About Christmas TV History

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Classic Christmas TV Episodes Schedule (2015)

It's the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it? TV networks are loading down their schedules with holiday programming. My favorite of course are the classic Christmas TV episodes of the past.  Let me share several networks' line-ups so you'll know where to look too.

Once again, MeTV is airing a marathon--daily at 9pm(ET)--of Christmas episodes from their line up of classic TV series.  For the full Very Merry MeTV schedule, click HERE. Keep an eye on the daily MeTV schedule too because there are surprises in there. 2 things I'm most looking forward to watching are a couple of TV movies: one with McCloud (12/24) and A Dream for Christmas (12/25).

I've already written reviews and commentary for quite a few of the episodes in the marathon already. Here's a quick list with links to those essays again--with the dates this season for when these particular episodes are re-airing.

Thur 11/19 Doris Day Show
Fri 11/20  The Brady Bunch

Fri 11/27  The Donna Reed Show, Gunsmoke, ChiPs, M*A*S*H, The Andy Griffith Show
Sat 11/28  Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Car 54 Where Are You?
Sun 11/29 Dobie Gillis, Welcome Back Kotter, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch,
Laverne & Shirley (1978), The Odd Couple, The Honeymooners, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Thur 12/3 Welcome Back Kotter,

Thur 12/10 That Girl,
Fri 12/11 ChiPs,

Tue 12/15 Gilligan's Island,

Sat 12/19 Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Car 54 Where Are You?,
Sun 12/20 Dobie Gillis, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch,
Happy Days, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Mon 12/21 The Donna Reed Show,

Wed 12/23  Laverne & Shirley (1976),
Thur 12/24 The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple,
Fri 12/25 The Donna Reed Show, Gunsmoke, The Andy Griffith Show,

For more fun, check out the Classic TV Blog Association's blogathon on the MeTV holiday episodes.  Click HERE for the complete blogathon schedule.

AntennaTV is also planning a marathon of classic Christmas TV episodes on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. You can check their full schedule on their website HERE.  Below is a list of the Christmas episodes they are airing for which I've already written reviews and commentary.

Dennis the Menace
Sanford & Son
Mork & Mindy
Family Ties
Partridge Family
Bewitched (1964) Bewitched (1967) and Bewitched (1970)
Green Acres
McHales' Navy
Good Times
All in the Family
Three's Company

CoziTV is also airing classic Christmas TV episodes of series in their line-up.  Their holiday programming begins Friday Nov. 27th. Click HERE for their complete schedule. Special note: their schedule also includes Make Room for Daddy, Hart to Hart, Quantum Leap, and Simon & Simon holiday episodes. Below is a list of the Christmas episodes they are airing for which I've already written reviews and commentary.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Starsky & Hutch
Murder She Wrote
Six Million Dollar Man
Knight Rider
Magnum PI

But I think I'm most excited about GetTV's holiday programming line-up. They are airing classic Christmas TV variety specials. Click HERE for the full schedule. Below is a list of the Christmas TV variety specials they are airing for which I've already written reviews and commentary.

The Judy Garland Show
Best of The Andy Williams Show Christmases
Christmas with the King Family (1967)

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Doris Day Show Christmas (1970)

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.

Who doesn't love a Christmas party? Cranky neighbor Mr. Jarvis says he doesn't, that's who! This is the problem facing lead character Doris Martin (Doris Day) in the 3rd season holiday episode of The Doris Day Show.

Mr. Jarvis not only hates noise--he also hates Christmas!

In the 1970 episode “It’s Christmas Time in the City,” Doris throws a party on Christmas Eve for her family and friends at her apartment. Although her fussy neighbor Mr. Jarvis is difficult to get along with, Doris invites him to the party to extend a hand of friendship.  Jarvis turns down her invitation and warns her about making too much noise!

Is THIS the face of a noisy troublemaker?

Actors Kay Ballard and Bernie Koppell play the landlords/Italian restaurant owners Angie and Louie Pallucci.

Doris decides to move forward with her Christmas party anyway. Her guests include her sons Billy and Toby, her sons' grandfather Buck, her boss Mr. Nicholson, her co-workers Ron and Myrna, and Billy and Toby's babysitter Ethel.  If you don't regularly watch this series, you may be surprised to see its amazing cast--it's a virtual who's who of television actors.

Actor Denver Pyle plays Buck.  Pyle directs many episodes of this series--including this one.

Look who else is here! Rose Marie plays Myrna, Paul Smith as Ron, and McLean Stevenson as the boss Mr. Nicholson.

Does this party look out of control?

Wouldn't you know it, Mr. Jarvis drops by several times threatening everyone’s fun with numerous noise complaints.  When Ron entertains the party guests by playing his trumpet, Jarvis complains.  After the guests begin to dance, Jarvis threatens to call the police! Doris is beyond frustrated.

What do you do with an impossible neighbor?

Knowing whatever they do will upset Jarvis, the party guests decide to begin caroling.  They gather around the piano and sing "Jingle Bells." The gang gets through the first song and there's no complaint.  Her friends suggest that Doris should sing "Silver Bells."

When Doris sings "Silver Bells," the most frozen of hearts warms.

Even though Mr. Jarvis has made it clear that he hates Christmas, after hearing his neighbors caroling, he warms to the idea of celebrating with Doris’ gathering. By herself, Day sings a heart warming version of “Silver Bells” with just the simple piano accompaniment. The performance convinces Mr. Jarvis to change his attitude. When the carolers move on to sing “Silent Night,” Mr. Jarvis finally joins the party.

The ascot and leopard-print smoking jacket suggest he's in a party mood!

Professor Hinkle from 1969's Frosty the Snowman.

Character actor Billy DeWolfe plays the grumpy, mean neighbor Mr. Jarvis.  If he sounds familiar, it may be because his voice was used for the character Professor Hinkle, the magician who entertains at the children’s school in the 1969 Rankin/Bass animated classic Frosty the Snowman. It is Professor Hinkle’s magical top hat that charms the snowman into life.  The nasty disposition displayed by Mr. Jarvis is the same one expressed by Professor Hinkle as he follows Frosty on his journey to the North Pole in an effort to reclaim his magical hat from the top of the snowman’s head.

What would Christmas be like without watching Frosty the Snowman? I don't want to know.

Doris Day breaks the fourth wall at the story's end to express her holiday greetings to TV viewers.

While this episode's story may be a bit predictable, it actually affirms what we all want to see. We want to think that mean people can be redeemed at Christmas time. We want to think that Christmas carols have the power to transform and move us all.  The best Christmas stories aren't always about something new--many times they seem more concerned with returning to the comfortably familiar.  And, I return to my original question: who doesn't love a Christmas party? By story's end, even Mr. Jarvis does.

This series regularly gives the middle-aged (in 1970) Doris Day a soft focus when she's alone in shots. This camera technique to hide her aging was probably less noticeable until high-definition TV screens.

What about the music that soothed Jarvis' savage breast?  We all know Doris Day's vocal talents have many charms.  This episode takes its title from the lyrics of the popular carol "Silver Bells" written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.  Livingston and Evans originally wrote "Silver Bells" for a movie adapted from a Damon Runyon short story--1951's The Lemon Drop Kid starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. 

The Doris Day Show closing credits.

What you may not know is that Livingston and Evans also wrote the song “Que Será Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” which grew in popularity to become the biggest hit song of Doris Day’s career.  This tune was originally written for the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, and it won the Academy Award for Best Song that year.  "Que Será Será" went on to become Day’s signature tune, and was used as the theme song to her TV series The Doris Day Show.  Remarkably, Livingston and Evans also wrote the TV theme tunes for Mister Ed and Bonanza.

The holiday standard “Silver Bells” is also a very popular track on her 1964 Christmas LP The Doris Day Christmas Album. The song is the first track on side A.  Another song off that album, Day’s version of “The Christmas Waltz” can be heard in the fifth season Christmas episode of Mad Men also titled "Christmas Waltz."  The song can be heard playing in the background in the scene in which office manager Joan Harris and ad exec Don Draper escape the office to grab a drink in a nearby bar to console each other about love and loss.  It’s a classy, elegant but also melancholic, and mature holiday moment on Mad Men.

Don Draper and Joan Harris skipping work on Mad Men.

You never expected me to link Doris Day to Frosty the Snowman, Alfred Hitchcock, Damon Runyon, and Don Draper, did you?

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, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first airing of the animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's hard to imagine celebrating the holidays without watching this animated classic. As soon as I see the opening shot of the Peanuts gang ice skating on the pond and hear the first few bars of "Christmas Time is Here," it feels like Christmas to me. This animated special really puts me in the holiday mood and I know I'm not alone.  

A Charlie Brown Christmas is so popular that it has been broadcast every year in prime time on a major network since its debut in 1965. It has also been honored with an Emmy award for Outstanding Children’s Program. It was the first of many more animated TV specials featuring the Peanuts comic strip characters by artist Charles Schulz (there were a couple feature-length theatrical release movies too).  And, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first of four more Christmas/New Year's animated Peanuts TV specials.

We all know the awkward line reading/edited speech during Sally's dialogue: "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share."
A Charlie Brown Christmas has grown so popular and has been watched for so many decades that viewers may not recognize how truly different this program was from the other Christmas television specials produced in the 1960s.  For one thing, it used actual children to record the voices for the young characters--several of which were without any professional experience. This is out of the ordinary for animation made back then as it is now. Recall the context: the first original animated Christmas TV special Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) proudly featured a celebrity voice cast as did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and the animated classics that followed, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and Frosty the Snowman (1969). When celebrities weren't used, professional actors with experience working in animation were hired.  To choose to step outside this tradition to use unknown actors and children at that, was unorthodox.

Making jokes about a child seeking guidance for his depression seems daring--even if it was already a part of Schulz' newspaper comic strips.

Also unorthodox was the use of a jazz score--a very uncommon style of music for children’s entertainment.  In 1965, jazz was still considered nightclub entertainment of an adult nature (jazz musicians were known to smoke illegal cigarettes!?--or worse).  Musician Vince Guaraldi was already a Grammy winner (for the song "Cast Your Fate to the Wind") when he was asked to write the music for this holiday special. However jazz was considered by many people in the mainstream at that time to be inappropriate and perhaps even poor taste for children's entertainment.  Its use in A Charlie Brown Christmas should be seen as cutting edge. Now, it's impossible to imagine this Christmas special without its one-of-a-kind soundtrack and its sassy attitude.  A side note: the composition "Linus & Lucy" by Guaraldi was introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas and became the signature Peanuts theme song incorporated again and again in many of the later Peanuts animated TV specials.

Just what is the music the children dance to while on stage? It's "Linus & Lucy."

But perhaps even more controversial, A Charlie Brown Christmas includes the story of the Nativity recited by Linus as a response to a question about the meaning of the holiday.  Linus quotes the book of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8-14 of the King James version of the Bible.  It isn’t just a humanist or spiritual message but a religious one.  And, this religious message was spoken by a child in a cartoon--not by a religious leader or an authority figure.  The power of this moment comes to us delivered out of the mouth of a babe--as if this child doesn't quite know to restrain his speech or to hold himself back from speaking the truth. Peanuts fans know Linus as the wise philosopher character among the other children.  This religious message was quite daring for the creators of this TV special. The unconventional delivery of a sensitive message on prime time television was not only risky but unusual. 

"Lights please!"

The message is made even more complex as Linus’ response is given as the antidote to Charlie Brown’s frustration and disappointment with the commercialization of the holiday.  The TV special challenges the commercial nature of the very medium of which it is a part.  This rebellious message combined with the jazz soundtrack results in a far more irreverent and provocative holiday program than one expects for the 1960s.  Remember--this is decades before David Letterman and The Simpsons made TV industry bashing a common sport on television. What could easily have been a forgettable children’s cartoon turns out to be thought-provoking animation.  I believe it also explains a significant part of A Charlie Brown Christmas' lasting legacy.

"I KILLED it!"

Which are your favorite moments? The opening sequence with the melancholy song "Christmas Time is Here" while the children ice skate on the frozen pond--Charlie Brown assisting his little sister Sally in writing her letter to Santa Claus--Snoopy’s prize winning display of Christmas decorations on his dog house--the children dancing before the Christmas stage play rehearsal--the gorgeous, stylized Christmas trees at the tree lot that are pink, yellow, polka-dotted and even plaid--Lucy’s inability to recognize the song "Jingle Bells" played on Schroeder’s toy piano--Charlie Brown’s little tree that droops over when he places a red ornament on its branch--the children singing "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" in the snow at the end.

"Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!"

The original program was edited for subsequent broadcasts.  Several scenes were slightly altered to remove the original images of Coca-Cola, the first sponsor of the TV special.  More cuts have been made over the years to allow for more commercials.  However, in recent years the network ABC has restored the full length version and on occasion will broadcast it as the unedited version.  But be careful--they also broadcast the shorter version too.

I was destined to play Peppermint Patty in my school play.
I've written about my personal connection to A Charlie Brown Christmas before.  I've had an obsession with Peppermint Patty ever since I was cast in a second grade stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1975.  This experience was certainly an important step toward my pop culture fanaticism.

from Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown TV special airing this year.

A Charlie Brown Christmas airs twice on ABC this year--on Nov. 30th and again on Christmas Eve. It is being paired with a new hour-long musical tribute hosted by Kristen Bell.  If you're looking for more to watch, dig up the 2001 half-hour documentary hosted by Whoopi Goldberg which gives more commentary and history of the animated Christmas classic.

Won't you join me in watching it again this year? I hope to be watching it for the next 50 years as well. Enjoy!