Now that the so-called holiday season is upon us, it’s time to express some of the elements and rituals that make this time of year just what it is; A period of shopping, cooking/backing, eating, and overall attempting to make merry in this domestic society where things are once again going amuck!
One of the many points of this time of year focuses upon media. Yes, one radio station here in Los Angeles has been playing the “sounds of the season” since November 11th–nearly two whole weeks before Thanksgiving that programs the overly familiar yet somewhat tired hits that are part of Christmas. (This writer is using the term “Christmas” since the subject on hand will speak about elements that used this form of description.) Television and the season has its focus as well since the visuals tend to win out verses the audio aspects.
Ever since television service began on a large scale around 1948, television and Christmas has become one and all. In one form or another, nearly every program of significance has used the season as part of its programming that ranges from comedy, drama, and in between. Musical variety programs were noted to offer a Christmas episode as part of its run. The kind of programming was usually in the form of the host(s) of the program belting out a few Christmas themed songs, the “special guest stars” would join in with the hosts singing along or whatever, as well as participating in a number of comedy skits where the humor had something to do with Christmas. It was done in fun, and viewers always made sure that they would be tuning in.
Beginning in the 1962-63 season, NBC would offer another form of Christmas programming. Not as part of a regular series, but in the form of an animated production. That was the year that the network aired Magoo’s Christmas Carol, a cartoon created by United Productions of America (UPA) an animation house based in Burbank, California that starred Mr. Magoo as voiced by Jim Backus. This animated feature retold the evergreen story by Charles Dickens with Magoo portraying Scrooge. Not only was the program a hit, but the network, airing the cartoon in color, reran it for a number of years afterward. This cartoon was the first of the modern animated Christmas specials that would later become part of the TV landscape.
Two years later, the same TV network (NBC) presented yet another animated special  Rudolf The Red Nose Reindeer that told the tale of the name character based on the song composed by Johnny Marks and made its debut in 1949 as a song recorded by Gene Autry. Unlike Magoo where it was a traditional cartoon, Rudolf was presented in stop motion animation, presented by the team of Arthur Rakin, Jr. and Jules Bass.
The next season, (1965-66) CBS presented A Charlie Brown Christmas, using the characters from the comic strip Peanuts that told the charming story of Charlie Brown directing a Christmas pageant at their school, with Linus telling the biblical interpretation of the first Christmas. That cartoon presented by Lee Mendelsen and Bill Melendez, who operated an animation house that made cartoons for TV commercials, was yet another big hit, picking up a slew of awards and citations.
Finally, for the 1966-67 season, CBS premiered another animated special Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, an animated version of the book written and illustrated by Ted Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss. The animated special directed by Charles “Chuck” Jones for MGM Television, became another hit.
Since that time, many other animated Christmas specials were presented by all of the three TV networks, as well as a few syndicated through other TV stations across the land. Many of them came from the team of Rakin-Bass, while others were produced by various companies using various characters; some were new, while others used existing characters from other sources. Although a few were rather memorable that were worthy of its multiple showings, many of the others ranged from mildly amusing to downright forgettable! This saturation diluted the overall charm and appeal to these shows created for the season. That is why the titles that were of the forgettable category were never repeated again! (If one desires to find a listing of the forgotten-for-good shows, use that search engine of yours and type in “Forgettable Animated Christmas TV Specials” and see ‘em for yourself!)
It’s interesting to note that unlike the majority of animated TV specials that were mostly aimed toward kids, the first four titles mentioned in this article were geared for all ages, meaning that although kids enjoyed them for what they were, adults would be as amused in tuning in. This reflection to its all-age grouping came about to the companies that originally sponsored the specials in question. For Magoo, its original sponsor was Timex watches. Rudolf’s advertiser was General Electric appliances. The first Peanuts special was hosed by Coca-Cola, and Grinch was sponsored by Full Service Banks, an umbrella group of savings & loan financial institutions. These four company were not really “kid friendly”. The commercials aired were targeting the adults that were watching with their kids, or perhaps tuning in alone. For comparing, many of the original specials that aired on the networks from the 1970’s well into the 1990’s had advertisers that were either selling toys, cereals, snack foods, or some other product that kids would most likely consume. Even in reruns, the above first four titles were taken over by these same companies that reduced these shows as “kiddie fodder”, even though those far from childhood age may still find them appealing.
In today’s video landscape, the animated seasonal special is still alive and living, although it’s around under different circumstances. Home video has kept some titles alive (minus commercials, of course), and thanks to the ‘net, one can still view these shows through various video streaming platforms. Some have commercials while others are ad free. And best of all, one isn’t limited to being in front of a TV machine as one can watch these shows using any internet connected device that sports a video screen.
So enjoy the holiday season with a glass of egg nog, a tom & jerry (the drink, not the cartoon), or a spiced hot toddy and watch all of the Christmas TV specials one can take.  Although they don’t make them as they used to (good or bad), at least they are available to savor once more!
No reviews this week, but check back with us in the next issue for more of the review you look out for! See you then!
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