About Christmas TV History

Monday, August 6, 2018

Christmas in July 2018: Jim Fanning

LP soundtrack to 1979 TV special

Christmas in July 2018: Jim Fanning, from
Jim Fanning’s Tulgey Wood https://jimattulgeywood.blogspot.com  
Twitter: https://twitter.com/EmeliusBrowne 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jim.fanning1/

1) Name your favorite Henson's Muppet Christmas program and why.

Though I’m inclined to choose A Muppet Family Christmas, which is sheer Muppet AND Christmas perfection, I think I will go in a different direction and choose John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. There are many reasons to appreciate this 1979 TV special, including the chemistry between John and the various Muppet characters and also the Nativity Story, featuring some unique (stylized human-character) Muppet figures. The highlights throughout, however, are the songs. The special is almost non-stop music, not surprising given how musical Denver as well as the Muppets are, featuring a multitude of both old favorites and also new songs that become your favorites upon hearing them. The record album based on this TV special is actually my all-time favorite Christmas album.

from the 1970 Christmas episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
2) Which decade produced the bulk of your favorite Christmas entertainment?  

Though I love Christmas specials and programs from every era for me the 1960s presented the best TV Christmas specials. From the first animated holiday TV special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol in 1962, to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1966, The Little Drummer Boy in 1968, Frosty the Snowman in 1969, and many more, the 1960s offered specials of every variety that are still broadcast and enjoyed today. I’d like to bend the rules a bit and expand to the early 1970s as well, so as to include The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (the TV special that inspired The Waltons TV series) in 1971 and The House Without a Christmas Tree is a 1972. Such an expansion also encompasses “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II“ the first season (1970-1971) holiday episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, my favorite TV series. This is the Christmas TV episode that I watch without fail every year. 

3) Imagine the entertainment behind your ideal Christmas Eve dinner. Name the appetizer, entree, and dessert.

When I share media with friends I most enjoy sharing programs that they haven’t seen before. So the selections below are both eclectic and, to some at least, esoteric. Again I stretched things a little by adding a course or two.

Apéritif: The Sesame Street Muppets (featuring the Monsters) performance of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” from A Muppet Family Christmas
Appetizer: The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow. This gentle and little known Rankin-Bass “Animagic” show is truly unique, featuring as it does the voice, of Angela Lansbury, a blind shepherd boy and a performance of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,”
Entree: This course needs to be a substantial dish so It’s a Wonderful Life, the Alistair Sim-starring A Christmas Carol or Scrooge with Albert Finney would all be fine fare, but I chose The House Without A Christmas Tree. This still largely unknown TV special features delightful Christmas customs, and humor, but also includes moving poignancy and powerful drama that takes the viewer’s breath away.
Dessert:  The Flintstones episode, “Christmas Flintstone,” which aired on December 25, 1964. A sweet, lighthearted, entertaining TV episode perfect for dessert.
Digestif:  The Nativity Story from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. This segment is followed immediately by the Muppets and John singing “Silent Night.” Seems the perfect way to end a Christmas Eve dinner and to start off Christmas Day.

4) What Christmas episode, special or movie doesn't exist--that you wish did? Feel free to get creative.

The Don Fedderson-produced successes of the 1960s-early 1970s were My Three Sons and Family Affair. To my knowledge, My Three Sons never had a Christmas episode, while its sister-show had a sort of anti-holiday episode, the affecting “Christmas Came A Little Early.” So why not a crossover of both to create a truly special Christmas episode? The plot could involve aeronautical engineer Steve Douglas visiting New York City to consult with engineer Bill Davis in December. Uncle Bill learns that since work on the project will continue into January, Steve is flying the entire Douglas clan (sons Chip, Ernie, and Robbie, as well as Chip’s wife Polly, Robbie’s wife Katie and their triplet toddler sons, Uncle Charlie, Steve’s wife Barbara and daughter Dodie) from Los Angeles to Manhattan for the holidays. He invites his new colleague and his family to join him, nephew Jody, nieces Buffy, Cissy and Mr. French at their Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment home for Christmas dinner. Steve accepts only when Uncle Bill assures him that Mr. French will not mind extending the Christmas dinner for so many guests. When the Douglas family arrives at the Davis penthouse, the Davis kids are overjoyed, but it turns out Mr. French is indeed concerned about extending the dinner on such a short notice. Luckily Uncle Charlie pitches in to help, and the two duet on a song based on “All I Want for Christmas“, but with new lyrics indicating that all they want is a quiet home. Of course, when “Frency’s” part-time household helper, Emily Turner arrives for dinner, she too helps with the dinner, and, joining in the song, gets French and Charlie to reveal that underneath it all they enjoy the chaos of their respective households. Other musical numbers feature holiday music provided by Steve on the saxophone, Uncle Charlie on the cello, Robbie on the trumpet, and Chip and Ernie on electric guitar. Miss Faversham drops by to help explain some British Christmas customs. With the stagehand assist of Jody and Cissy, Dodie and Buffy employ Myrtle and Mrs. Beasley to put on a puppet Christmas pageant which features an unscheduled appearance at the end by the triplets as the Three Wise Men, wearing Christmas crowns courtesy of Mr. French’s Christmas crackers. Uncle Charlie’s brother, “Bub” O’Casey, the sons’ grandfather and original cantankerous caregiver of the Douglas household, is remembered in a poignant segment centering around the song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Just then, “lost” family members, Mr. French’s brother and Mike (the eldest Douglas son for the first five seasons of My Three Sons) and his wife Sally arrive unexpectedly just in time for Christmas dinner all for an extra festive touch for the combining of these two family favorites.

"Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!"
5) If one Christmas movie, special or episode was to be selected for a time capsule to opened in 1,000 years, which title do you think should be included?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. This greatest of the great Christmas TV specials includes so many holiday elements, such as a pageant, writing a letter to Santa, decorations, and carols. There’s also a distinctive score that has become part of the holiday soundscape, and a reimagining of one of the most iconic of all Yuletide symbols, the Christmas tree. Best of all, it includes Linus' superb proclamation of the Nativity narrative from the Gospel of Luke. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”


  1. I'm obsessed with your idea of a Christmas cross-over for "My Three Sons" and "Family Affair." I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THAT! Yeah--I can't find a Christmas episode of "My Three Sons" either. While I continue to look for it--if someone knows more, let me know. Quite frankly, I think your idea Jim is top-notch! It's so consistent with the characters, i feel like I've already seen and enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing it :)

  2. Wow, I would have LOVED to have seen your THREE SONS/FAMILY AFFAIR crossover!