Variety specials and episodes are some of the most popular Christmas programs each year on television. Every year new variety Christmas programs are made. 2020 will see the debut of a new CMA Country Christmas concert on ABC, Christmas in Rockefeller Center concert on NBC, another Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance on PBS, Dolly Parton's A Holly Dolly Christmas on CBS, Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special on Apple TV, Carrie Underwood's My Gift: A Christmas Special on HBO Max, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas with Vanessa Williams on PBS, The Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular on NBC, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical on NBC, High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special on Disney+, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood's Garth and Trisha Live: A Holiday Concert on CBS, and The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration on ABC. This is not a complete list but just the highlights! And, this long list is just the NEW variety programs this year--there are MORE airing and streaming that made their debuts in previous years too. Whew! How many of these are you planning on watching?
I'll certainly be watching them all and adding their details to what will be the updated, expanded encyclopedia Tis the Season TV (scheduled to be released in 2021). But some of my favorite variety programs are ones from the past. Here's a quick list--with links--of discussions of some of my favorites from decades past.
The 1957 Christmas episode of The Frank Sinatra Show features special guest Bing Crosby. This episode has also become known by the title Happy Holidays from Bing and Frank. The two biggest pop singers of the 20th century entertain with Christmas songs and charm like no one else. Click HERE to read more about it.
The 1968 Christmas episode of The Dean Martin Show is another of the swinging good times captured for the cameras. This installment includes special guests actor Dennis Weaver, comedian Bob Newhart, and actor Dom DeLuise. There are a couple young visitors to the set that have also gone on to have their own long careers in Hollywood. Can you recognize them? Click HERE to read more about this episode.
Judy Garland had a Christmas episode of her short-lived variety series too. The 1963 installment features the singer and her three children: Lorna, Joe and Liza. She also welcomes singer Jack Jones and the series' music director Mel Tormé. Judy's struggles during the making of this series have been well documented but even when she's not at her best, she's still better than everyone else! Check out the song list and descriptions of performances by clicking HERE.
When Andy Williams died in 2012, I wrote up a description of the best of those 1960s Andy Williams Show Christmas episodes. The overview continues to be THE most popular post on my website. Maybe soon I'll write up a single Christmas episode, perhaps the 1965 or the 1966 one. Got a favorite? Let me know. Click HERE to see the overview again.
Let us not forget Perry Como! Click HERE to see my discussion on the 1978 Christmas TV special Perry Como's Early American Christmas filmed in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. Perry had been on TV at Christmas for thirty years at this point, and his annual Christmas specials in the second half of the 1970s through the 1980s saw him visiting exotic locations and landmarks around the globe. What American would join Perry in this historic location? John Wayne of course. And yes, Wayne sings.
Who can forget the 1960 Christmas episode of The Shirley Temple Show and their staging of the musical "Babes in Toyland?" The singing-and-dancing extravaganza features an amazing cast with young Angela Cartwright and Michel Petit, alongside show biz masters Jonathan Winters, Carl Ballantine, Joe Besser, and Jerry Colonna. An adult Shirley Temple introduces the story--accompanied by her own young children. And, Temple stars in the story too, donning ugly make-up to play the role of Floretta the gypsy witch. Click HERE to read more of my discussion.
And my favorite--a discussion on the 1956 TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town. The musical originally aired as an episode of The Alcoa Hour. A kinoscope turned up after decades of fans assuming any record of the lavish production had been lost forever. Basil Rathbone appears as a singing Ebenezer Scrooge, with Vic Dame as a young Ebenezer and opera star Patricia Munsel as his fiancé Belle. There is so much goodness in this original musical, it absolutely deserves the accolades given upon its original release. Read more about it by clicking HERE.
Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) welcome TV viewers into the "home," just like Judy Garland does.
Younger TV viewers have laid their claim to the cultural history of Christmas variety as well. The 2011 Christmas installment "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" of the TV series Glee created a shot-by-shot remake of numerous key scenes from the 1963 Christmas episode of The Judy Garland Show. Taking it one step further, the show's characters acknowledge the dreadful 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special too. Christmas TV fans are frequently blown away by this pop culture holiday spectacle. Click HERE to read more about it.
Here's a little taste of Christmas variety from the website's archives to remind you about the history of the holidays on television. Let me know what you think. Please feel free to leave comments below.
Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing
in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can
be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare:
Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story"
was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the
encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website:
*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com