About Christmas TV History

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Holiday Horror/Disaster Movies

Most of us are familiar with the romance movies that come out each Christmas on television on networks such as Hallmark, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Lifetime, and Ion. But did you know that the Syfy Channel hosts movie marathons at the holidays each year as well?  Since 2009, I've noticed a sharp incline in the number of horror/disaster movies Syfy runs in marathons.  Some of these movies take place at Christmas while others are more winter themed. (If you're sharp-eyed, you can usually find these same movies running in marathons during the month of July too!) These disaster stories are sometimes horrifying and other times campy fun. Some of the stories depict natural phenomenon run amok while others truly transgress into the realm of science fiction's partner: fantasy. Let me share a few titles and tell you which ones I like the most.

If you're a Christmas movie purist, you might be interested in seeking out Ice Quake (2010), Snowmageddon (2011), The 12 Disasters of Christmas (2012), Christmas Twister (2012), and Christmas Icetastrophe (2014).

THAT'S a great title!

In Snowmageddon, the Miller family discovers an anonymous present on their doorstep at Christmas: it’s a snowglobe depicting their town of Normal, Alaska.  Just as mysteriously, the town and its residents begin experiencing a series of catastrophic disasters. The fun here is seeing the residents scramble against the odds to survive these ‘natural’ disasters and figure out a way to stop these horrible catastrophes, bringing their own Christmas miracle. The characters trapped in this movie play it seriously--too bad it doesn't have more tongue-in-cheek humor.

A movie I liked more was The 12 Disasters of Christmas. Who doesn't love a good doomsday story at the holidays? As natural disaster after natural disaster occurs in their small town, lead character Jayce can feel her destiny tied into the countdown to the end of times.  Remarkably, the end of times countdown is connected to the popular Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and she must collect the five golden rings in order to protect the world.  You read that right.  There's a lot of fun in the details here--even if the natural disasters depicted seem minor and unimaginative.

Heads-up friends: Christmas Twister was originally released on the Ion Network but it feels much like the others (and was directed by Christmas TV movie veteran Peter Sullivan). Like many of these films it features a recognizable TV actor, and Christmas Twister stars Casper Van Dien.

Other horror/disaster movies that you'll find airing on the Syfy Channel during the holidays include ones that feature extreme cold weather survival stories, snow monster features, and weirder.  If this appeals to you, look for movies such as Ice Spiders (2007), Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon (2008), Polar Storm (2009), Ice Twisters (2009), Rage of the Yeti (2011), Snow Beast (2011), Ice Road Terror (2011), 2012: Ice Age (2011), and Abominable Snowman (2013).

"Look out behind you!"

My favorite of these is Ice Spiders. It is a ridiculous but a fun-to-watch monster/comedy. One by one, members of an elite team of skiers disappear from the slopes while at the Lost Mountain Resort in Utah. Although the Olympic team was looking for isolation at Lost Mountain to focus on their training, when the giant and deadly ice spiders attack, the remote location might be the team’s demise. Where did these huge creepy crawlies come from? The military hired scientists to tinker with the DNA of various species of arachnids for their web strength in weaponry use. But wouldn’t you know it--these spiders are another military/scientific experiment run amok. It also features THREE actors from Melrose Place: Thomas Calabro, Patrick Muldoon, and Vanessa Williams.

I also enjoyed Ice Twisters. Don't judge me. In this movie, science-fiction book author Charlie Price finds himself in conflict with the Federal Science Foundation when his predictions of apocalyptic disasters begin to come true.  The Federal Science Foundation has been conducting weather experiments to manipulate the atmosphere to produce rain in drought areas. Unfortunately, their manipulations have created extreme weather storms that are not only taking human lives but the storms are out of the control of the scientists. It has a whole self-righteous conspiracy theorist vibe to it.  It also stars actor Mark Moses who you'll recognize from huge TV shows such as Mad Men, The Killing, Desperate Housewives, Homeland, and Manhattan. It's fun.

Think: less T-Rex and more iguana.

I also got a kick out of Ice Road Terror.  An explosion at an arctic diamond mine opens a hole from which a dinosaur/lizard crawls.  After feasting on several miners, the monstrous lizard sets his sights on truckers driving nearby on the longest ice road in the world. Actor Dylan Neal is in this movie.  He's appeared in many great projects but he'll always be Pacey's older brother on Dawson's Creek to me.  Another actor Michael Hogan is here too.  He's had a long career as well, but I love his role as Col. Saul Tigh on the update of Battlestar Galactica.

Most of the yeti/abominable snow monster movies suffer from poor special effects.  You may get a laugh (between snoozes) from Snow Beast--it stars John Schneider (!) and the monster looks like a gorilla version of Rankin/Bass' Bumble. The natural disaster story 2012: Ice Age pushes credulity with the plot that a glacier from Greenland is rapidly moving towards the United States' New England coast line. Key word is 'rapidly.' It just gets worse from there.  I warned you.

Don't forget Poseidon Adventure (1972 theatrical release) in which a cruise ship flips over during a holiday journey.  And, Terror on the 40th Floor (1974 TV movie) which features a a fire in a skyscraper trapping employees from an office Christmas party.

This is not a complete list of TV movies in this genre but the ones I felt deserved a mention.  If you like (or despise) other horror/disaster movies that air on the Syfy Channel, mention them in the comments.  Have you seen any of these?  Are you a fan of the genre? I can't wait to see what Syfy comes up with for this year.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Answers #6 and 7

Last month, I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  I'll respond to two questions in this space today. Here's Question #6:

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Shermy laments: "Every Christmas it's the same: I always end up playing a shepherd." In Christmas Is, Benji asks "Why do I always have to play a stupid Shepherd?"
I think the idea of a kid getting stuck as the shepherd every year predates Peanuts. I vaguely recall some kid making the same complaint in a B&W movie I saw years ago, although I cannot recall what it was.  Any idea where this cultural riff comes from? Is it lost in the mists of time?

Also, decades after Lemon v. Kurtzman, Christmas entertainment still imagines that our public schools can put on Christmas pageants complete with nativity. Witness Edith Ann's Christmas (Just Say Noel) or the Boondock's Christmas episode. Isn't it odd how strong the notion of a Christmas pageant persists, even though most of us have never actually been to one?

Well, I suppose it's a part of our culture--and not just at Christmas--that most everybody that participates in a stage play or pageant likes to be the star and have the leading role.  I don't know who first made a complaint about portraying a background character such as a shepherd. Off the top of my head, I remember a cute but brief Nativity pageant in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). It's not exactly a Christmas film but it is frequently aired during the holidays. Maybe someone else has a better answer?

And to respond to the 2nd half of your question: I think the key word is "imagines." I don't know why TV and film writers do what they do.  Many of us have been to Christmas or Nativity pageants in places like churches or community centers--and I suppose TV writers are appealing to those common experiences.  To be fair--the example of The Boondocks episode is complicated.  In that episode, viewers never really know what Huey's play is about--only that it includes a Black Jesus.  The play is eventually cancelled by the PTA board--and when Huey's teacher Mr. Uberwitz moves forward with the production, he is fired.  If you watch the episode again, you'll see one of the characters in the play is dressed as a Japanese samurai--so I'm not sure about the play's religious intent or what the story is about anyway. What is clear from The Boondocks episode over all is that it is meant to address issues of racial identity.  But I know what you are saying--there are fictional stories on TV of children in school Christmas and Nativity plays when that isn't legal.  Next, you'll be telling me there's no such thing as Santa Claus?

What does everyone else think?  That's what the comments section is for. Thanks Kevin for your question.  I hope I addressed at least part of your query.

Next up: Question #7 from Maryam:

How much contact do you have with the nostalgia channels? I would love to see them all do blocks of holiday programming or ALL holiday programming throughout the holiday season, or at least through the month of December. We have access to ME-tv, GET-tv, Cozi, LAFF tv, RETRO tv and i know there are more. How come they don't get in on the holiday festivities and bring back old holiday variety shows, music specials, sitcoms, tv movie specials, cartoons that are NEVER shown anymore? It seems like there is a wealth of nostalgic holiday programming that should be available to be shown during the holiday season. Make it happen please!

Make it happen, indeed.  I love your faith in me, Maryam! I wish I had more control over holiday TV programming.  Let me address your desire for more Christmas entertainment.

There is a wealth of holiday programming from the past and I join you in wanting to see more of it each year airing on television. At the same time, the people who make these decisions on programming aren't always as knowledgeable about what's out there as you and I.  These networks are also working within budgets to pay for the licenses to air special programming.  That being said--both MeTV, GetTV, and AntennaTV do broadcast fantastic older programming during the holidays.  Or, at least they did last year.  I'm expecting the same this year.  Let's also pay close attention to the promotions by Cozi, Laff, RetroTV, Movies! and Grit in the coming weeks to see what they are doing this December.  Most of those announcements are coming very soon. (I know that RetroTV in the past several years hasn't aired special holiday programming--but I'm ever hopeful.)

I typically write about the best of the classic holiday programming each year--usually in November.  Here's last year's announcement.  I'll be doing that again, soon.

I also share the best of daily TV listings during the holidays on my Facebook page Tis the Season TV--and I like to focus on classic TV programming. I'll be starting that again in a few days.

Thanks for you questions Kevin and Maryam.  New Christmas TV movies are debuting this weekend.  Is everybody ready?  Happy Halloween.

Did you see my response to Answer Time #1, Answer Time #2, Answer Time #3, Answer Time #4 and Answer Time #5

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Answer Time # 5

Oooo-ooo-oooo!  Arnold Horshack has the answer!

Last month, I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  Here's another question:

Hi Joanna,

Do you feel that TV specials have lost their holiday feel the last few years. Most holiday fans have fond memories of the music specials like Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers every year on TV. As of late we have had Blake Sheldons comedy skits or more over produced specials. Have the major TV networks lost touch on the heartwarming part of the holidays?

Thanks for asking your question Drew.  The answer is kind of complicated--so hang in there with me while I try to explain my thoughts. You long for the musical Christmas TV specials of your youth.  We all do--many of us grew up watching Christmas TV specials and we connect happy, warm holiday childhood experiences with those TV memories. It's natural--we all feel nostalgic at Christmas. For you, it's Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's Christmas TV special.  For someone older than you, it may be an Andy Williams Christmas special.  Someone younger might feel nostalgic about watching a more recently made Christmas TV program, for example An American Idol Christmas special or a holiday installment of Glee. Most of us tend to return to those Christmas TV specials from our youth when we're looking for our holiday spirit.

Some things never change.  Everyone still loves Rudolph--and it has aired on a major network every year since 1964.

We're lucky that we live in an era when we can re-watch these programs--even if TV networks don't re-air them. I hear from people that tell me they have a family tradition of re-watching It's a Wonderful Life each year--whether the movie's TV broadcast fits their viewing schedule or not. They watch a DVD or stream it, or what have you.  It is quite a convenience to be able to have this much control over our entertainment choices.  I encourage everyone to find access to whatever Christmas/holiday program makes you happy and enjoy yourself. I know the Rogers/Parton Christmas special is not released on DVD and doesn't air on TV annually anymore--but maybe you can find clips on Youtube or elsewhere while we wait for its official release.

You're not alone if you feel that contemporary Christmas TV specials don't live up to the TV specials of your youth.  However adults in the 1980s thought this same thing about the contemporary Christmas TV specials then, and adults in the 2000s expressed a similar complaint, etc.  Let's face it--rarely can something new match the meaningful, emotional connections with Christmas that were formed in our youths.  We can be entertained by new programming but it's far less likely that we'll be as deeply impacted. That's kinda how nostalgia works--it exists when we look back upon the past.  It is entirely possible that a decade from now, we'll all feel nostalgic about a Christmas TV special that debuted in 2015.

I absolutely love and adore the animated TV special The Snowman.  However, it wasn't created until I was an adult and I'll probably never be able to see it with the same wonder and amazement of a child's perspective. And, that's okay.  I watch it again and again because I enjoy it as an adult too.

At the same time, television has drastically changed since the explosion of cable TV networks (since the 80s and 90s, specifically).  TV networks no longer create entertainment aimed at everyone living in the same home. Instead, networks attempt to appeal to audiences based on very precise demographics. For example, Lifetime doesn't care if husbands or sons are watching--and the Cartoon Network isn't creating entertainment for my parents. You get the idea. That being said, there are new music variety specials each Christmas airing on TV--they just may not be on a network you are watching.  TV viewers now split their attention between hundreds of channels--and almost ALL of them have holiday programming.  The days of the three major networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) having a monopoly on the best of TV entertainment are behind us all.

Another change on television in the last several decades is a broader sense of comedy--jokes may get dark, sarcastic, or even sacrilegious.  Our culture has embraced this shift--and television reflects it.  This style of comedy--especially at Christmas--is often an attempt at edgy, hip humor.  I see it less as a lack of Christmas spirit but more an attempt at relevance on behalf of entertainers. Granted, it's a style that doesn't appeal to everyone. And, styles change. Aren't we lucky we live in an era when we can watch what we want from Christmases past?

Thanks for your question Drew. Did I give you a satisfying answer?

Anyone else have a question about Christmas TV entertainment?  Ask me on social media or place your question in the comments HERE.  Did you see my response to Answer Time #1, Answer Time #2, Answer Time #3, and Answer Time #4?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Answer Time #4

A couple weeks ago I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  Here's another question from last week:

What do you find is the best method for tracking down Christmas episodes and specials from rare and particularly old shows?

Thanks for your question Hugh. I wish I had a simple answer to this question but the fact is, the material I research does not come from one source so it is complicated. But I'll be glad to share my process.

--I know what I'm looking for. The research on Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies is the funnest part of my career.  It's not a burden--it's the joy. It's like a treasure hunt for me and I love the excitement when I find an old TV program to watch that I've never seen before.

I built myself a database many years ago and I collect information on each title. I add to this database the sort of information that helps me distinguish any program from another including title, date of initial release, cast, director, executive producer, if it's animated, a musical, etc. I note what network it originally aired on, whether it was syndicated, and where I acquired this information on it. For me, it starts with knowing what I am looking for.

--I use all available resources. I watch DVDs, VHS tapes, stream from the internet, visit museums, borrow from libraries, subscribe to Netflix (and other subscription services), and I still visit my local video rental stores. I also subscribe to cable TV--because it offers me the maximum exposure to the most number of networks currently airing TV programming and it offers me invaluable on-demand features. Embarrassingly, whenever I go over someone else's house, I ask to look at their TV options--and I frequently will start combing through someone's Hulu catalog and taking notes! I'm on-line every day and I keep my eyes and ears open. I follow many (too many) media, television, and movie facebook pages, websites, fan sites, and books/writers on media/television/movies.  I strive to be a part of the community of pop culture fans and writers. I pay attention to what's going on and what other people are watching too.

For me, the easiest to find are movies. Next most challenging are episodes of TV series.  The hardest to find are special presentations. These programs are often aired only once and the licenses or permissions were never created for re-broadcast. That's the most difficult to track down.

I've learned to be patient. What seemed impossible to find 5 years ago may actually be officially released on DVD this year.  What I assumed was forgotten and lost can often become found. Families of long deceased stars can decide to release old TV specials and lost treasures can be found hiding in vaults after decades. It happens every year! There is no shortage of archives being newly released to the mass market. I regularly check through newly released archives and still find fun new stuff to watch.

Old TV specials are still being officially released each year.  This DVD came out in 2014 with the 1974 Christmas TV special on it.

I also find myself in the situation where people read my books, hear me speak at a conference or convention, see me on TV, or hear me on the radio, and know that I'm always looking for rare and old Christmas TV programs. Rights holders to extremely rare and old TV programs--or other TV researchers--have sent me copies of Christmas programs. That has happened and I'm grateful for the generosity in others. But the vast majority of material that I research and watch (and talk about) is available to the public.

So to answer your question--my best method for tracking down Christmas episodes and specials from rare and particularly old shows--it depends on what it is.  Christmas episodes from old TV shows are found airing on TV (yes, I watch an awful lot of old shows in syndication on networks like MeTV, AntennaTV, CoziTV, RetroTV, and more) and streaming in places like Hulu Plus, Amazon, Netflix, and more. Anything released on DVD can be found at Netflix, Amazon, a local video rental store, my local library, or by an inter-library loan. I make friends with people/writers with similar interests so sometimes we swap discs or VHS tapes. If I have to, I'll buy it--that's the last resort. (I'm not rich and I really don't want to have to store more stuff).

During November and December on TV each year, I still find a couple old Christmas episodes, specials and movies being aired which may not yet be available on DVD.  (Especially upper tier cable networks, local TV stations on Saturday and Sunday afternoons or late night, and new diginets). So I record them. Television broadcasts are still an important resource for finding old programming for me.

In addition to adding the new Christmas TV programming created each year to my database, I am regularly looking for old Christmas programs that I haven't seen yet from my database. I'm currently searching for an inter-library loan for the TV series Going My Way with Gene Kelly to watch.  I'm also keeping an eye out for the Disney Channel TV movie from 1987 The Christmas Visitor (also known as "Bushfire Moon" and "Miracle Down Under") starring Dee Wallace. And, if you know anything about the Mac Davis Christmas TV specials from the late 70s-early 80s--let me know.  Those have been impossible for me to find and watch.

Official DVD release from Shout Factory.

I hope this answers your question, Hugh.  Thanks for asking it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Answer Time #3

Recently I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  Here's a question that came to me from Facebook last week: 

Hello. I thought you might be the person to ask my question. The first Father Knows Best Christmas episode originally had an ending (I had it recorded on VHS back when) with the family home. I've DVRd this episode from Antenna TV, watched it on Hulu and actually own it from Amazon but the ending isn't on any of them. Do you know what happened & why they don't show it? Thank you so much for your time. Love your page!! 

Thanks for your question Facebook User. The confusion you're having relates to how TV shows sometimes recycle content.  Let me explain.

The 1954 (first season) holiday episode of Father Knows Best is entitled "The Christmas Story."  This episode was actually based on the story first introduced on the Father Knows Best radio program a year earlier. The TV episode begins with Jim Anderson longing for an old-fashioned Christmas Eve to share with his family.  Jim convinces the whole family to go with him to Pine Mountain to chop down their own Christmas tree. In the forest, the Anderson family is caught in a snowstorm and they're forced to seek shelter in what they believe is an abandoned cabin. 

Nick helps to create a Christmas that Kitten will never forget.
Once inside the cabin, the Andersons discover that a man named Nick is living there all alone. He welcomes their company--and forms a special bond with young Kathy who is worried that Santa Claus won't be able to find her in the woods to deliver her toys. I don't want to spoil all the details but it's a heartwarming, traditional Christmas story.

In 1958, Betty remarks "What a weird and wonderful Christmas that was. I'll never forget it."  Then the screen gets wavy and TV viewers watch the 1954 Christmas story again.
Then in 1958 during the fifth season of Father Knows Best, the series recycled that first season episode by adding a new beginning and ending with the Anderson family gathered together, decorating the Christmas tree, and reminiscing about the earlier Christmas they shared when Kathy befriended Nick. New footage was also added to function as a segue from the commercial breaks back into the first season holiday episode story line. As the family recalls that earlier story, TV viewers see the first season episode as if it's a flashback. Essentially, the 1958 Andersons are reflecting back to the 1954 Christmas they shared together. Isn't that fun?  This fifth season episode is confusingly also titled "The Christmas Story" and it does appear on the fifth season DVD release of the series.

In 1958 the Anderson family reminisces about the 1954 Christmas.  The holidays are a wonderful time to reflect on the past, right?

This sort of recycling of episodes has been done several other times for Christmas episodes as well.  For example, the long running family sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) re-used Christmas episodes--adding a new beginning and a new end to frame a previous story. And, if you want to get technical, every Christmas clip show functions in this way as well.  It's a way for our favorite TV characters to refer to the past and pull the TV viewer back into the original story.  Most people don't like clip shows but if this narrative device is ever acceptable, perhaps it is at Christmas time when viewers are more likely to warm to reflecting on the past.

Thanks for your question Facebook User.

Anyone else have a question about Christmas TV entertainment?  Ask me on social media or place your question in the comments HERE.  Did you see my response to Answer Time #1 and Answer Time #2?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Answer Time #2

Last week I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  Here's another question from last week:

Hi Joanna,
Q1 - Is there a particular decade that you think had the most entertaining Christmas offerings?
Q2 - It sounds like you've met some fun and interesting classic TV stars through the years. Is there anyone who stands out in your memory and why?

Q1: Thanks for your question Dana Page.  Hhmm...most entertaining?  What I've found from all my research and discussions with readers is that people feel most connected to the Christmas entertainment they watched when they were young.  For example, people who grew up in the 1980s love returning to the sitcoms, animated specials, and TV movies that were popular during that decade while people, like myself who grew up in the 1970s, feel a strong emotional sense of the holidays watching programming that aired in the 1970s, etc. That means kids watching Christmas TV specials and programs today will one day find a strong connection to these same television stories when they are adults.  This seems to be true regardless of any claims to quality or even taste.  Many of us are still delighted to re-watch a horrible animated TV special from our childhood--even though we know it's awful!  (I'm talking about you, Christmas Comes to Pac-Land!) Christmas entertainment is unique in that we allow ourselves to derive a tremendous about of pleasure from re-watching something year after year--even if our adult standards for entertainment have changed. Nostalgia is a very powerful motivator.

A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates turning 50 years old this year!

That being said, I think the most influential decade for Christmas entertainment was the 1960s.  Much of our most popular contemporary Christmas entertainment reached its height or established its roots in that decade.  Music and comedy variety programs were present at the very start of television in the late 1940s but it was during the 1960s that extravagant Christmas TV variety specials were in their heyday--with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Bob Hope, Andy Williams, the King Family, Judy Garland, and more.

Although theatrical release movies were always shown at Christmas on television, it was during the 1960s that holiday movies created just for television began to be produced.  To be fair--the Christmas TV movie didn't really lock onto its current identity until the explosion of cable television in the 1990s--however it all began in the 1960s.

And of course, animated Christmas TV specials flourished in the 1960s. Walt Disney created animated Christmas TV specials in the 50s however the material was largely segments from his popular theatrical release movies and cartoon shorts.  The first original animated Christmas program created just for television was Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol in 1962, followed by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in '64, A Charlie Brown Christmas in '65, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas in '66.  These programs not only won the hearts of TV viewers but changed television forever. Despite Rudolph and Charlie Brown airing each year--for the past 50 years--on a major network, more animated TV specials are created each holiday season.  The cultural impact of these classic 1960s animated Christmas specials still resonates with adults and children today.

Q2: I've enjoyed the pleasure of meeting many actors from some of my favorite Christmas TV programs and movies. Some of this happened because I have had several book signing events during celebrity autograph shows. Those are always fun! But I think the experiences that stand out as more meaningful are the ones in which I had the opportunity to share experiences and conversations with the actors.  For example, I met David Huddleston at the 40th anniversary screening event of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming. You can read about that again HERE. Several days before the event, I was asked to conduct an interview with him. Before the camera was rolling, he asked "What is wrong with you?" which broke the ice (I was really nervous) and he made me howl with laughter. He teased me quite a bit and made the experience a lot of fun. After the interview, he offered me an 8x10 photo from Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) in which he played the title character.  He signed it "Good Going" as an extension of the jokes we were sharing earlier.  I ended up spending more time with him and his wife throughout the entire week of events that surrounded the movie screening and the cast reunion. He and his wife were fun to be around and he shared quite a few interesting stories from his career in film and television.

The Big Lebowski makes a good Santa Claus too.

I appreciate Barry Williams' generosity.

I briefly met actor Barry Williams after a stage performance of the play A Christmas Carol several years before my first book came out.  Meeting the actor who played Greg Brady from The Brady Bunch was incredibly surreal and wonderful.  Then when my first book was being published, my editor contacted Williams to see if he'd be willing to give a testimonial for it.  If you've read The Christmas TV Companion, you know Williams is mentioned several times in it since he stars in the holiday episode of The Brady Bunch, the TV movie A Very Brady Christmas, the Dragnet Christmas episode, and he sings in one of the holiday episodes of The Wiggles. Anyway, he was very generous and not only agreed to look at the book--but he also gave it his endorsement.  You can see his blurb again HERE.  So that was really thrilling and cool.

Tina Cole and I in 2013. We're holding my DVD copy of the 1967 King Family Christmas TV Special.

Another classic TV actor I was impressed by was Tina Cole. Tina was was attending an autograph show in Chicago where I was also signing books.  I'm a big fan of the TV series My Three Sons--she played Katie Douglas (Robbie's wife)--and I've also written about The King Family Christmas specials (Tina is a member of the King family and performs as one of the King Cousins).  I saw her announce on Facebook that she was organizing a last minute meet-and-greet for her fans to join her for dinner or drinks after the convention hours. I messaged her that I would like to attend and there was a small group of us that turned out.  She was very friendly and open!  It was a wonderful informal get-together. She shared stories all night long--she was barely able to finish her dinner.  And fans from all over the country were able to get some face time with her.  I thought that was extremely generous of her to open herself like that for her fans.

Mick Foley and I in 2014.

I'm also lucky to find that I have fans myself.  I was contacted in 2014 by former professional wrestler/best-selling author Mick Foley. Turns out he loves Christmas and had purchased the encyclopedia I wrote Tis the Season TV.  He was on tour across the country last summer with speaking engagements and he invited me to dinner and to his event.  I was pleased to join him and discuss Christmas on TV.  It was also a treat to watch him work to a sold-out crowd--he's a charismatic speaker and a master at what he does.  I'm truly lucky to have met such interesting people and had amazing opportunities from writing my books.

Thanks for your questions Dana Page.

Anyone else have a question about Christmas TV entertainment?  Ask me on social media or place your question in the comments HERE.  Did you see my response to Answer Time #1?  Here's the link to that.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Answer Time #1

Last week I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  Here's one question from last week:

Love your books Joanna! 

How does USA Christmas TV compare to British TV? 
What are your favourites and your absolute worst?

Hull, England

Part 1: Thanks for asking Debra! The first difference between British and American holiday TV programming that comes to mind is the scheduling.  From what I can tell, British television debuts a fair amount of holiday programming on Dec. 24th, the 25th, and even the 26th. American TV generally speaking doesn't do that.

Our Christmas TV programming will begin right after Halloween (end of October) and new TV movies, specials and episodes will roll out all through November and early December.  By the actual holiday itself (Dec. 24th and 25th), almost all holiday programming is re-runs. It's popular to go to the movie theater on Christmas day, watch old movies on TV--or even turn the TV off. Decades ago, you would see new Christmas programs debuted on the holidays but no longer is this true.

One difference: we don't debut holiday programming on Christmas day any more.

Part 2: While the holidays themselves seem to be a time of low ratings for Americans, viewers across the pond watch more TV on Christmas. Thus, it has become quite common for any special programming at Christmas on British TV to be titled "Christmas Special"--even without Christmas content or any reference to the holidays. That doesn't happen very often on American TV.  If it's titled a "Christmas Special" here, it is very likely to be Christmas-themed in some way.

My favorites?  Well I actually watch quite a bit of television from Great Britain--whether I see it on PBS, BBC America, on DVD, or elsewhere.  I favor the Christmas episodes of my favorite series which include Blackadder, Vicar of Dibley, The Royle Family, Father Ted, Doctor Who, the Catherine Tate Show, Thin Blue Line, Outnumbered, and more. I also love the animated special The Snowman--which isn't as popular over here as it is over there.

Nurse Bernie is joined at the hospital karaoke party by George Michael to sing "The Fairytale of New York" on The Catherine Tate Show.

There's still an awful lot of British TV that isn't able to be viewed in America. With the popularity of streaming services, more British TV series are becoming available--and maybe this will continue to open up more Christmas programming we've never seen before.
What is the worst?  I don't know--I guess I'm not that entertained by the broadest of comedies. I'm also frequently disappointed when I watch a "Christmas Special" and it doesn't have a holiday story or theme.  However, when there are Christmas-themed programs on British TV, I'm committed to including them in the encyclopedia.

Did this make any sense? Thanks for your questions Debra!

Anyone else have a question about Christmas TV entertainment?  Ask me on social media or place your question in the comments HERE.