About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: Kevin Bowman

Christmas in July 2019: Kevin Bowman

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

The honest answer is the Dana Carvey/Jon Lovitz/Phil Hartman/Jan Hooks sketch with the alternate ending to It's a Wonderful Life.  Every time I see It’s a Wonderful Life, afterward I go online and watch the alternate ending.  Capra let Mr. Potter get away with stealing that money.  SNL doesn’t.   But Joanna already picked that one, so, I’ll pick: The Killer Trees from a December 1976 episode with Candace Bergen as host, from SNL’s golden age.  “We’ve got to crack it.  There’s a lot of little kids who thought they were gonna get a bicycle, gonna wind up with a pierced thorax!”  I’ll mention that there are a number of holiday musical performances from SNL that aren’t really sketches that are particularly memorable to me:  The Roches singing the Hallelujah Chorus and the Rex Smith/Linda Ronstadt cast of Pirates of Penzance singing “O Come Emmanuel," "The First Noel," and "Joy to the World."  These performances really stick in my head for some reason.

(Sorry about the green!)

2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

I probably most look forward to watching the classic animated specials (Rankin Bass, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Mr. Magoo) that I fell in love with when I was a kid.  (A case of arrested development, no doubt)  And certain classic movies (Bishop’s Wife, Alastair Sim’s Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th St.)   

3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

Scrooge, the Leslie Bricusse musical, with Albert Finney.  Such a wonderful songs.  I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir cover “A Christmas Carol,” the opening number, once.  It is majestic.   I have the LP, but some weird legal problem prevented the soundtrack from being rereleased on CD, making the music harder to come by than it should be.

I also think that the Jule Styne/Bob Merrill score for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is incomparable. 

Finally, someone should cover Doug Goodwin’s wonderful songs from A Pink Christmas.  They should be holiday classics.

4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

The Twelve Gifts by Australian animation company “Air Programs International.”  This one aired in syndication for a few years when I was a kid.  It was one of my favorites and has largely disappeared.  And, of course, A Mac Davis Special: Christmas Odyssey 2010.  Please review that one ASAP and then send me a copy.

5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

Certainly, I agree with Joanna that the stunning success of Hallmark’s and Lifetime’s Christmas movies has led to the complete domination of romance movies in terms of what Christmas Entertainment is produced nowadays, and not just on those networks.  I confess that I miss the more slice-of-life Christmas movies that were produced (in much smaller quantity) in the 60-‘s 70’s and 80’s.    I also miss the Hallmark Hall of Fame, which is usually now just the biggest budget, best cast, romance movie of the year.    The list of HHoF holiday classics is pretty long.  They should bring them all back.  (1998’s Saint Maybe was extraordinarily good.)   That said, as a Christmas entertainment fan, I think one has to learn to accept cliché and not judge too harshly.  I don’t really mind most of these movies, and some of them are pretty enjoyable. 

I think I would like to see more Christmas entertainment that is intended for mainstream audiences but which doesn’t shy away from spirituality and the notion of Christmas as a religious holiday.  This has always been a touchy area for television, but it was there (Little Drummer Boy, Charlie Brown, Amahl, Best Christmas Pageant Ever, etc.)  It seems like that has been lost, except, to some extent, on explicitly religious venues. 

One good change is in the availability of English television Christmas entertainment that was previously all but inaccessible to Americans.  With Netflix, BBC America, Acorn, BritBox. There is lots of good stuff that was not regularly available before.  Nativity! has become a  particular family favorite.    


  1. I agree about your point with Christmas programming shying away from the religious nature of the holiday. Those times it does get back to a sense of faith (like the ones you mentioned, and I'd throw in some of the Muppet specials, especially the recreation of the Nativity with John Denver) are often very powerful.

    I didn't know or remember the Pirates of Penzance cast sang Christmas songs on SNL--now I need to track those down.

  2. I agree about the degradation of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie quality, but they were mostly romance related, or adjacent, in the final years of network holiday airing, too, if a bit more big budget. By the way, you can find most of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, from all seasons, on Hallmark Movies Now (their paid streaming service) and many of the holiday ones re-air during the season on one of the three Hallmark channels. A SEASON FOR MIRACLES is my favorite Hall of Fame holiday movie (1999, CBS)

    1. I don't want to be unfair to HHoF. Even the recent ones have been pretty good. It's just something has been lost. The Christmas ones from some years ago, including 'A Season for Miracles,' 'The Ultimate Gift (with James Garner), and 'Saint Maybe' were pretty terrific. But when I say 'bring them all back,' I mean way back: The Littlest Angel, Stubby Pringle's Christmas, Have I Got a Christmas for You, Amahl and the Night Vistors, the Snow Goose.

  3. >Every time I see It’s a Wonderful Life, afterward I go online and watch
    >the alternate ending.
    I do the same thing.

  4. I remember watching the Air programs international specials in the 80s (i'm from Venezuela) but i don't remember the twelve gifts special...are you sure that's the name? I've been searching on Google but nothing yet

  5. It's obscure and difficult to find. Here's a link to an airing in 1978:

  6. Thank you Kevin ...really hard to find information about the show