About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Laverne and Shirley New Year's Eve (1977)

I've already written about the 1976 Christmas episode of Laverne & Shirley entitled "Oh Hear the Angels' Voices" and the 1978 Christmas episode "O Come All Ye Bums." Let us not forget the Laverne and Shirley third season New Year's Eve episode entitled "New Year's Eve--1960."

Laverne remarks how lucky Shirley is to always have Carmine as her steady date.

Shirley is busy organizing her couple's-only New Year's Eve party where everyone will say goodbye to the 1950s and celebrate the arrival of the new decade. Laverne's concern is finding a date. Her boyfriend Norman is a police officer and he's on-duty for the holiday. Laverne is worried about finding a date since she doesn't have very many special men in her life to choose from. When she learns that friends Pete and Beatrice, who have been a couple for nearly ten years, have recently broken up, Laverne decides to get re-acquainted with Pete.

In the meantime, Lenny and Squiggy are rehearsing for a surprise on New Year's Eve.

Pete is played by actor Craig Littler who some may recognize as Jason from Jason of Star Command.

Laverne and Pete share a fun date roller skating followed by time on the couch. Shirley keeps the couple's vo-dee-oh-doh-doh to a minimum by repeatedly interrupting them and dropping hints to Pete about her upcoming couples-only party. Pete succumbs to the suggestion and invites Laverne as his date. Laverne has high hopes for the New Year's party.

Shirley is persistent in letting Pete know that he's invited to her party.

The party is a huge hit and everyone enjoys dancing the latest craze: the Twist.

Laverne is really enjoying herself at the party and she's falling fast for Pete. He seems like the perfect guy for her on this night filled with hope for the future. In another romantic scene, Carmine shares a little gift with Shirley--a brand new diary.  Shirley opens the new book and finds an entry already written for January 1st, 1960. Turns out Carmine is expecting that the kiss they share at midnight will be wonderful and memorable.

Laverne expresses how happy she is with Pete.

Pete too seems to be enjoying Laverne's company.

The Big Ragoo is a romantic at heart.

Things seems to be going so well...that is until Pete's ex comes to the party and plays Johnny Mathis' hit song "Chances Are" on the jukebox. Pete is unable to resist the romance of the moment and falls back into the arms of his former girlfriend Beatrice--leaving Laverne heart-broken and alone on New Year's Eve. Laverne runs from the Pizza Bowl and makes her way back to the apartment in tears.

Chances Are...Laverne gets dumped before midnight.

Laverne pours herself a bucket-sized milk and Pepsi to console her heartbreak. This is a comedy show after all.

Men come and go over the years for the roommates throughout the series run. What they can count on is their friendship (I'm just gonna ignore the final season when Shirley left the series to make my point here).

It's friendship that will define the next decade in their lives.

Where would television be without the friendships between Laverne & Shirley? Lucy and Ethel? Mary and Rhoda?

Shirley leaves the party to follow after Laverne and help ease her pain. Their bond is strong and Shirley is able to convince Laverne that all hope is not lost. Shirley refuses to indulge Laverne's frustrations in not feeling pretty enough to keep Pete's attention. Her best friend also provides Laverne with the wisdom to not stop dreaming for the best for herself. Where would these two be with out their dreams? Sweetly, Shirley sings the opening lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne" to remind Laverne to remember past relationships as motivation to look forward.

Friends forever. Laverne and Shirley share a box of tissues as Laverne discusses her heartbreak and Shirley blows her nose from her annual cold.

Times Square ball drop--Milwaukee-style.

Feeling some consolation, Laverne and Shirley step outside their apartment building to join the crowd gathered around to witness Lenny and Squiggy's surprise. Turns out, the guys are staging their own version of Times Square's ball drop countdown with Squiggy dressed as Baby New Year descending from the roof. Lenny is hilariously costumed as Father Time and he leads the countdown at midnight.  Their stunt pleases the crowd and everyone sings "Auld Lang Syne."

Laverne's boyfriend Norman (the cop) arrives just in time to sing "Auld Lang Syne."
Sometimes I'm asked why I also write about New Year's Eve TV episodes, specials and movies. As I have explained in the introduction of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, it is because many New Year's Eve stories crossover with Christmas celebrations as well. New Year's Eve episodes and movies generally center around the themes of new beginnings, starting over, an end to things, forgiveness, and romance which are also common themes in Christmas programs. And, why not? These holiday celebrations are linked very closely on the calendar. Although the customs and traditions we have for each holiday are distinct, how we tell stories about them is often quite similar.

Do you have a favorite New Year's Eve episode to watch on TV?

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 Christmas Podcasts

I've shared some fantastic conversations this holiday season about Christmas entertainment.  I've been fortunate enough to be asked to participate in several podcasts over the last several weeks.  If you've got some down time during the holidays, give these a listen and join the conversation. While I've been posting the links to these podcasts on my social networking sites, I'd like to provide all the links here as well. These podcasts are all free--so enjoy!

Jim Inman Jr. and I spoke about A Charlie Brown Christmas' 50th anniversary and some holiday movie shooting locations. Click HERE for the link to that audio recording.

I was also invited to return to the show "At Home with Holmsey" to talk with Johnny and Helen Holmes. They are two of my favorite people with terrific spirits. Our conversation was broadcast on the old time radio network Radio Once More--but can also be heard at your convenience at the Holmsey Blog HERE at this link. We discuss the 1963 Christmas episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, the 1973 TV movie Miracle on 34th Street, the classic animated TV special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, the 1964 Christmas episode of The Flintstones, and more!

Last but not least, I invite you to listen to the Made for TV Mayhem Show.  I join Amanda Reyes and Daniel Budnik in 2 podcasts about our favorite holiday entertainment.  In the first podcast, we discuss the 1972 TV movie Home for the Holidays and the 1988 TV movie A Very Brady Christmas.  In the second podcast, we discuss the 1991 British TV movie Bernard and the Genie and our favorite holiday specials. The Made for TV Mayhem Shows are available through iTunes and at the Made for TV Mayhem Podcast website. HERE is the link for Show #1 and HERE is the link for Show #2

While you're at it, you should just follow along with all of these podcasters all year long.  Here are  passionate discussions of classic film and TV entertainment to enjoy throughout the year.  If you'd like to add to the conversations you hear in any of these holiday podcasts, you can leave your comments on this website or at the websites with the audio links.  Thanks for listening.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Avengers Christmas (1965)

No--not the Marvel superheroes. I'm talking about the 1960s cult TV series.  The 1965 episode "Too Many Christmas Trees" features the characters Mrs. Emma Peel and John Steed in an espionage story with sci-fi elements and a touch of the surreal. It's not just the holiday episode--it's also a quintessential installment of the British TV series.

Emma Peel and John Steed--classy cult TV for Christmas.
Steed experiences a series of Christmas nightmares.

If you haven't seen it in a while, let me remind you about it.  The episode begins with Steed experiencing a disturbing dream. Later when he describes his dream to Peel, they discover that some of the elements in Steed's dream have since come true. Steed's long time friend--a rear admiral that he feared may have shared top secrets--had appeared in Steed's dream as deceased. Now the morning's newspaper announces that the rear admiral has been found dead!

John dreams about his friend's death before it happens? How very strange.

In an attempt to dismiss feelings of unease, Emma invites John to a Christmas house party. Upon arriving, John feels like he's already familiar with the location and the structure of the home. How could he already know a place where he's never been before?

The party host is Brandon Storey played by actor Mervyn Johns who also plays Bob Crachit in the 1951 movie A Christmas Carol.  Patrick Macnee (who plays Steed) is also in the 1951 movie as the young Jacob Marley.

The Christmas party is hosted by Brandon Storey, a publisher and an aficionado of the works of Charles Dickens. His large home is filled with Dickensiana--and each room is decorated on a theme to match one of the great author's literary tales.

Many, many Dickens busts fill Storey's mansion on pedestals along the walls and hallways. It would be a fun drinking game to count each of the Dickens busts visible in this episode.

Steed and Peel are excited for the upcoming Christmas party.  Costumes of Dickens' classic characters are being prepared for each party guest.  However, John is still feeling bothered by the content of his dreams and a brief afternoon nap only brings more disturbing visions.

What Dickens character costume would you most like to wear?

Emma is given an Oliver Twist costume to wear and John dons a Sydney Carton outfit. It seems like too much of a coincidence that Steed would dream of guillotines in the afternoon and randomly be assigned a Sydney Carton (from A Tale of Two Cities) costume after that.  Emma and John have many questions about these nightmares.

This Christmas party is also host to a conspiracy of those looking to implant suggestions into Steed's mind. But you knew I was going to say that, right?

I just love this episode because it cleverly skirts around several mind-bending topics including psychoanalysis, extra sensory perception, telepathy, and seánces in an attempt to suggest, manipulate and control Steed's mind.  This is a dangerous set of conditions for a master spy with many secrets to keep!  When Steed is no longer sure if he's awake or he's asleep, and Emma begins to question if John is cracking up, viewers know that more trouble lies ahead.

Emma and John's reflections are distorted in the room filled with mirrors.

The creepy Santa Claus from John's dream shows up with a gun in the hall of mirrors.

Even if you think this 1960s series moves a bit slow by today's viewing standards, you'll look forward to the confrontation scene with Emma Peel gracefully kicking ass. To match the confusion between being awake and being asleep, between the future and the past, and between the sane and insanity,
the confrontation takes place in a hall of mirrors where no one (the good guys nor the bad guys) can easily distinguish between the mirrored reflections and what's real.

Of course, on the carriage ride home, Steed surprises Emma with mistletoe!

This is one of those episodes you need to watch for yourself. Avengers fans will get a huge kick out of the Cathy Gale reference early in the episode.  John receives a Christmas card from his previous partner--sent from Fort Knox!  This is a wink to actress Honor Blackman's role as Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger since leaving The Avengers series.

Steed after reading Gale's Christmas card: "Nice of her to remember me. What can she be doing in Fort Knox?"

Readers of Dickens' books will also love this episode because it is filled with literary references. Of course, Emma quotes Oliver Twist after putting on her costume and Steed is tortured by the guillotine in his dream after being given the Sydney Carton costume. But there are other references as well including a party guest dressed as the Ghost of Jacob Marley found seated at Miss Havisham's cobweb-covered table.

It's not everyday that a Christmas episode can pack in Dickens literary references, psychoanalysis, a threat to national security, and a James Bond movie reference!  Do you have a favorite 1960s Christmas TV episode?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Christmas Note movie (2015)

Some times it can be overwhelming to keep track of the hundreds of hours of holiday entertainment airing on TV during the holidays.  One of the things I do to stay on top of it all is to pay attention to the individual networks that premiere new Christmas programming.  One such network is HMM--or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, a sister network to the Hallmark Channel.  Each year HMM seems to grow their holiday programming--an exciting development to those of us that love Christmas entertainment.  On the HMM schedule this year, you can find the debut of five new Christmas TV movies.  I recently had the opportunity to preview a new HMM Christmas TV movie, The Christmas Note which debuts on Sunday, Nov. 29th at 9pm(ET).

One of the things that stands out to me is that The Christmas Note is adapted from a book written by the popular novelist Donna VanLiere. This is exciting news because there have been four previous popular Christmas TV movies adapted from her best-selling books. Remember the TV movies The Christmas Shoes in 2002, The Christmas Blessing in 2005, The Christmas Hope in 2009, and The Christmas Secret in 2014?

Melissa is played by actor Leah Gibson (left) and Gretchen is played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

In the new movie The Christmas Note, Gretchen and her son Ethan move back to her hometown of Wilsonville to be near her mother. Gretchen's husband Kyle is recovering from his wounds in a distant military hospital after serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan and she needs to feel close to family. Gretchen meets her new neighbor Melissa under the worst of circumstances--Melissa's mother has just passed away. Gretchen extends herself to her new neighbor offering her friendship and support during a most difficult time for Melissa.

A family mystery unfolds from an unfinished note written by Melissa's mother.

But times get even tougher for Melissa when the two women discover a note left behind by Melissa's mother. The note confesses a secret: Melissa has an older sibling that was given up for adoption. Gretchen and Melissa undertake a complicated journey together as they search for more clues about Melissa's unknown sibling. Although Melissa feels conflicted about her difficult upbringing, Gretchen reminds her that family can be the best Christmas gift of all.

Melissa and Gretchen's friendship grows as they look for more clues to reveal the family secret.

This mystery story doesn't focus on a romance--like many Christmas TV movies. Instead it builds a strong friendship between two women which is a refreshing change of pace. Will you join me in watching the premiere of The Christmas Note on Sunday, Nov. 29th, at 9pm(ET) on HMM?

This trailer highlights a second Christmas note in the movie--one written by Gretchen's son Ethan--asking Santa Claus for nothing more than his father to return home from a military hospital for Christmas. Have you ever written your own Christmas note?

One of the things I enjoy about watching Christmas TV movies is recognizing some of my favorite actors.  The character of Gretchen is portrayed by Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the same actress from the popular TV series The Sopranos.  Sigler played head of the family Tony Soprano's daughter Meadow. Have you been watching the new Christmas TV movies this year?  Any new favorites?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

M*A*S*H Christmas (1980)

This review is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog AssociationClick here to see the blogathon's complete schedule.  Please be sure to check out all the other participating blog posts. And, click here for the 2015 holiday programming schedule on MeTV.

The ninth season M*A*S*H Christmas episode entitled "Death Takes a Holiday" has two strong concurrent story lines.  I often remember these two plots as separate episodes but they are in fact both in "Death Takes a Holiday." Let me remind you of the power of both.

Special holiday goodies arrive in the mail from home.

In the first story line, the doctors and nurses at the 4077th are looking forward to celebrating Christmas. When they receive a shipment of care packages from home, they are told that their shipment of turkey dinners won't be arriving.  Knowing that the orphans coming to the Christmas party are counting on a special meal, most everyone decides to donate their new care packages to the party.

Hunnicut, Hawkeye, and Klinger apply pressure on Winchester to get him to donate to the children's party.

Everyone except Winchester.  While he offers up one tin can of oysters to help feed the orphans, the others are disgusted to see Winchester keep his large care package to himself. Later, Winchester secretly drops off three large boxes of fine chocolates on the doorstep of the orphanage.

Winchester's anonymous donation.

Hey look! The orphanage director Choi Sung Ho is played by actor Keye Luke. Luke also played Number One Son Lee Chan in quite a few Charlie Chan movies in the 1930s.  He also played the very wise Master Po on TV's Kung Fu. His appearance in this Christmas episode makes it even better.

However, Winchester is caught in the act of dropping off his packages for the orphans.  The Boston doctor explains to the orphanage director that this act of charity is a family tradition.  Winchester insists that the director please keep his secret--as the family tradition requires anonymity. And, the director agrees to keep his secret.

Christmas is about sharing.

On Christmas day, the children arrive at the camp in the back of a truck.  The orphanage director Choi Sung Ho thanks the camp staff for throwing the children a special party.  Father Mulcahy instead thanks Choi for bringing the children.  He explains that the staff wouldn't have any Christmas at all if they didn't share it with others. That's actually a very nice sentiment!

The party ends up a potluck spread of care packages from home--including homemade cookies, fudge, and macadamia nuts from Nurse Kellye (she's from Hawaii).

Duty calls.

Meanwhile, a jeep arrives in camp bearing a wounded soldier found shot by the side of the road. Hawkeye, Hunnicut, and Hoolihan skip the party to tend to the man's injuries. This distraction ends up being the second strong story line in this Christmas episode.

Can they keep him alive until the 26th?

The soldier has been shot in the back of the head.  There's no hope of his living--even if he's still breathing. Inside his coat pocket, the doctors find a family photo and realize this man is a husband and a father.  In an instant, all three medical staff agree to help keep the soldier alive the rest of the day--if they can--just so they can mark his death certificate with the following day's date Dec. 26th.  Wanting to spare his family back home from forever associating Christmas with this inevitable loss, Hawkeye, Hunnicut, and Hoolihan commit to spending the next several hours trying to keep the soldier's body functioning.

Winchester catches Sgt. Rizzo eating a Boston-made candy bar.

Back at the party, many of the 4077th staff continue to admonish Winchester for his greediness about not sharing his care packages from home. Charles lets the comments brush off his back. However, he catches Sgt. Rizzo eating one of the fine chocolates he donated to the orphans. Winchester confronts Choi Sung Ho at the party and demands to know why the chocolates were not given to the children and instead were sold on the black market.

Even if Charles donates his gift to charity, viewers at home feel satisfied when he receives his comeuppance for being a privileged snob and out of touch with the reality all around him.

With many apologies, the orphanage director smooths out Winchester's ego while explaining that the gift wasn't very practical.  Choi Sung Ho knows that the chocolates may have provided the children with a moment of pleasure but he was able to sell the valuable rare treats on the black market for enough money to feed the children nutritious rice and cabbage for a whole month. In the end, Winchester comes to understand how his gift wasn't exploited.

"Christmas should be thought of as a day of birth."
After several hours, Col. Potter notes Hawkeye, Hunnicut, and Hoolihan's absence at the party and comes looking for them.  He commends the doctors and nurse for what they are doing--if they can get away with it.  As the hours pass, it becomes harder and harder for the doctors to keep the soldier's body functioning. When Father Mulcahy arrives to deliver the last rites sacrament, the exhausted Hunnicut refuses to step aside!  He's not ready to give up trying.  Viewers at home know Hunnicut has a wife and a child at home too--perhaps his act of compassion is more personally motivated.

After hours and hours of work, the soldier eventually dies--just a half hour short of midnight. Frustrated, exhausted, and demoralized, Hawkeye, Hunnicut, and Hoolihan know they have sacrificed everything they have to help a family back home not associate Christmas with death--yet they have failed. Without any regret, Hawkeye steps over to the wall clock and manually adjusts the dial as he declares the official time of death at just after midnight, Dec. 26th. This is another powerfully emotional moment in M*A*S*H--a unique comedy series noted for its many powerful moments that make it one of TV's best.

This act of defiance by Hawkeye is another he commits against the strict regulations and rules of military procedure--another of Hawkeye's defining characteristics.

Of course, no summary of this episode can capture the funny repartee and the many puns on Christmas carol lyrics contained within the dialogue.  You'll just have to watch it for yourself.

M*A*S*H has several memorable Christmas episodes however this ninth season offering has two of the most emotional plot lines of them all.  Do you have another favorite M*A*S*H Christmas episode?

If you're curious to read more of my particular viewpoint on holiday episodes found on A Very Merry MeTV programming schedule this holiday season, click on the following links to previous posts on my blog:
That Girl, The Brady Bunch, The Andy Griffith Show,
The Honeymooners, Dragnet, Family Affair,  
Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive
Dobie Gillis, The Donna Reed Show, Gilligan's Island, Car 54 Where Are You?,  
Welcome Back Kotter, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley (1976), Laverne & Shirley (1978), The Odd Couple,
ChiPs, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and The Doris Day Show.

And, don't forget to check out the other essays in A Very Merry MeTV BlogathonClick here for the link to the complete list of participating blogs.