December 28, 2016

WCCO's Miracle on 9th Street, 1974 - local programming the way it should be

I've continually written, at this time of year, about how Christmas is not just a day but a season, twelve days* that run to the Feast of the Epiphany. Therefore, it's entirely appropriate to look at a Christmas program today. Not just any Christmas program, though - I think this one is a special one.

*That start on Christmas Day.

You've probably seen me refer in the past, directly or through the program listings, to Dave Moore, the legendary anchorman for WCCO, Channel 4 in the Twin Cities from 1957 to 1991. For many years, he also hosted a program, the Peabody-award winning Moore on Sunday, which was a kind of local 60 Minutes, providing the kind of in-depth reporting and commentary that we often say we want from our local stations yet seldom watch.

In addition to being a newsman, Moore was also an amateur actor, occasionally appearing in local theaters. He usually expressed his natural haminess through The Bedtime Nooz, his satirical news spoof that ran late Saturday nights during the '60s and early '70s. However, on December 22, 1974, Moore on Sunday presented something quite extraordinary for a local public-affairs program - an original comedy-drama entitled Miracle on 9th Street.

Miracle on 9th Street (named after the then-location of WCCO's studios, the former Radio City Theater) displays the satire typical of The Bedtime Nooz, criticizing the commercialism of Christmas (including the station's own role in it), with wonderful over-the-top performances by weatherman Bud Kraehling as the evil toy manufacturer, Ron Meshbesher, one of the Twin Cities' most prominent and flamboyant attorneys, playing himself as Kris Kringle's defense attorney, and real-life members of WCCO's news team (reporter Rod Challenger, commentator Al Austin, and station manager Sherm Headley). It's filled with inside jokes aimed at Minnesotans of the era, but the gist of the story is as timeless as the movie it spoofs, Miracle on 34th Street. Most of all, it's Moore's portrayal of Kris Kringle, a mix of off-the-wall comedy and poignant warmth, that carries the day.


Perhaps Miracle on 9th Street is "too local" to resound with viewers unfamiliar with the Twin Cities, and certainly a good deal of the humor comes from seeing personalities well-known to Twin Cities TV viewers. Looking back on it, though, how cool is this? It's one reason why WCCO has always been seen held in such high regard, not only in the Twin Cities but nationally as well. Did other local stations put on these kinds of productions? Did local news personalities ever appear on TV in any roles other than kids'-show and late-night movie hosts?

I often complain about how local television has dropped the ball when it comes to original programming - not just public affairs, but game shows, talk shows, even local movie hosts.  No matter how you look at it, whether as a biting comedy or a nostalgic look back at one's hometown, Miracle on 9th Street is something special. (And it isn't even the only time WCCO did something like this; check out One Who Stole at Christmas from 1982 and The Gift of the Magi from 1984.) Can you imagine a local television station doing such a production today?

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This is probably as good a time as any for a brief note on the upcoming year. I don't generally talk about myself on this blog - it's not a diary, after all, but a site dealing with classic television, and most of the personal glimpses you get of me come from my own interaction with the shows and times about which I write.

However, as those of you on my personal Facebook account know, my wife and I are both currently unemployed, as a result of which we are returning to our roots in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The move will occur no later than mid-March; sooner, depending on my success at getting a job up there. This likely means a few changes for 2017. I don't anticipate seeing any major changes to the blog, but between working temp jobs, looking for a full-time job, packing to move (and then unpacking), and then moving literally from the bottom of the country to the top of it, I'm going to be a bit busy for the next few months.

What does this mean? Well, I'm trying to write in advance as many blog pieces as I can in order to keep the content coming, but I may not always be as present in the comments section as I would like to be (and I'm already bad at that). With a dramatic reduction in income, I've slashed the budget for "new" TV Guides, so you may see more reruns and "second-looks" than I'd prefer. I've also talked about my TV book, which I hoped to publish in 2017, in time to make a presentation on it at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. As of now, that ain't gonna happen - I think it's better to plan on the book for 2018, and if it comes out earlier than that, it's a bonus. When I've got the time to get back to work on it, I'll let you know.

All of this is an explanation, not an excuse. If for any reason I need to make more substantial changes (temporary, of course), you'll know about it. Hopefully, if things go the way I hope they will, you shouldn't notice any difference at all. And as I inculcate myself back into the Twin Cities scene, you might see me doing more pieces like this one, talking about the Minneapolis I grew up in and am now returning to. It's a bitter end to 2016, but a promising one as well - we're going back where we belong, and only better times are ahead. You can bet we'll be sharing those better times together!

6 comments:

  1. Good luck on the job front! Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks,Jack - Happy New Year to you as well!

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  2. Mitchell, best of luck on the relocation and the job search. Somehow I see you back in the bleak midwinter with those of us who live where it snows at least 6 months out of the year, like upstate NY. Notes from the cellar---I am going through storage tubs over my break in order to declutter and I may run into some more guides from the mid to late 60's. I will let you know so you can use them for free.

    Happy 2017.

    John

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    1. Thanks, John - look forward to staying in touch!

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  3. Also, a wonderful article on "Miracle On 9th Street." Great local programming, unlike the "Worst NBC affiliate in the World," (Channel 3 in Syracuse that I grew up with) whose idea of local programming was to preempt the second game of AFL doubleheaders, I Dream of Jeannie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Monkees for B rated 40's movies on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings...

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    1. It had to have been related to the station seen in The World's Worst Town. It just had to...

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!