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.


13 comments:

  1. Great info! Someone should start a dedicated "looking for" Christmas website. Not suggesting you Joanna, I know you have way too much to do for the Christmas season already!

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    1. I'm curious to see your "looking for" list Jeff! What's at the top of your list?

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    2. Immediately I thought of John Grin's Christmas (1986). I'm sure I have many dozens that I keep my eye out for, but I'm drawing a blank. Guess I'd better make that a physical list. I spent many years tracking down titles and was very fortunate with my results, but I'm quite happy that quality is going up now that everything is being re-released. I spent years looking for 'The Olden Days Coat', I'm waiting for them to hurry up and release One Day at a Time since there's second Christmas episode (in the cabin) I haven't seen in forever... I love the hunt though, so I love finding new stuff to hunt for, so your obscure finds are always a treat!

      Ah, John Denver and the Muppets, you know, in a version with actual contrast! ;) Would love Amy Grant's Christmas special on DVD as well, and Julie Andrews. I have versions, but not great versions. Pretty sure I'm forgetting a lot of movies, pretty sure I'm forgetting a lot of things.

      I'm sure in an hour I'll have another couple of dozen I've thought of! Time to write them down!

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    3. Oh geez...John Grin's Christmas. That's a white whale! It is the hunt, isn't it. ;)

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    4. What fun would it be if we could find it all...? :)

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  2. Joanna:

    I have been collecting Christmas specials and movies for probably 35 years. I have piles of vhs tapes and dvds, prerecorded and home recordings. I also was putting a database together. I have a few that your book didn't mention (e.g., "The Annie Christmas Show" from 1977 with the cast of the Broadway musical), and learned about a number I had missed over the years. We share an obsession.

    It's so weird that you mentioned the Mac Davis Christmas specials. In the preface to the Christmas Special book that I never completed, the Mac Davis Christmas special stands as the perfect example for how ephemeral Christmas entertainment can be.

    I can remember seeing the first 10 minutes of a Mac Davis Christmas special as a child in which Charles Nelson Riley storms Mac Davis' house and stops Christmas, informing them that it's "Commerce Day" from now on. I deperately wanted to keep watching, but my parents wouldn't let me. I can't remember if I had to go to bed, or we had to go somewhere, but of course, it never aired again, and I have been hunting for it for years.

    I'lll bet Mac Davis has a copy of each. He should release them.

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  3. Oops, Paul Lynde, not Charles Nelson Riley.

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    1. I wish Mac Davis would release them. Maybe someday he will ;) Thanks for your comments.

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  4. I'm pretty sure I still have my copy of "Miracle Down Under"

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    1. Well Ed, if you're ever feeling generous, you can email me. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Joanna,
    Sorry for being so slow to respond, but thank you for answering my question. I admit I was hoping you had a secret to reveal for hard-to-find titles (especially early television), but I know it's really a matter of perseverance. Thanks for the reply, and good luck for you with all you do!

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    1. Thanks Hugh. Sorry--no short cuts and no secrets. I wish I did.

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  6. Joanna,
    Sorry for being so slow to respond, but thank you for answering my question. I admit I was hoping you had a secret to reveal for hard-to-find titles (especially early television), but I know it's really a matter of perseverance. Thanks for the reply, and good luck for you with all you do!

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