TV is dripping in holiday specials right now. But what about all those weird Christmas shows you dimly remember from your childhood? Good news! They’re enshrined forever on the internet. Every one of the timelost specials listed below can be dug up with a little searching on YouTube.
“Judy Garland Christmas Special” (1963) According to legend Judy breezed into the studio hungover and on-edge moments before this show went live. Guest Mel Tormé was allegedly having a contract dispute with Garland when he begrudgingly came on to sing “The Christmas Song.” But the set (Judy’s fake living room) is swanky, little Liza Minnelli stops by, and the music is dynamite.
“John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas TV Special” (1975) A record 65 million people tuned in to watch John Denver sing songs in a transparent bubble in the middle of the snow-covered Rockies. Olivia Newton-John was there. So were Valerie Harper and Steve Martin. The ’70s, ladies and gentlemen!
“The Fat Albert Christmas Special” (1977) Bill Cosby’s a hot topic these days. But we forget how depressing his old Saturday morning cartoon was. Here, it’s Christmas Eve, and the “Cosby Kids” have been evicted from the junkyard. (The junkyard, for Pete’s sake!) Throw in a homeless family, a pregnant woman, NYC’s pre-Obamacare health system and a runaway kid, and you’ve got the fixings for one grim holiday.
“The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait” (1978) A Christmas Portrait is one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time. This ABC special celebrating its release is mostly just beautiful songs from Karen and Richard. But Harvey Korman does stop by for some fun sketches. (Honestly, you couldn’t get rid of the guy back in the late ’70s.)
“Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978) This is the motherload of awful holiday specials. It aired once, and George Lucas disavowed all knowledge of it. A lot of the dialogue is in Wookie. Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman (see, I told ya) make with the funny. Mark Hamill stops by for like two seconds, sporting an ungodly amount of makeup. But the Boba Fett cartoon is cool.
“The Osmond Family Christmas Special” (1980) The Osmonds made a lot of Christmas specials. But this one is so beautifully dated. Guests include actor Greg Evigan (from “B.J. and the Bear”!), 1968 Olympic figure skating champion Peggy Fleming and hippie illusionist Doug Henning.
“He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special” (1985) I can’t even begin to sort out the convoluted shenanigans going on here. But at one point, Prince Adam dresses up as Santa Claus.
“A Muppet Family Christmas” (1987) Jim Henson’s empire was at the height of its power when this aired. We get characters from “Sesame Street,” “The Muppet Show,” “Fraggle Rock” and freaking “Muppet Babies.” Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem performing “Jingle Bell Rock”? Yes, please. Henson himself even does a cameo during the final number.
“Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” (1988) This BBC production is pretty much the only variation on Charles Dickens’ overworked tale that’s worth watching. For this one-off, Rowan Atkinson plays the only nice member of the Blackadder bloodline, who is visited by three Christmas spirits and decides by the end of the night that being a selfish bastard is totally the way to go. Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane and Jim Broadbent are all in on the hilarity.
“Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Alpha’s Magical Christmas” (1994) The Power Rangers are pretty much AWOL from this impoverished, 24-minute, direct-to-video special. They’re all up at the North Pole helping Santa, apparently. Which leaves irritating robot Alpha back at the Command Center feeling nostalgic and unloved. To pass the time, he decorates and sings a couple of carols. That’s about it.
“We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” (1994) The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were still kinda hot back in 1994, but this chintzy VHS “special” does them no favors. The plot has the turtles shopping for a Christmas gift for Master Splinter. But mostly it’s a lot of singing and dancing—including a reggae version of “Deck the Halls” with lyrics changed to a list of pizza toppings. I shit you not.