24 December 2010

The ghosts of Christmas variety shows past

It's Christmas Eve. I don't know if it's your thing or not but it's sure mine. This is my favorite day of the year, my favorite night of the year to be specific. So before I take off for a couple of days to ring in my Christmas Eve, I want to thank all of you guys for another terrific year. This little blog thing has brought so many great people into my life and they've brought so much good stuff with them it gets overwhelming to think about.

So as we get ready to show 2010 the door and usher in 2011 I want to wish all of you the very best for the coming year.

2010's been a feast on one hand and a famine on the other. Whattya say we all work on having there be more feast and less famine in 2011?

And although it's great to look forward to what's next, Christmas is always a good excuse to look back too. I'm not one to entertain a whole lot of nostalgia, it never seems like a productive use of time. However there are some exceptions. Most people get all excited every year when the Grinch comes on TV. Or how about A Charlie Brown Christmas? For other people it's all about A Year Without a Santa Claus. The Christmas stuff I remember so fondly never makes it back onto TVland or ABC Family.

I'm talking about Christmas variety shows of course. They're the ignored art form from the days of network only TV. Well thank heavens for YouTube. Even now, despite all of my classical longings, it's not Christmas in my house until I break out the Andy Williams.

Andy Williams defined Christmas for me as a kid. Everybody was nice, sung well and wore sweaters. What more could you ask for really?

And of course, Andy Williams discovered the Osmond Brothers. The addition of the Osmonds to Andy's Christmas specials ratcheted up the treacle levels to near-cavity-inducing levels but it was a lot of fun anyhow.

The Osmonds took their early fame and turned it into an entertainment moguldom that should make the Brittanys and the GaGas squirm with discomfort. These people were an entertainment machine. One of the neighbor kids and I used to ask each other all the time "Who would you want to be adopted by, the Osmonds or the Jacksons (of Jackson Five fame)?" I would always pick the Jacksons. Even then, at nine or ten, all that forced happiness made me uncomfortable. It was sure fun to watch though.

Once everybody figured out that there was money to be made in TV variety shows, Christmas specials in particular, the floodgates opened and everybody got in on the act. Watch, if you dare, this clip from Sonny and Cher. Count the B-list celebrities.

Variety shows always made for strange bedfellows. Whether it was Charo and SeƱor Wences chewing scenery with Donnie and Marie or Ruth Buzzi hamming it up on the Flip Wilson show, variety shows brought together the weird and the wonderful and everybody ended up singing. In the next clip, the has-been and desperate meet the new and eager in an orgy of self-promotion at any cost.

Though variety shows as a rung on the career ladder peaked in the mid-70s, the genre lived on as a vehicle for selling records as evidenced by this gem from the early '80s. I'm dedicating this to my great friends Brandon and Kevin who abandoned me and the glories of Christmas in St. Pete for the sordid bacchanal of New Orleans a couple of years ago. The memory of their drunken renditions of Hard Candy Christmas, sung a capella on my sofa every year, sustain me through hard times.

Finally, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when John Denver's agent sobered him up and explained that they were going to save his career by having him sing with puppets on TV.

It worked.

So have a great Christmas one and all. If Christmas isn't your thing, enjoy having the movie theaters all to yourselves this weekend. I'm going to take a couple of days off and I'll be back next week.


  1. What a fun post and real walk down memory lane for me. Have a wonderful Christmas, Paul! Thanks for your great blog - always worth the read!!!

  2. And thank you Gina! You were one of my first blogging contacts. Can you believe that we were once new at this and clueless about how it all worked? Merry Christmas to you and your family and continued success in 2011!

  3. I was wondering if Andy Williams was going to make it into a holiday post this season! Have a great Christmas, doll--we'll dedicate a round of "Hard Candy Christmas" to you tomorrow night.

  4. Oh, those were the days. Chaz Bono was still a girl and Kenny Rogers hadn't discovered plastic surgery.

    Merriest of Christmases to you and JD!

  5. Kevin: Despite my continued anguish over your callous abandonment, I still have a fond memory or two of our Christmases past. Oh such times, oh such times. I'll call you later.

    Raina: Thank you! I was thinking the same thing about both of them. Poor Chaz. Poor Kenny. But as appalling as that Sonny and Cher video is, watch that Dean Martin clip. Who knew that Eric Estrada, Andy Gibb, Dean Martin and Beverly Sills could pull off a variety act?

  6. Dang you, Paul! You and your cohort Saxon Henry made Apple 9.99 richer by making me pine for the Andy Williams Christmas album.. the one with the real "It's the most wonderful time of the year" on it.

    Our big Christmas Special was The Lawrence Welk Show. Sat night, we'd pop a big bowl of popcorn.. good stuff. Christmas with a hint of polka :-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF6yKbm_xYk

  7. I'd feel bad but I don't. That is the ultimate Christmas record if you ask me. Nobody sang "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" as well as Andy Williams did. Although his "Happy Holidays/ Holiday Season" medley makes me weep for Christmases past.

  8. There is really nothing better than Kenny and Dolly- On my way home from the folk's house last night I listened to the ENTIRE Kenny and Dolly Christmas album, most of which were in the Country Christmas movie.

    I'm certainly ok with admitting that I know the words to all the songs- Hard Candy Christmas is one of the best songs of all time.

    Happy Christmas Eve, Paul!

  9. Christmas to me is Bing and Nat and Elvis. White Christmas. Holiday Inn. It's a Wonderful Life. (Probably because we didn't have many of those variety shows.)

    Merry Christmas, Paul! All the best for the holiday season and for the New Year!

  10. Nick: I really need to introduce you to Kevin and Brandon in New Orleans. Merry Christmas, thanks for your friendship.

    Kelly: Merry Christmas and continued success as we race headlong into 2011. I cannot wait to write my a review of your upcoming book. That's exciting!

  11. I would also like to meet Kevin and Brandon in New Orleans. In New Orleans.

  12. Holy, I think I'd cry if Cher sang *at* me like that too. However, I used to love those old variety shows too. Though, in Canada they all had Anne Murray on them.

  13. Kathy: Road trip?

    Nim: All of them had Anne Murray in them in the US too.


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