Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas on the Tube

By Mitchell

Yesterday we began looking at the December 19-25, 1964 issue of TV Guide to find out what used to be on TV during Christmas week. Were things really that different back then, or has Christmas always existed more prominently in our memories than it did in reality?

December 20, 1964 was a Sunday, so you might expect a greater emphasis on religious programming. And in fact, at 9 am CBS presented the Christmas oratorio L'Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz, featuring members of the Metropolitan Opera. The topic of the 10:30 a.m. religious program called This Is the Life was "Child of Bethlehem." At noon, Channel 5 (at the time the local NBC affiliate) presented a program called "I Believe," which featured Christmas songs by the Concordia College Choir, allong with a message on "The True Meaning of Christmas."

Back in 1964, pro football didn't dominate the airwaves quite as much as it does now (helped by the blackout rule, which prevented a team's home games from being broadcast in the immediate area), so there was a little more variety on network programming than there is now. This can be seen most prominently with the 3pm NBC Opera presentation of Gian-Carlo Menotti's beloved classic Amahl and the Night Visitors, making it's 14th annual appearance during the Christmas season. This program, which on December 24, 1951 was the premiere presentation of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, was a staple of Christmas programming well into the 60s. But if opera was a little too high-brow for you, the CBS affiliate Channel 4 presented the Great Lakes and U.S. Navy Choirs in a half hour of the "Songs of Christmas."

Prime time programming continued the Christmas theme. At 6:30 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color presented a holiday treat for the kids, Alice in Wonderland. NBC followed this at 7:30 with the Naval Cadet Choir (for those of you who didn't get enough of Midshipmen singing Christmas songs). And while it wasn't Christmas-themed, CBS did run an encore presentation of "An Evening with Fred Astaire" at 8:00 (Christmas has always been a good excuse for big-budget variety specials). The independent station, Channel 11, capped off the night with Bishop Fulton Sheen's Christmas program at 9:30.

And so Sunday, December 20, 1964 came to a close. You might figure that if you weren't in the Christmas mood yet, you never would be. But wait until you see what Monday has to offer...

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