Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Christmas on TV

By Mitchell

This week we've been doing a retrospective of Christmas-week TV programming as described in the December 19-25, 1964 issue of TV Guide. Each day we're looking back at what was on TV that same day in 1964.

We're up to Monday, December 21, and the focus will be on prime-time shows (although on the game show You Don't Say, all the contensants for the week are children). First up is the 6:00 presentation of the famed St. Olaf College Choir on the educational station, Channel 2. The choir sings a half-hour of motets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and selections from Bach.

NBC dominated the Christmas prime-time schedule that day. At 6:30, NBC showed an encore presentation of the Tennessee Ernie Ford special The Story of Christmas. It was last year that I first heard of this program (from the Christmas 1963 issue of TV Guide), and I was stunned to find out that the show, which was highly honored at the time, was actually available on DVD. As befits one of Ernie Ford's shows, there was a high religious content to the program - "What Child Is This?", "Gesu Bambino," "Virgin Slumber Song" and "Joy to the World," along with a stunning animated depiction of the Nativity. Critics of the time predicted it would become a perennial classic; I'm not sure why it didn't.

Following The Story of Christmas, NBC presented a Project 20 documentary, "The Coming of Christ." Narriated by Alexander Scourby (who, if you've never heard him speak, had a wonderfully sonorous voice), the program used masperpieces of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance to illustrate the Old and New Testament stories relating the birth of the Christ.

It wouldn't be Christmas without Andy Williams, and at 8:00 NBC wrapped up their block with Andy's Christmas show. Family was always a big part of Andy's show, and this was no exception - the Williams brothers (Andy, Don, Dick and Bob) along with sister Jane teamed up for seasonal standards like "White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and "Jingle Bells." The Osmond Brothers chimed in with "Silver Bells," among others. From the description in TV Guide, the show doesn't appear to have the religious dimension of the Ernie Ford program, but you could always depend on Andy Williams to do Christmas up right.

Over at ABC, 8:30 brought Bing Crosby's Christmas show. But if you were expecting one of Bing's family gatherings (for which he became famous), you'd be mistaken - this was a time when Bing had his own sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show, in which he portrayed retired entertainer Bing Collins (clever, huh?). Therefore, this episode presents Bing with his TV family - Beverly Garland as his wife, along with kids, neighbors and co-workers. They all get together and do a Christmas show. The series only lasted one season, but this episode marked Bing's one and only Christmas show for 1964.

Finally, CBS got in the act in an unusual way - a documentary at 9:00 entitled "Chrismas in Appalachia," in which Charles Kuralt focused on the bleak holiday for residents of poverty-stricken southern Appalachia.

And so Monday, December 21 wrapped up. I might have expected some local stations to be running Christmas-themed movies in the late-night spot. (Holiday Inn or Going My Way, for example.) However, interestingly enough, Channel 9 does offer the original King Kong at 10:30, with Fay Wray (Naomi Watts, anyone?), Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot. I wonder if thirty years from now they'll be showing this year's version on December 21's late show?

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