December 25, 2021

This week in TV Guide: December 21, 1968

The house we currently live in was built in 1961, which means that it's quite likely whoever was living here in 1968 watched several of the shows in this week's issue. That gives me a warm feeling, and not just because it's Christmastime, although this is one of my favorite issues. It's that there's some kind of a—I don't know, maybe it's a sense of uniting the past and the present in a way that we don't usually experience here. Were I reading this issue in the apartment we lived in back in Minnesota, a building less than 20 years old, it wouldn't have the same effect, I don't think. Or maybe the season's just making me feel sentimental. Who knows?

When I owned this issue, we were living in a rented bungalow in Minneapolis, a few miles away from the scene of the riots last year. It was a different neighborhood then, of course, and a different time. I remember laying on the floor in the living room, playing with some of the toys I'd gotten, and watching The Legend of Silent Night (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. CT, ABC). I'm not sure what attracted me to this special; I didn't know either Kirk Douglas or James Mason from Adam, and while I've come to appreciate "Silent Night" over the years, back then it wasn't my favorite Christmas song. (It didn't mention Santa or presents, after all.) It could have been because of the epic suggestion implied in the title, or just the distinctive typeset used in the closeup. 

I remember having watched the show, although I can't tell you anything about it; I think it was the experience of watching it more than the actual watching that stayed in my mind. But I'm surprised that, for all the shows that one can watch from this period (see below for examples), this one has never popped up anywhere. Not on YouTube, not on the gray market. It surprises me, considering the big names involved, but there you have it. Perhaps someday. 

l  l  l

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Scheduled guests for this live show include Mike Douglas; singers Patti Page, Lovelace Watkins, and the Vogues; comedians Flip Wilson, and Stiller and Meara; dancer Peter Gennaro; the Muppets puppets; and the Chung Trio, singer-instrumentalists.

Palace: Christmas hosts: Bing Crosby and—

OK, we might as well stop here; the outcome has already been settled. If you think we're going to go with anyone other than Bing Crosby for Christmas, you're even more of a Scrooge than the Grinch. I mean, it would almost be un-American. But in the interests of full disclosure, we ought to look at the rest of the lineup anyway. We now return to our regularly scheduled description.

Bing Crosby and family (wife Kathryn, sons Harry Lillis and Nathaniel, and daughter Mary Frances). Guests: Glen Campbell, the Lennon Sisters, comedian John Byner, and juggler Nicolai Olkovikov from the Moscow State Circus.

As it happens, I think Palace really does have the edge this week. The Lennon Sisters give the program a nice, warm holiday flavor, and Glen sings one of his biggest hits, "Wichita Lineman." It's true that, as singers, the Crosby children really aren't very good, but it does remind us that Christmas is a time for families. 

Sullivan isn't bad either, though. Jim Henson's reindeer Muppets do a funny bit on snow, Stiller and Meara are good as a newsman interviewing Mrs. Claus, and Mike Douglas does a very nice rendition of "The Christmas Song." They're both worthy programs for Christmas week, but Palace wins by a snowflake.

And for those of you wanting to relive those memories, you can: the Hollywood Palace episode is available in its entirety, as are a surprising number of the acts from Sullivan: the Muppets, Mike Douglas, Stiller and Meara, Patti Page, and Peter Gennaro. Pretty cool, huh?

l  l  l

Ah, what a festival of programming this week. You'll see the complete list of programs for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a special "What's on TV?" feature, but the rest of the week has plenty of fun for everyone. In addition to what you see below, there are countless local Christmas programs (37 to be precise, although I might have missed a couple), consisting mostly of high school choirs singing seasonal favorites. The cynic in me wonders if religious Christmas songs are even allowed in the average public school repertory anymore; that's how far removed from the scene I am. It was a great part of the seasonal experience, though, and whether or not they're allowed in schools anymore, I'm sorry they don't seem to be on local TV like they once were.

 begins with the NBC Children's Theatre production of "Stuart Little," the kind of special you show at Christmastime even if it doesn't have a holiday theme; Johnny Carson narrates this charming presentation. This afternoon, the King Cousins are featured in a Christmas musicale edition of Happening '68, with Paul Revere and the Raiders. As we move to the evening, we get Christmas shows from Jackie Gleason (6:30 p.m., CBS) and Lawrence Welk (7:30 p.m,. ABC), and a Yuletide episode of Adam-12 (6:30 p.m., NBC). And what would Christmas be without White Christmas (8:00 p.m., NBC) on Saturday Night at the Movies? Not as much fun, that's for sure. 

Sunday's filled with a variety of programming, from morning till evening. CBS airs a repeat of the Christmas oratorio L'Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz (9:00 a.m.), and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a half-hour of Christmas music (10:00 a.m., KDAL). On Camera Three (10:00 a.m., CBS), short films on Christmas include "The Season" "a bittersweet study of California's commercial yuletide." The ABC religion program Directions presents the Christmas opera "The Shepardes Playe," based on four medieval Corpus Christi plays (12:00 p.m,); several stations, including KCMT (2:30 p.m.) have a Davey and Goliath special on Christmas Lost and Found"; and CBS has the third airing of the instant classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (6:30 p.m.). And in non-Yule programming, Harry Reasoner anchors CBS's coverage of the marriage of President Nixon's daughter Julie and General Eisenhower's grandson David, held earlier today at Norman Vincent Peale's Marbe Collegiate Church in New York City. (5:00 p.m.)

On Monday, KAUS features a Christmas special from 1965 by Ray Conniff and his singers, with special guest star Alan Young. (10:30 p.m.; it will also be seen on Christmas Day on WCCO.) As someone once mentioned, it used to be you couldn't go more than about 15-20 minutes on radio without hearing Ray Conniff at Christmas. It's probably this show from 1965.

A few shows to spotlight on Christmas Eve: Victor Borge hosts "The World of Christmas," The Bell Telephone Hour's traditional Christmas Eve show (6:30 p.m., NBC), opposite which ABC airs "Christ is Born," first telecast in 1966 on The Saga of Western Man, narrated by the show's writer, John Secondari, with John Huston reading passages from the Bible. In syndicated specials WCCO airs a Merv Griffin Christmas special (6:30 p.m.), with guests including Garry Moore, dancers performing a scene from The Nutcracker, and singer David Soul; meanwhile, at 7:30 p.m., KAUS has the King Family Christmas special.

There's also a Christmas episode of the musical-comedy series That's Life (9:00 p.m., ABC), starring Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker, with tonight's special guest stars Leslie Uggams, Rodney Dangerfield, the Bill Baird Puppets, and comedian Joe Jackson Jr. Another choice is Holiday Inn (9:00 p.m., WTCN); there's been some fair debate lately as to whether or not this is actually a Christmas movie, since there are nearly a dozen other holidays involved; I come down on the side of "Yes," since it opens on Christmas Eve, continues on Christmas Day, and the climactic scene occurs on the following Christmas Eve. Throw in New Year's, which is part of Christmastime, and what more do you need? 

A trio of shows which are not Christmas-themed but are most certainly special lead the way on Christmas Day, starting with a pair on CBS: at 4:00 p.m., it's the season premiere of Leonard Bernstein's young People's Concert, the subject being Richard Stauss's magnificent tone poem "Don Quixote." After a break for local and national news, it's a rerun of Vladimir Horowitz's historic first TV recital (6:30 p.m.), presented without commercial interruption. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for YouTube, but I'm just glad it's been preserved.

I've made the point before (and will again, I'm sure) that the Christmas season doesn't end on Christmas, and that our culture used to recognize this fact. Thursday, Boxing Day, presents another example: the storied Dragnet Christmas episode (8:30 p.m., NBC), in which Friday and Gannon are called to investigate the theft of the Child Jesus from a church's Nativity scene. This was a standard dating back to the days of the original Dragnet in the 1950s, and this episode is simply updated to color, with Harry Morgan taking the place of Ben Alexander as Jack Webb's partner; in addition to Webb, 
three cast members reprise their roles from the 1954 edition: Harry Bartell, Ralph Mooy, and Herb Vigran. There's also an appearance by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. It really is a wonderful episode; I'm not quite sure why it didn't air last week, but let's keep the sprit going!

There's a lone high school musical special Friday afternoon; otherwise, the holiday festivities are done for now, so as we move to primetime, we'll focus on Lady Bird Johnson's five years as First Lady, as she shares The View from the White House with Howard K. Smith. (6:30 p.m., ABC) And a very interesting episode of Star Trek (9:00 p.m., NBC) has more than a few echoes of the current Pueblo incident, as the Enterprise makes an incursion into the Romulan Neutral Zone in "The Enterprise Incident." Meanwhile, Easter is the next big holiday on the calendar, and WKBT gets us ready with The Robe (10:30 p.m.), the widescreen spectacular with Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Michael Rennie.

l  l  l

Of course, even in the midst of this Yule clambake, as Bing would say, we pause for sports. Aside from the Shrine All-Star Game on Christmas Day (3:45 p.m., ABC), there's no college football—we haven't reached the stage of having five hundred bowl games yet—but that doesn't mean we're without big games: on Saturday, it's the NFL's Eastern Conference championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns (12:30 p.m., CBS); the winner of that game takes on the winner of Sunday's Western Conference championship between the Baltimore Colts and Minnesota Vikings (1:00 p.m., CBS). I won't spoil the results for you, except to say that Cleveland and Baltimore will be playing for the NFL title next week.

The American Football League was scheduled to enjoy a week off prior to its title game, but the Western Division ended in a tie between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, necessitating a tiebreaker playoff game* (Sunday, 3:00 p.m., NBC). There's also some basketball on hand, as the NBA's traditional Christmas Day game pits the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns (1:30 p.m., ABC).

*Oakland wins decisively, giving them the honor of losing the following week to Broadway Joe Namath and the New York Jets. The league championship games the following week set the stage for the Jets' storied victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III.

And on Christmas night, NET Festival presents part one of Leni Riefenstahl's magnificent documentary Olympia, the story of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (10:00 p.m,. NET) Propaganda or not, I'd challenge anyone to discount Riefenstahl's abilities as a documentarian, and Olympia is filled with striking images, far beyond what one usually sees in a sports documentary.

l  l  l

Nineteen sixty-eight was, as we know, a very, very bad year; a damning time and a damaging time. Not unlike this year, most people couldn't wait to see it end, their only apprehension being the possibility that the coming year might be even worse. There was one event, this week in fact, that, in the opinion of many, redeemed the year. It was a singular event, a moment of singular drama, and it was broadcast to the entire world on Tuesday night, Christmas Eve. It was the flight of Apollo 8, and the reading of the Creation Story by the astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders as they became the first humans to orbit the moon.

In a two-page spread providing details of the flight and the television coverage, Stu Samuels noted that a Christmas Eve broadcast from the moon was scheduled, beginning at 8:27 p.m. Eastern time (assuming the launch went off on schedule). The astronauts, having been briefed on the broadcast schedule, had, between themselves, prepared something they hoped would be appropriate, even healing, for those watching back on Earth.

I'm not sure, though, that anyone—even the astronauts—anticipated the impact of that broadcast. From their darkened capsule, farther away from their home planet than any humans had ever been, the first ten verses from Genesis—"the foundation of many of the world's religions," Borman pointed out—was staggering, as were the images beamed back to Earth: the craggy surface of the moon, and especially Anders' memorable picture of the Earth rising from the moon, so small that it could be blotted out by a man's thumb. From that distance it was like a blue marble against a black satin backdrop—vulnerable, fragile, an image never before seen. TV Guide would later estimate the audience at about one billion, or one-quarter of the Earth's population. And as Borman wished a Merry Christmas and "God bless all of you, all of you on this good Earth,” no one who saw it would ever forget it.

You have to understand that in our family, the tree was held on Christmas Eve, following a festive family dinner with my mother, my grandparents, and my aunt and her husband. I was eight years old, and had been eyeing those presents under the tree for a long, long time. I'd always been fascinated by the space program, but c'mon—even that can't compete with a child's excitement and avarice at Christmastime. I might have become aware, later that night, that I had missed it (I have a vague recollection), and if I had, I would have been disappointed about it. You can't have everything, though; the moon landing would happen less than a year later, and I didn't miss that. And it was a wonderful Christmas, a child's Christmas, a Christmas I remember with wonder and warmth and gratitude.

The way it should be for us all. TV  


  1. An issue and time I definitely remember as a 15 year old. After one of the most tumultuous years in US history, we were given the historic and peaceful message from Apollo 8 orbiting the moon. A Christmas eve to remember. Then the next day, my family and I all came down with Hong Kong flu...

    Merry Christmas, Mitchell and thanks for another great year of Guides...

  2. One NBA game on ABC on Christmas Day 1968 is nothing compared to what the NBA have on Christmas Day 2021-FIVE games on neither ABC and/or ESPN-two of them on both networks-and neither one of them have neither my Thunder nor your Timberwolves is playing!!!

  3. I remember seeing that version of STUART LITTLE sometime in the 1970s, thinking that it was a full movie version, probably on some Saturday morning, as my elementary school had a program for kids in early winter which was probably lost to budget problems by the end of the 1970s. I think it's on YT now. Johnny Carson may hosted it to do something nice for his 3 sons, though they were pre-teens & teens by this time.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!