My Christmas Eve Programming
I’m going to pretend that I’m a programmer for a Classic TV station (you know like Antenna, Me-TV and Decades) and I’ve been given the awesome assignment of planning the Christmas Eve schedule. Let’s say Christmas Eve programming starts at about 6 PM and goes until Midnight. What would my schedule look like? I’m glad you asked because here it is:
6:00 PM: Father Knows Best “The Christmas Story”
This script was adapted from its time on radio. Father (Robert Young) thinks that the kids don’t realize the true meaning of Christmas. He decides that they will go into the hills and chop down their own Christmas tree. The further they go the more snow they get and suddenly they are stalled. They find refuge at a seemingly abandoned for the winter cabin but find that they are the “guests” of a short, stout fellow with a long white beard (played by Wallace Ford) named Nick. Yes, the kids do learn a lesson.
6:30 PM: The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet “Lost Christmas Gift” (12/24/1954)
Ozzie and Harriet did several excellent Christmas episodes over its 14-year run. This is my favorite. After the Christmas gifts have been opened, one exception is noticed: Ricky‘s catcher’s mitt. Ozzie guesses it might have been delivered to another Nelson family across town, as a package had before. They go there and find a poor, young widow with small kids. Ozzie, Harriet and the boys decide to give them a merry Christmas. If you like heartwarming Christmas stories, then this is the one for you.
7:00 PM: The Honeymooners “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (12/24/1955)
Ralph sells his bowling ball to get Alice a last-minute Christmas gift. After the end of this show, Jackie Gleason and the cast wish the audience a Merry Christmas. It is the only time in the classic 39 that the fourth wall is broken.
Ed Norton: [to Ralph] Compared to you, Scrooge was a holiday playboy.
7:30 PM: Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Back at Christmas” (3/4/1956)
Do you prefer something a little darker at Christmas? well, this black comedy directed by Hitchcock himself is perfect for you. Before leaving on a trip to America, a writer (John Williams) kills his wife (Isobel Elsom) and buries her in the basement. All their friends think his wife is also with him. While in California writing a screenplay, he gets a surprise — his wife made plans to dig up the basement to give him a wine cellar for Christmas. What can I say we could use a little black humor at Christmas too and who better than Hitch to provide it?
8:00 PM: I Love Lucy Christmas Episode
A lot of this episode is flashbacks, but the new stuff is still pretty good. For the last several years CBS has been rerunning it in prime time during the holiday season in its colorized form (though for some reason they aren’t running it this year – of all years!) along with another colorized episode of ILL. For me I would watch even if it were in B&W. I read somewhere that this is the first-ever clip / “flashback” show on television — another innovation for producer Desi Arnaz.
8:30 PM: Dennis the Menace “The Christmas Story”
Dennis the Menace made three Christmas episodes over its four-year run and my favorite of them is from their first season. It’s Christmas time and Dennis (Jay North) is going around the house looking for his presents. Henry (Herbert Anderson)and Alice think they have the perfect place to hide them, The Wilson’s house. Poor Mr. Wilson (the great Joseph Kearns). Each of the Christmas episodes ends with Dennis, his parents and the Wilson’s singing “Silent Night.” Interesting that Leave it to Beaver nor My Three Sons never did a Christmas episode during their six and twelve year runs respectively.
9:00 PM: The Andy Griffith Show “Christmas Story”
This may be my favorite classic Christmas episode of all-time. It has all the ingredients: Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts) reading Christmas cards from prisoners they put away. A Christmas party with turkey and all the trimmings. Barney(!) playing Santa Claus, Christmas carols (a charming rendition of “Away in the Manger” by Andy on guitar, and Elinor Donahue) and a Scrooge-like character (Grumpy, but lonely, storekeeper Ben Weaver, played by Will Wright). Finally, I have to say it, but the show made a mistake by getting rid of Elinor Donahue in the middle of its first season. She was, in my honest opinion, the best of Andy’s girlfriends and more congenial, without being a pushover than the later Helen Crump, who seemed upset most of the time.
9:30 PM: The Dick Van Dyke Show “Alan Brady Presents” (12/18/1963)
Telecast less than a month after JFK was assassinated, this episode allows the cast members to demonstrate their musical as well as comedic talents. Alan (Carl Reiner) decides to scrap the script that Rob, Sally and Buddy wrote and invites them plus Laura & Mel (and Richie) to “put on a Christmas show.” My favorite part is DVD and Mary Tyler Moore singing and dancing as rival Santa’s – is there nothing they couldn’t do? Rose Marie does a wonderful solo of “Santa Bring me a Fella.” Of course, Morey gives it to Richard Deacon’s under-appreciated Mel Cooley:
Mel Cooley: What is it that everyone says The Alan Brady Show lacks?
Buddy Sorrell: A good producer.
10:00 PM: Bewitched “A Vision of Sugar Plums”
Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin (Dick York) bring home a boy from an orphanage (Bill Mumy) who is a “problem child” to spend the holidays. When everything seems to fail Samantha brings him to the North pole to meet Santa (Cecil Kellaway) –Darrin comes along, too. The episode also features the great Alice Pearce & George Tobias as Gladys and Abner Kravitz and Bill Daily just a year away from his role on Major Healey on I Dream of Jeannie.
10:30 PM: Hazel “Just 86 Shopping Hours Until Christmas” (12/24/64)
One of two Hazel Christmas episodes. This one is from the show’s fourth season and the final one featuring Don DeFore and Whitney Blake as the Baxters. Mr. B is tired of the commercialism of Christmas and wants a simple Christmas. Dorothy will get a practical toaster rather than a mink coat and Harold will get a coat and not some radio. Hazel (Shirley Booth) can’t stand to see the disappointment in their faces especially when a huge package arrives from their neighbor for his wife which she and Dorothy discover to be a mink coat that they are convinced Mr. B got for her. My verdict: Is Mr. B wrong? still a fun episode.
11:00 PM: The Mary Tyler Moore Show “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid” (12/19/1970)
Mary finds out that she not only has to work Christmas Eve but also Christmas day and is unable to go home and see her parents. As Lou tells her there are no holidays in the newsroom. She’s all alone late on Christmas Eve when she hears noises that turn out to be her friends coming up to check on her and spread some holiday cheer.
11:30 PM: The Doris Day Show “It’s Christmas Time in the City” (12/21/1970)
Doris is having a Christmas Eve party and invites her less than neighborly neighbor, Mr. Jarvis, (Billy De Wolfe) to attend. He turns her down with the warning that the party had better not be too loud or he would call the police. The invitees (including her work friends played by Rose Marie, McLean Stevenson and Paul Smith and landlords (Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell) as well as grandpa (Denver Pyle) and the kids (Philip Brown, Todd Starke) do their best to keep the noise level down, but nothing pleases Jarvis until he hears them singing Christmas carols which seems to melt this Scrooge’s heart. The highlight? It must be Doris Day singing “Silver Bells” and then her Christmas greeting to viewers at the end wishing everybody a Merry Christmas.
Whatever you and yours do this Christmas I wish you a Merry one and a much happier and healthier New Year.
–Charles Tranberg for Classic Movie Hub
Charles Tranberg is the author of eight books on such film and television stars as Agnes Moorehead, Fred MacMurray, Marie Wilson, Robert Taylor, Fredric March and William Conrad. He has also written books on “The Disney Films” and “The Thin Man” film series. He is also the author of several articles for Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.