It Used To Look A Lot Like Christmas on TV

Christmas is over. I barely saw it coming. I barely saw it going. Heck, I barely noticed when it was here. As an adult, I spend most of my time working and so don’t really notice Christmas until December 25th, if then.

But it wasn’t always that way. In my earlier years, I was not only more interested in Christmas than I am now (it was, after all, the one time of year I could ask for big ticket items like new video game systems) but I had more time to enjoy Christmas than I do now. Not only did I not work in those years, but I was also given two blessed weeks off of school to celebrate the December holidays. Since Christmas usually fell sometime during the first of those two weeks, often during the tail end, this gave me several days to anticipate the holiday. The TV, my window to the world in those pre-internet years, was a big help in this endeavor. It kept Christmas constantly before me both in the days before and the days often. It did this not only through the many specials, TV movies, and Christmas-themed series episodes we’ve already mentioned (here, here, and here), but it did it in a few other ways as well.

One of these ways was game show decorations. I rarely got to watch game shows during the school year; I was in class when they were on. But during Christmas break, I watched nothing but game shows from 10 AM to noon. At that time, these game shows would decorate their sets with the usual Christmas. They would also bring out some special Christmas graphics such as you see in this clip:

(Yes, I know this clip isn’t retro, but it is representative of what I saw in the retro era.)

Another way was soap operas. I wasn’t able to watch soap operas during the school year, either, and I wasn’t as interested in them as I was in game shows. But I couldn’t help catching some of them, and when I did, I always saw Christmas decorations and plots.

Sports broadcasts helped out here as well. I wasn’t a big sports watcher back then, but if I did catch a game during this time, I would see that the normal score and time graphics had been modified with Christmas themes. There would also be special holiday greetings from the players as well as military personnel, and shots of the production crew to boot. The pre and post shows also had decorated sets, as you see here.

(Again, this isn’t retro, but it was the best representative I could find of what I saw in the retro era.)

Beyond that, many TV commercials had Christmas themes, and some commercials only came out at Christmastime.

Add all these things to the Christmas specials, TV movies, series episodes, and Dick Clark’s Rocking New Years Eve, and what you had was a blitz which kept Christmas constantly before the average latchkey kid like myself. That blitz not only built up the holiday, making it truly seem like the greatest day of the year, but it also added to the holiday and brought me down from the holiday. There really was nothing like watching TV during those two weeks off school. It was special, and I miss it terribly today.

Shari’s Christmas Concert

When The Disney Channel was new and scrambling was just a myth, my family got a satellite dish. It was only connected to Mom and Dad’s TV, but I was able to check it out when they were at work. During Christmas break, I stayed in their living room, watching as many Christmas specials as I could. One of those was Shari’s Christmas Concert. I didn’t know who Shari Lewis was at the time, but I loved the show so much that I would watch in on the east coast feed, wait 2 hours, and watch it again on the west coast feed. I did that several days in a row and can still vividly remember many of the specials songs and gags today.

King Kong And The Bumble

I was watching the 1964 Rankin/Bass Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer special with my nephew the other night. It has been years since I’ve seen it, and I had not only largely forgotten the plot but also confused it with Rudolph’s Shiny New Year as well. So I was very surprised when Rudolph and party were attacked by the Abominable Snowman, or, in Yukon Corneliese, the Bumble. Not only was I surprised to see the Bumble in the show, but I was also surprised by how much he still scares me to this day. No kidding. That is one freaky thing to put into a kid’s show, much less a Christmas special.

I was even more surprised, though, to realize that the Bumble bears a striking resemblance to another large primate: King Kong. Don’t believe me? Compare this footage:

Now a lot of the resemblance between Kong and the Bumble is due to the similar stop-motion techniques used to animate them both. But that’s not all of it. They both also have a toothy, slack-jaw grin, wild, roving eyes, and generally stupid yet menacing expressions. These resemblances can perhaps be better seen in a few stills.

So was Rankin/Bass riffing on Kong here? Do they look similar because they’re both large primates? Am I just seeing things? It’s hard to tell. But I think there is at least some similarity between the two. And if you don’t agree with me on that, you can at least agree that Yukon Cornelius is one of the most annoying characters in Christmas special history.

Scott Grimes Times Two

Can’t get enough Scott Grimes? Who can. That’s what the future Chad McCann was featured in not one but two Christmas TV movies in 1984.

The first was The Night They Saved Christmas. In it, Grimes plays the son of an oil rigger whos work threatens to destroy Santa’s shop at the north pole. I don’t remember much about it but it can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

The second was It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. In this one, Grimes’ grandfather Mickey Rooney dies and gets to come back for a week so he can take Grimes to New York for the holidays. I remember this one a little better. I’m pretty sure Grimes addresses the camera a la Fairuza Balk in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I also remember Grimes trying to get some girl who was way out of his league and who told another guy she had a tattoo, to which Grimes whines, “You have a tattoo?” (That’s what I remember, anyway, but I’m not sure that’s in this movie.) The only clip I could find of this film is the following trailer:

Both are on VHS and DVD. At $20+ a piece, they’re a little overpriced for my taste. But if you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life enough times, and you can’t forget that wonderful moment when Chad McCann hugged Samanther after he got his hand unstuck from the kitchen sink, you might want to give them a try.