Merry Christmas from TFTP: Television from the Past!

Posted to YouTube by user 'Greg Rempe'
Length - 1:59:47

Some TV stations back in the day would pre-empt regular programming on Christmas Day and show an image of a yule log burning in a fireplace for several hours, usually (as in this recording that aired sometime in the 1980s on New York station WPIX) with holiday music playing.

And so here at Television from the Past, we offer this yule log as season's greetings, and we would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

This Christmas Day post will be the last for a couple of weeks as TFTP goes on a holiday hiatus until the New Year. Our next post will be on Monday, January 8.


Christmas at TFTP (Sign-Off Edition): Station Sign-Off from WTTW/Chicago (Dec. 25, 1978)

Posted to YouTube by user 'The Museum of Classic Chicago Television'
Length - 4:30

Each Friday afternoon, TFTP signs-off for the week with a classic station sign-off segment for your enjoyment and to bid farewell until Monday...

In anticipation of Christmas Day on Monday, here's a 1978 Christmas Day station sign-off from WTTW/Chicago, "public television for Chicago" (as stated in the station voiceover). The clip begins with the last few seconds and the end credits of a Christmas concert program called "Sing We Noel". This is followed by the sweet 1970s PBS network ID with its bouncy musical cue. Then a program promo for the upcoming "New Years at Pops" program precedes a PSA with Phil Donahue for a local social services organization called Yule Connection.

Announcer Marty Robinson does the ownership/technical voiceover on a slide of a birds-eye view of the loop in downtown Chicago (the photo for which was probably taken from the top of the Sears Tower). This is followed by (and the sequence is concluded with) a national anthem film (which was not always included in public TV sign-offs) that features scenes in and around Chicago.


Christmas at TFTP (On This Day Edition): "The Dean Martin Christmas Show" from NBC (Dec. 21, 1967)

Posted to YouTube by user 'Deano Martin'
Length - 51:29

It Was 50 Years Ago Today: Dean Martin had one of the top variety shows on TV for a whole decade from the mid-1960s straight into the mid-1970s. This gave him a whole career on his own after he broke up with comedy partner Jerry Lewis in which Martin became one of America's top singers. This Christmas special, aired on this day in 1967, fifty years ago today, represents Martin at the peak of his popularity as a singer and as a television star.

Martin was also famous, of course, as a member of the 1960s "rat pack" that included his pal Frank Sinatra. This yuletide episode of Martin's show is a holiday merger of the Martin and Sinatra families, as both men include their entire, rather large, families in a program that is packed full of songs, holiday and non-holiday in nature, sung by various combinations of the members of the two families.

Included are Nancy Sinatra singing a Christmas-themed version of her 1966 hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"; Nancy and Dean's daughter Gail Martin singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"; a group song by Dean and Frank along with Nancy and Gail; another group song by Dean and Frank along with Dean Jr. and Frank Jr.; a version of "Do Re Mi" (from "The Sound of Music") with Dean and Frank along with their other daughters Deana Martin and Tina Sinatra; a long medley by Dean and Frank of many of their collective hits; and another long show-closing medley of Christmas songs by different members of the combined brood that included "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays", "Let It Snow", "The Christmas Song", "White Christmas", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Deck the Halls", "Joy to the World", and "Silent Night".


Christmas at TFTP (On This Day Edition): "The Bob Hope Special" from NBC (Dec. 19, 1968)

Posted to YouTube by user '20th Century Vision'
Length - 1:01:08

It Was 49 Years Ago Today: Bob Hope did dozens of specials on NBC over the course of several decades between the 1950s and the 1980s. This is one that is not so much a Christmas special as one that happened to air during the Christmas season--forty-nine years ago today on December 19, 1968.

Unlike many of Hope's specials over the years, this special consists of one long sketch, a parody of the secret agent show "Mission: Impossible". The Hope version is called "Mission: Ridiculous", and he plays a secret agent fighting an outfit called "B.R.O.A.D.S." made up of all women. (The initials were a take-off of the tendency of these spy shows to fight an enemy with similar names.) The women (played by Janet Leigh, Carol Lawrence, and Nancy Ames) have kidnapped Santa Claus for offenses (not made entirely clear) against women. Hope goes through several vignettes--including visiting the North Pole where Leigh poses as Mrs. Claus, flying on a Cuban airline with a Fidel Castro lookalike, and appearing in a Hong Kong nightclub where all of the characters are horrible Asian stereotypes (and Hope's accent is completely offensive).

A couple of musical performances are worked into this hackneyed story: one number sung by Ames in character as a spy posing as a flight attendant on the Cuban airline, and another by Glen Campbell, who is Hope's cellmate in a Cuban jail. Jerry Colonna pops up as a judge in the Cuban jail scene, while Santa--imprisoned at B.R.O.A.D.S headquarters--turns out to be Wally Cox.

The topical jokes in Hope's opening monologue seem like they would have been groaners to contemporary audiences in 1968, and they are completely impenetrable and unfunny now. Bob Hope was never on the cutting edge of comedy, not even in his 1940s heyday as a movie star, and the shoddy quality of this program shows just how sloppy he was as a comedic craftsman despite the fact he was beloved by mainstream audiences. This special is a shining example of how NBC by this point would put on the air literally anything that Hope put together.


Christmas at TFTP (Monochrome Monday Edition): "The Steve Allen Christmas Show" from ABC (Dec. 20, 1961)

Posted to YouTube by user 'RayHoffmanOnAir'
Length - 54:10

Steve Allen was a pioneering television comedian, starting in local TV in the early '50s, continuing with his stint as the first host of the "Tonight Show" from 1954-1957, and culminating with his legendary prime-time variety show on NBC from 1956-1960. This Christmas special is not from that series, but from what was known as the "'New' Steve Allen Show" that aired on ABC for less than a full season in 1961-62.

Even though this is Allen just ever so slightly past his peak, this Christmas show still wonderfully represents his comedy. The show takes place entirely at Allen's and wife Jayne Meadow's home, and it begins with them welcoming the guests and cast (including the Smothers Brothers and Tim Conway early in their careers, as well as Allen regulars Louis Nye and Bill Dana) at their door as one would for a normal social gathering. Then, Allen and Meadows give a short tour of their home, with gag stock footage providing the punchline behind each door (e.g., a closet door yields to an image of an entire warehouse of men's suits). Meadows' game--and skillful--participation in this bit reminds us how underrated she was as Allen's comedic (as well as life) partner.

Parts of the rest of the program take place on the patio around the home's swimming pool (with one synchronized swimming segment taking place IN the pool). Back inside, the Smothers Brothers do a number in the halting, comic style for which they would become known. Later, Allen's own sons perform a savvy parody of their dad's own show--labeled the "The New Steve Allen Jr. Show"--with Steve Jr. doing an impeccable impression of dad and his two younger brothers effectively lampooning the Smothers Brothers.

Steve Sr. returns dressed as Santa and welcomes several youngsters (kids of cast and crew, including Allen's youngest son) to his lap where Santa Steverino demonstrates his legendary ad-lib skills. The program ends back out by the pool with a group finale of "Silent Night".


Christmas at TFTP (Sign-Off and On This Day Editions): Station Sign-Off from WGBH/Boston (Dec. 15, 1987)

Posted to YouTube by user 'Lincoln P'
Length - 5:06

Each Friday afternoon, TFTP signs-off for the week with a classic station sign-off segment for your enjoyment and to bid farewell until Monday...

It Was 30 Years Ago Today: This public television sign-off from Boston station WGBH--from thirty years ago today--begins with an ID that is an adorable animation of Santa and his reindeers kicking it in a Rockettes-style danceline. Then we see a young Tom Bergeron, later of "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "Dancing with the Stars" hosting fame, making an appeal for pledges of support to the station. This is followed by several program promos, including for "Christmas at Pops", "The Kirov Ballet: Swan Lake", a broadcast of the film "It's a Wonderful Life", and "A Child's Christmas in Wales".

Next is the ownership/technical voiceover on a long series of images, starting with black-and-white behind-the-scenes images of the control rooms, studios, etc. at WGBH, before segueing to color images from some of the programs broadcast by the station. (This second group includes one image from "Zoom", a TFTP favorite.) The sequence ends with another ownership/technical voiceover on a film clip of a slow pan (possibly a time-lapse) across the Boston skyline that gradually goes from lightness to darkness, before the WGBH "2" logo diminishes in size to a pinpoint of light that then goes dark.


Christmas at TFTP: "The Andy Williams Christmas Show" from NBC (Dec. 18, 1966)

Posted to YouTube by user 'Cost Ander'
Length - 43:43

Andy Williams was a top variety show star of the 1960s, with a weekly variety show on NBC for most of the decade. This is his Christmas episode from December of 1966.

The program is a family affair, as Williams' three brothers, wife Claudine Longet (a French singer), and parents are all featured. Andy's first claim to fame was as a part of a vocal quartet with his brothers, and the Williams Brothers (clad in green from head to toe) sing a medley of Xmas songs here. The Osmond Brothers (including a very young Donny of "Donny and Marie" fame), regulars on Williams' variety show, perform a lengthy and elaborate choreographed musical number in a stylized candy factory with a red-and-white peppermint theme. And Andy performs a couple of numbers at the piano in his (soundstage set) living room.

The Christmas tunes featured here include "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (which opens the show with Williams' and companions "riding" in an old-fashioned auto against a green-screen wintery background), "We Need a Little Christmas", "The Christmas Song" (one of the songs sung by Williams at the living room piano), "Winter Wonderland", and a show-closing "Silent Night" sung by Williams against a stained-glass backdrop.


Christmas at TFTP: "Christmas with the Lettermans" from NBC (Dec. 19, 1984)

Posted to YouTube by user 'Nezar Berryhill'
Length - 41:52

"Late Night with David Letterman" was at its peak in late-1984, in part because of the willingness to do episodes like "Christmas with the Lettermans". With no overt hint that the whole thing was a put-on (were there viewers who thought that this was really Letterman's family?), but with the sly subversive attitude that infused almost everything Letterman did (and with special title slides and a redecorated set made to resemble a ski lodge to complete the effect), "Christmas with the Lettermans" is a masterpiece of absurdist comedy.

There is very little "gag" comedy per se in this episode--just a great many ridiculous or off-kilter elements presented in a straight-faced fashion. A cast of faux family members joins Letterman--including four children (the youngest of whom is sent off for the whole episode to fetch a Christmas tree), an older brother ("Daryll Letterman"), and no less than two different wives (one of which is promised a chance to sing a Christmas song that, of course, never materializes). A song and dance troupe called the Doodletown Pipers (apparently, against all expectation, a real troupe) participates in the opening musical number.

Despite the Christmas special conceit, Letterman still manages to interview two guests, singer Pat Boone and early-period "Late Night" regular Brother Theodore. Boone gamely participates in the Christmas theme, asking Dave about his family Christmas traditions in a set-up to a comedy bit where these are explored with the faux-family. Brother Theodore (a character of humorist Theodore Gottleib) does what he always did in his Letterman guest spots: rants and raves to Letterman's evident delight.


Christmas at TFTP (Monochrome Monday Edition): "The Lawrence Welk Show" from ABC (Dec. 24, 1958)

Posted to YouTube by user 'John Smith'
Length - 59:29

TFTP's Monochrome Monday brings you a classic black & white TV program or clip every Monday morning to kick off the week....

"The Lawrence Welk Show" has been a TV mainstay for many decades--for the last thirty years on public television, during the 1970s in syndication, and from 1955-1971 (including at the time of this 1958 Christmas Eve episode) in prime-time on ABC. During the 1958-59 season, when the program aired from 7:30-8:30 pm on Wednesday nights, it was officially called "Lawrence Welk's Plymouth Show"; Plymouth branding is visible on the curtain behind the orchestra throughout the episode, and a very short Plymouth ad appears midway through.

Welk, whose big-band orchestra conducting cred went back to the 1930s, gained a reputation for presenting what was called "champagne music", or music that was insubstantial but enjoyable. Much of the music on his programs can seem impenetrable now (and certainly not enjoyable), but in his heyday of the late-1950s through the early-1970s there were few impresarios more popular.

The music in this episode, all of it Christmas themed, is much more accessible--if only because most of the songs remain familiar today. Among the Xmas tunes packed into this episode are an instrumental rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (which opens the episode), "O Holy Night" by the Lennon Sisters (who were one of the most popular parts of Welk's "musical family"), a harp performance of "Winter Wonderland" by Betsy Mills, an instrumental "Jingle Bells" on trumpet and clarinet, "Silent Night" by a choir of Welk regulars, and a second, show-closing performance of "Jingle Bells" sung by all of the Welk show musicians and singers along with their children.


TFTP Signs-Off for the Week: Station Sign-Off from KTCA/St.Paul-Minneapolis (1990)

Posted to YouTube by user 'mjanovec'
Length - 2:07

Each Friday afternoon, TFTP signs-off for the week with a classic station sign-off segment for your enjoyment and to bid farewell until Monday...

This 1990 sign-off from Minneapolis-St. Paul public television station KTCA (now known as TPT, for Twin Cities Public Television) begins with the tail end of the end credits (and a post-credits underwriting slide) for an episode of the British sci-fi series "Blakes 7". This is followed by a credit roll for the station itself that lists all of the station personnel, accompanied by the ownership/technical voiceover. The sequence ends with a clever transformation of the station's multi-hued star logo into standard TV color bars.


Christmas at TFTP: Christmas Commercials (c. 1980s)

Posted to YouTube by user 'The Retro Archives'
Length - 12:02

This block of 1980s-era Christmas-related commercials runs the gamut. Included here are: five different Polaroid instant camera commercials, including one with the product's longtime pitch duo James Garner and Mariette Hartley; four different Kodak Instant Camera ads, two of which feature Santa himself (one of which also contains children clad in rainbow-hued footie pajamas); two different versions of a commercial for 7-Up with that product's ridiculous red dot character; a cheery Slice lemon-lime soda ad; a Christmas cookie ad for Crisco; a Christmas card ad for Hallmark; a Christmas tree ad for Toll House cookies; a spot for a Pepsi/Nintendo sweepstakes; and ads for Pillsbury Crescent Rolls and Burger King.

In addition to all of these commercials, the block also includes some bumpers and the end credits for the classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special and CBS program promos for the "I Love Lucy Christmas Special", "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "Frosty the Snowman", and "Twas the Night Before Christmas".


Christmas at TFTP: "Johnny Cash Christmas Special" from CBS (Dec. 6, 1976)

Posted to YouTube by user 'PeterRabbit59'
Length - 50:24

Johnny Cash was a veteran at television as well as music by the mid-1970s, having starred in his own weekly TV show for two years from 1969 to 1971. This Christmas special from 1976 is the first of a series of annual Johnny Cash Christmas specials that lasted for the remainder of the decade.

The special is divided in to two distinct parts: The first part is a series of vignettes that are almost proto-music video in nature as Cash, sometimes alone, sometimes with others (including Roy Clark and Tony Orlando), wanders his farm and homestead, stopping for musical numbers that are highly visual and edited in nature. (There are quite a few Seventies-ish shots of nature and trees.) The second part is a gathering of Cash and family members, joined by the Reverend Billy Graham and select musical guests Merle Travis and Barbara Mandrell, in the Cash "home" (obviously a set on a soundstage), where they trade off performing musical numbers of various kinds.

This Christmas special is very light on Christmas music. Cash and guests instead opt for things like a medley of Stephen Foster-composed songs by Cash, Clark, and Orlando; instrumental guitar rags performed by Travis and Mandrell; and because Tony Orlando is a guest, a performance of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" (because in the 1970s, any time Tony Orlando was a guest he was going to sing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"). The only two Christmas songs are a version of "The Christmas Song" (the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" song) by Roy Clark and a duet between Cash and his brother Tommy on a catchy but obscure tune called "That Christmasy Feeling". The show ends with Billy Graham telling a Christmas-related story about how a child can change everything.


Christmas at TFTP (Monochrome Monday Edition): "Your Hit Parade" from NBC (Dec. 24, 1955)

Posted to YouTube by user 'Mister Stereo'
Length (total of 3 parts) - 26:05

TFTP's Monochrome Monday brings you a classic black & white TV program or clip every Monday morning to kick off the week....

"Your Hit Parade" was a mainstay on NBC radio and TV for over twenty years, providing a review of the "hit parade" of top charting songs for each week. After fifteen years on radio, the TV version premiered in 1950 (the radio edition would continue for five additional years until 1955). On both radio and TV, a revolving cast of musicians and singers recounted the week's top songs for audiences in an era before music video and on-demand music streaming.

The episode of "Your Hit Parade" featured here was aired on Christmas Eve of 1955. As every week, the episode includes renditions of the top seven songs from the previous week ("Sixteen Tons" tops the list here), but Christmas Eve warranted the addition of a few holiday tunes. "Deck the Halls" with the entire Your Hit Parade ensemble opens the episode, with a "Christmas medley" in the mix, and a full-cast performance of "O Holy Night"--on the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink--closing out the show.


TFTP Signs-Off for the Week--and Signs on for December! Station Sign-Off and Sign-On from WCBS/New York (1977)

Posted to YouTube by user 'SignOffsGuy'
Length - 8:53

Each Friday afternoon, TFTP signs-off for the week with a classic station sign-off segment for your enjoyment and to bid farewell until Monday...


TFTP marks the beginning of each new month with a classic station sign-on sequence to "sign-on" for the month....

This special post--coming on a 1st of the month that is also a Friday--features a unique clip that includes BOTH a sign-off sequence and a sign-on sequence. Apparently (according to the notes for this clip on its YouTube page), WCBS (the flagship affiliate for CBS) at this time signed off each morning at 5:00 am for just one hour before signing back on shortly after 6:00 am. The clip above contains both the sign-off sequence as well as the start of the subsequent sign-on sequence for the era circa 1977.

The sign-off sequence begins (after a brief closing bumper for "The Late Late Show") with a public service announcement for the Jewish Chautauqua Society consisting of poetic voiceover on images of children's drawings and footage of abandoned concentration camps. This is followed by a religious segment called "Give Us This Day" featuring a Jewish rabbi delivering an inspirational message. Next is the ownership/technical voiceover (with some slide mix-ups involving the NAB code slide), with the national anthem film (a rather prosaic one featuring images of flags and national monuments in Washington, D.C.) closing out the sign-off.

Then the sign-on sequence starts. A WCBS test pattern kicks it off, followed by a ownership and technical voiceover that starts by greeting us with "Good Morning".