving to a strange city. The other is the sparkling Desk Set (1957) starring Katherine Hepburn as a TV network research librarian and Spencer Tracy as a computer inventor. This sophisticated workplace-rom-com features a Mad Men-type office holiday party that is a joy to behold, offering a decidedly different take on merrymaking then one might see in something like, oh, I don’t know, say Meet Me in St. Louis. The filmmakers also take dramatic advantage of the jovial Yuletide setting to bring the story up short by revealing that the “villain” of the movie—the electronic brain, EMERAC—will be installed after the holidays, threatening the jobs of Hepburn and her close-knit team. 

Sister Theresa finds the little boy Lukas after he's struck by lightning in The First Christmas.
3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program.
I’m tempted to say The Box of Delights, a phantasmagorical mini-series produced in England and shown in the US as part of the PBS Wonderworks anthology series. Based on a popular British book, this fantasy-adventure—full of 1980s special-video-effects—centered on schoolboy Kay who while home for the holidays encounters a mysterious man who entrusts to him a small wooden box with magical powers, taking the boy on all manner of enchanted escapades. 
But instead I’d like to single out a special from Rankin/Bass, the producers of such holiday favorites as Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, et al. First shown in 1975, The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow is a charming, low-key tale of a blinded shepherd boy taken in by the kindly Sisters of the Abbey, led by Sister Theresa (the voice of Angela Lansbury). One of the few Christmas TV specials that doesn’t deal with Santa Claus, this unique show is understated in its spirituality, which still comes shining through with the miracle that occurs during the village children’s performance of the Nativity pageant. Produced in the signature style of Rankin/Bass’s “Animagic” (articulated puppets who come to life in stop-motion animation), the upbeat and touching musical features a lovely rendition of “White Christmas” by Angela Lansbury.  One of the reasons this special may be so little known is that when it’s recalled at all, the needlessly complicated title throws everyone off. An understandably confounded audience has called it everything from The First Christmas to The First Snow to That Show about the Nuns and the First Snow. The title is not only confusing; it’s inaccurate in that the focus is not the first Christmas (except in the pageant).  (Interestingly, the special was to have originally been titled The First White Christmas, but legal problems with the use of the Irving Berlin song as part of the title may have been the reason for the change.) Whatever the title is, however, this gentle TV gem is worth seeking out. 

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet.
A fun site from writer Joe Torcivia about classic film, TV, comics etc. Check out Joe’s in-depth, multi-part history of Gold Key comics.   

Yowp and Tralfaz 
This is a two-fer. The historian simply known as Yowp writes in his Tralfaz blog about animation, old time radio and classic show biz, while in his Yowp blog he extensively covers classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

This blog is mentioned on Joanna’s hit parade at right but is always worth actively promoting. Historian Rick Goldschmidt celebrates the history and heritage of Rankin/Bass, creator of those unforgettable Christmas specials.

5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama?
I’ll skip dramas, though there are some very good examples, including the Christmas episodes of Mad Men (especially The Christmas Waltz), and “The Best Christmas” from the fifth season of The Waltons. (The Homecoming is of course an excellent show but that was a Christmas special, the inadvertent pilot, for The Waltons, so I personally don’t consider it part of the series proper.) But on to the comedies!  Very difficult to choose only three because so many good series have good Christmas episodes—All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, Frasier, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond… I even love the I Love Lucy Christmas ep, which is really just a clip show. 

But here are my top tinsel-time picks:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II”
This is hands-down my favorite of all TV holiday episodes. I watch it every single year. The MTM Show creators, Allan Burns and James L. Brooks brilliantly use the newsroom setting in this first-season episode, as Mary Richards realizes that she actually has to work on Christmas Day. Prevented from returning to her hometown because of this TV vocational reality—the news doesn’t stop for holidays—Mary is cheered by her Minneapolis friends and co-workers who she increasingly comes to think of as family. This comedy series always had a poignant edge, and no more so than in this heartwarming episode.

The Lucy Show “Together for Christmas”
Spending their first Christmas together, the blended family of widower Lucy and divorcee Viv find that sharing conflicting traditions (gifts opened on Christmas morning vs. Christmas Eve, turkey vs. goose for the feast, etc.) is as likely to ruin a holiday as enhance it. Years ahead of such now-common fare as Modern Family, this Yuletide episode of the second of Lucille Ball’s three hit shows (this series was wonderfully done in its first two seasons or so) is an annual favorite of mine, given its comedic conflict and its moving resolution, brilliant pulled off by one of TV’s greatest teams, Lucy and Vivian Vance.

Family Ties “A Keaton Christmas Carol”
I usually avoid Christmas episodes that are parodies of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, simply because it’s so overdone, overly familiar and just lazy. This Family Ties favorite, which I saw for the first time last Christmas because of its easy accessibility on Netflix, is a rare exception. Perhaps this well-done Christmas Carol re-do is particularly appealing because the Scrooge-theme fits well with the character of Alex P. Keaton, and the always excellent Michael J. Fox is both comedic and moving in his renewed appreciation of his family at Christmastime.)