Monday, November 27, 2006

This Week in Christmas TV History, Sort Of.

Here it is, that time again for reminiscences of the good old yuletide days spent sacked out in front of the TV. Sure, I went out and built forts and threw snowballs and such, but, come on, TV! It’s the best!

I begin my bloggy season of reverie with the TV Guides of this very week--more or less--in days of yore. The ones I own, that is, so I’m limited to 1976, ’77, and ’80.

I note that in all three of them (all New York Metro editions, natch) , WPIX 11 kicked off the noel viewing with March of the Wooden Soldiers, airing the Sunday after Thanksgiving at 1 PM. Thus, it is always the film that kicks off my own season year after year. I never missed it as a kid. The operatic songs could be a drag, with lots of dopey backwards phrasing (“Don’t cry, Bo Peep, don’t cry / To find your sheep we’ll try”), but the gruesome bogeymen were cool as hell, and the soldiers coming to life is still exciting.

In ’76, WPIX also gave the anxious kiddies a November treat by preempting the 7 o’clock block of The Odd Couple and The Dick Van Dyke Show with Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, probably my favorite of all the Christmas shows.

(All pics can be clicked for a closer look...)

I remember watching this on a Sunday afternoon with a Playworld ad from the Newsday funnies at hand, with puzzles that could only be solved by watching the commercials during the show. (I’ll bet Kenner had a hand in it.) I think MMCC could be made into a live-action version with Nathan Lane as Magoo.

CBS was usually the one to begin the prime-time festivities with a Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving showing of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with its crabby, model-thin Santa and defective toys. It’s funny to watch this one as an adult and notice the inconsistencies and mistakes. For instance, in the opening, the roman numerals in the copyright are wrong, and Burl Ives appears to be credited as “Buri” because they used a lowercase “L” when all the other letters are uppercase. The winged lion (who I think is called Moonraiser, but the closed-captioning says “Moonrazor,” which is much weirder) is said to scour the entire world for misfit toys, yet for some reason he needs Rudolph to get them to Santa. At the end, when the elf is throwing the misfit toys from the sleigh with umbrellas as parachutes, he looks at the bird, shrugs, and tosses it out without one. However, it was established earlier that the bird can’t fly--it swims--so presumably it plummeted to its stuffing-strewn demise. And what’s wrong with the dolly again? Does she have Body Dysmorphic Disorder or something? (Check out other Rudy goofs here...)

1976 ad.

1977 ad.

1980 ad.

The annual Bing Crosby Christmas special followed Rudolph in ’76 and ’77, and that was that for Der Bingle and forty-two years of this tradition.

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland
made its debut on December 2nd, 1976, with the amiable snow doofus taking on (appropriately enough) Shelley Winters as his bride.

Andy Griffith replaces Jimmy Durante as the animated narrator, and should have sued over his caricature, which appears to be the product of generations of enthusiastic inbreeding.

Lastly for ’76, New Yorkers could tune in to WPIX on Thursday night before bed to check out the Kramdens and Nortons exchanging gifts (including that one-of-a-kind Japanese hairpin box made of two-thousand matchsticks) on The Honeymooners.

In 1977, The Honeymooners came back with a new Christmas special, wherein Ralph and Ed and Trixie and Alice put on a “wacked-out” production of A Christmas Carol, a plot as tired as its old stars.

71-year-old Gale Gordon also appears, providing an extra helping of glazed ham.

In his annual special, Johnny Cash presents Roys Clark and Orbison, and lots and lots of Carters (not related to the crusty-eyed litter of Carters currently polluting television).

And here’s the ad for his 1980 show.

On Thursday night, WTNH (channel 8 out of New Haven, which rarely came in good enough to watch) broadcast Cosmic Christmas, a strange-sounding show of which I have zero recollection. Here's a pic I found...

Following that, however, was the eighth showing of the yet-enduring Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Recent efforts to locate my VHS copy have been fruitless, so I may have to pick it up on DVD. I recommend you do the same, as some recent ABC Family airings have cut out Jessica’s groovy “My World is Beginning Today,” her anthem of awakening triggered when studly, strapping Kris Kringle puts the make on her. (I saw it the other day, and the song was in there, so maybe it's back for good.) I dug the young Mrs. Claus as a child, and why not—she’s a dead ringer for Annette O’Toole.

More or less.

In 1980, PBS station WNET 13 steals the holiday thunder with a Saturday line-up of a Pavarotti special, the 1940 film Christmas in July (which I watched once and was disappointed to find it was all July and no Christmas) and some variety show.

December 1st that year brought A Country Christmas from the Canadian Rockies.

From the look on Minnie Pearl’s face in this ad, I’d say a tipsy Glen Campbell was feeling a little frisky and misjudged the distance to Tanya Tucker’s ass.

Rudolph this year was preceded by the Christmas Raccoons and their foe, the “aardvark-like” Cyril Sneer. Dad the Forest Ranger is voiced by my buddy Rupert Holmes.

Counter-programmed against Rudolph this year was the new Pinocchio’s Christmas on ABC. I’m sure Rudy laughed off this paltry competition, and rightly so: twenty-six years later, he’s still firmly entrenched in prime-time while Knothead turns up in the ABC Family bargain bin.

Thursday brought us Yogi’s First Christmas (and its villains, Snively Trockmorton and Herman the Hermit), shown over two nights. The first part was followed, Jesus save us, by the Dance Fever Christmas Party hosted by Deney Terrio, with the Gap Band and David Copperfield. The judges were Chad Everett, Connie Stevens and Robert Blake. There’s a joke in there somewhere… oh yeah--Deney Terrio.

Friday had an all-yule NBC evening, beginning with Casper’s First Christmas. (Why do all these cartoon characters wait so long to hop on the Christmas money train?) The Friendly Ghost and pal Hairy Scarey are evicted from their haunted house on Christmas Eve. I’d say their landlord asked for it—he should’ve figured them for a couple of DEADbeats! (Ah, good stuff!)

Speaking of the Great Beyond, A Family Circus Christmas followed, with Jeffy believing Santa will bring Granddad back from the dead. I’m not kidding. SPOILER ALERT: Pop-pop remains dead.

After that, set your dial to disappointment—it’s Jack Frost, the utterly lame Rankin/Bass production that’s so odd it’s almost entertaining. Features the vocal talents of Buddy Hackett and Larry Storch.

At ten, hicks everywhere enjoyed The Grand Ole Opry Christmas, with Dottie West, Grandpa Jones and host Robert Urich, who pays tribute to legendary balladeer John Jacob Niles. His like will not be seen again. Grandpa Jones, that is.

Finally, HBO delivers on your cable dollar with Rich Little’s Christmas Carol. Has anyone ever watched this? If so, why?

Watch for more yule-tastic goodness in the weeks ahead…


Blogger MO'SH said...

I saw Rich Little's Christmas special. I believe he does an impression of W.C. Fields. Not that you'd have to have seen it to guess that bit of predictable pap.

Oh, Rich Little -- when is HIS variety show coming out on DVD?

Tue Nov 28, 01:39:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Brian Kunath said...

I used to watch Rich LIttle's Christmas special every year (though come to think of it, HBO probably only broadcast it for a couple of years).

Can't really remember the characters he played:
W.C. Fields was Scrooge.
Paul Lynde was also there, maybe as Bob Cratchett.
Richard Nixon? Probably.

I remember liking it, but it could have been Pavlovian since the viewing was followed shortly by loads of toys.

How about Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas?

I don't know. I remember that one too.

Tue Nov 28, 05:29:00 PM 2006  

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