January 14, 2014

A Christmas wrap-up

We're halfway through January, but it's never too late to take a look back at December.

Not too long ago, loyal reader David mentioned to me that he'd wrapped up his annual tradition of watching Christmas episodes of his favorite series. David wrote, "it's nice to know they'll always be there no matter how the rest of the world changes."

Naturally, I had to know more, so I asked him if he'd share a list of the shows he'd watched this season.  How many of them were on your list of Christmas-themed watching this last year?:

Brady Bunch 
Partridge Family
Bob Newhart Show
Dick Van Dyke Show
Mary Tyler Moore Show
Father Knows Best
Donna Reed Show
Patty Duke Show
Eight is Enough
I Love Lucy 
The Lucy Show
The Avengers
The Monkees
The Facts of Life
Happy Days
The Love Boat
Green Acres
Petticoat Junction
Ozzie & Harriet
That Girl

There are some absolutely classic series in that list, aren't there?  David added that "If I could only watch one, I think it would be "A Vision of Sugar Plums" (Bewitched). I never get tired of seeing it."

Our Christmas viewing was a mixture of movies (Miracle on 34th Street, several versions of A Christmas Carol) and classic television.  What was nice this year was that we were able to add some brand-new shows to our playlist.

The Stingiest Man in Town, starring Basil Rathbone, was a 1956 musical version of A Christmas Carol. This show was long thought to have been lost, or at least incomplete, so the DVD of the live broadcast is a welcome addition.

We also checked out selections from the Bing Crosby and Bell Telephone Hour collections.  The Crosby show, from 1961, was part of a collection of his Christmas shows, which we've been watching over the years.  Ditto for the 1966 installment of Telephone Hour, which starred Florence Henderson, Sherrill Milnes, Anita Gillette, Bruce Yarnell and Gianna d'Angelo.  It was a beautiful program, featuring a reading of the Nativity from Luke - I know I'm a broken record here, but it's truly hard to imagine that happening on network television today (except for Charlie Brown.)

And then there's YouTube, which gave us a stirring telecast from Studio One of "The Nativity" from 1952, Perry Como's Christmas broadcast from the same year, Walt Disney's "From All of Us to All of You," and a truly bizarre Hollywood Palace Christmas show hosted by Bing and featuring the cast of Hogan's Heroes, in character.  Crosby's production company owned Hogan's Heroes, and Hogan and his merry men - again, in character - refer to Crosby as being "the boss."  The moment when Schultz refers to him as "Der Bingle" is hilarious.  This one was a lot of fun but very, very strange.

They don't do Christmas variety specials anymore, or at least not the kind that we'd watch.  For that matter, the idea of a network Christmas special with any kind of a religious theme is hard to imagine.  And that's what makes shows like this special.  Back in the day, when they were broadcast, there was seemingly an inexhaustible supply of them - if you missed Crosby or Como this year, there'd always be next year.  But that isn't the case now; the classic Christmas specials - "old fashioned," as the Bell Telephone title implies - are a finite number, which makes any new airing a special event, at least in our household.  As the years go by, it's going to be harder and harder to find anything new to watch, and in that sense we'll never be able to duplicate the experience of the viewers of that time.

But I digress.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite Christmas episode you just had to see this year?  If so, share some of the titles with us!

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!