November 22, 2023

The 2024 It's About TV Gift-Giving Guide

I am old enough, I believe, to remember when Black Friday wasn't a thing. Oh, the day after Thanskgiving has always been the biggest shopping day of the year, but according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the term wasn't officially coined until it appeared in the paper of record, The New York Times, in 1975. Since then, it's become virtually a holiday of its own, even threatening to overshadow Thanksgiving when stores started the abomination of opening on Thanksgiving Day itself. But when I was growing up, the day after Thanksgiving meant a long weekend, an extra day off from school. It meant a day of cartoons on ABC, and, later on, a flood of college football games. We did our share of Black Friday shopping back in the day, when we were younger, but there aren't so many people to shop for nowadays, and like so many of us, we do most of our shopping online.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject at hand today. Undoubtedly, some of you will be doing your Christmas shopping this weekend, and I'd be remiss if I didn't give you some excellent gift-giving ideas, based on what we talk about here, for the cultural historian among your family and friends, or for yourself if you're so inclined. And this year I'm doing it early enough to allow you to build it into your shopping schedule.

My first recommendation is always going to be my own books, which you can purchase at Amazon through this link, or at Barnes & Noble, or any of your other favorite online retailers. The Collaborator and The Car are novels, provocative mysteries that will give you something to think about. The Electronic Mirror is a collection of essays on classic television and its relationship to American culture. All of them are worth reading, and hopefully by this time next year there'll be one more book to add to the collection.

I've reviewed several books over the past few years that I strongly recommend: Peace: The Wide, Wide World of Dave Garroway, Television's Original Master Communicator, by Jodie Peeler, Dave Garroway Jr., and Brandon Hollingsworth, is the biography of one of television's greatest pioneers: the first host of Today, one of the original "communicators" of the landmark radio program Monitor, and much more. And yet, if his accomplishments are largely forgotten, the private life of this public man has never really been known, until now. Available in hardcoverpaperback, and Kindle, I can't recommend this enough.

Another book I strongly recommend is David Hofstede's When Television Brought Us Together: Celebrating the Shows and the Values That Shaped America's First Television Viewing Generations, available in paperback and Kindle. David's elegant prose demonstrates that a love of classic television is more than a nostalgic wish for the past: it's a look at shows that offer examples of the ideals and ethics that were once common in America but, especially in recent years, have seemed to be shrinking away from us. Reading this book, you'll find yourself nodding in agreement more than once.

For something a little more lighthearted but no less enjoyable, there's From Beverly Hills to Hooterville: Exploring TV's Henningverse 1962-1971, Daniel Budnik's affectionate and thorough look at Paul Henning's three iconic sitcoms of the 1960s: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. Even though these shows all share the same universe and cross over from time to time, they have their own distinctive styles, themes, and characters, and Daniel covers them all in a way that will both delight longtime fans and create new ones. (Paperback, Kindle)

(Full disclosure: I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements section of one of these books, and have cover blurbs on the other two. This absolutely should not be taken to mean that my opinions are biased in any way, right? Seriously, all three of these books are ones that I've enjoyed thoroughly; I don't profit from my recommendations other than to share that enjoyment with others.)

Longtime readers know my fascination with the pivotal year 1968, and the effect it's had (and continues to have) on our political, cultural, and communications history. If you share that interest, you're going to want to read Heather Hendershot's When the News Broke: Chicago 1968 and the Polarizing of America. (Hardcover, Kindle) The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was one of the most consequential events in recent history: it reflected the deep divisions not only in the country but in one of its political parties; and displayed for all to see the changing relationship between Americans and the news media. I can't add to this description of the book as "A riveting, blow-by-blow account of how the network broadcasts of the 1968 Democratic convention shattered faith in American media."

Do I write too much about sports? It's not surprising, since sports and television are two of my great material loves, and what could be better than a book that combines the two? That would be Keith Dunnavant's The Fifty-Year Seduction: How Television Manipulated College Football, from the Birth of the Modern NCAA to the Creation of the BCS (Hardcover) Even though this book is nearly 20 years old, it's a valuable recounting of the history of college football on television, and how the medium has changed the sport over the years. (You youngsters out there might be surprised to see how different coverage of the game was once upon a time.) Dunnavant points out a myriad of problems with the sport, and 20 years later, a lot of them still exist.

Having recently finished watching the astonishing final season of Twin Peaks (The Return), I have to add Mark Frost's two epistolary novels, The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Hardcover, Kindle) and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (Hardcover, Kindle). Among the raft of scholarly books that attempt to dig deeper into the series' meaning, why not go with the two written by the show's co-creator? They may or may not help explain what it was all about, but, as was the case with the series itself, they'll take you on a hell of a ride. 

There are a number of other books I've reviewed over the years that are worthily worth your consideration; you can read those reviews here.

Turning to the video side, it's unfortunate that, for the most part, the well of classic television on DVD has pretty much dried up. Except, that is, for ClassicFlix, which has brought out three little-seen programs from the 1950s that deserve a place on your DVD shelf: The O. Henry Playhouse, 21 Beacon Street, and World of Giants. You can read about and order each of these series at the ClassicFlix website, as well as find out news on upcoming releases, such as season two of The Abbott and Costello Show, and the sitcom Angel. These have all been handsomely restored in glorious black-and-white, and they'll make perfect gifts, especially for those of you who think you've already seen everything there is to see out there.

Other series that I'd recommend, in no particular order: Hogan's Heroes, The Defenders (season one), The Wild, Wild West, Combat, The Eleventh Hour (season one), Burke's Law (season one), Sam Benedict, The Prisoner, Danger Man, The Saint, Perry Mason, and Mission: Impossible. You're probably familiar with most of these, and might even have them already, but I want to especially single out The Defenders, The Eleventh Hour, Burke's Law, and Sam Benedict; you might not be as familiar with them, and if you check them out I think you'll be delighted with the results. There are also a couple of British imports that require a region-free player: The Human Jungle and Maigret (with Rupert Davies). Again, there are many more shows than I have room to mention, but I point these two out because of their relative unfamiliarity to American viewers. I think these are all available on Amazon, and I've mentioned almost all of them on the blog at one time or another; they've provided us with many, many hours of enjoyment.

If you've got recommendations of your own, please mention them in the comments section; I'm always looking for classic TV gift ideas myself, and I can't think of anything that makes our little community stronger than sharing our favorites. Happy shopping!

For those of you reading this on Wednesday, I add my wishes to all of you in America for a happy and blessed Thanksgiving; it is, after all, a time to give thanks for the many blessings we've been given, both personally and as a nation; it's also a reminder how easily those things we take for granted can be taken away, and why we always have to be prepared to fight to preserve and defend them. If you're reading this after the big day, I hope you had a wonderful time, and remember to keep telling yourself that the tryptophan torpor is a myth! TV  


  1. You mentioned region-free players. I ordered mine from Amazon several years ago.
    When I was shopping for one I went into Sears appliance and asked if they had one. The dude looked at me like I had three eyeballs. He had no clue what it was and was equally clueless that England had a different electrical system. I inquired no further as I was sure he was equally clueless about where England was located on a map.
    Happy Thanksgiving Mitchell.

    1. Spot on, James!

      Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!


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