Have yourself a retro little Christmas on CHCH TV

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If you’ve been watching your favourite old TV shows on CHCH this year, and wondering why you haven’t come across any of the Christmas episodes … well, wonder no longer. It’s all part of the channel’s elaborate plan to pack the holidays with festive specials!

CHCH TV is inviting viewers to have themselves a Retro Little Christmas this year, screening two consecutive afternoon marathons of Christmas episodes from the most iconic shows in television history on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And it’s a project that’s been months in the planning.

“Last Christmas, our editing group saw an opportunity,” says Nick Bannard, marketing manager at Channel Zero, which owns the Hamilton station and programs the CHCH Retro block of vintage television shows between 10 am and 6 pm every weekday – where classic series like Bewitched, M*A*S*H, Hogan’s Heroes, Happy Days, Cheers, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and The Wonder Years air in sequence, in their entirety.

But that introduced a problem.

“The majority of shows from these eras made special Christmas episodes,” Bannard explains, “but since we air those shows in sequence each weekday, the Christmas specials were spread out over the calendar.”

The programming and editing departments decided to find every holiday episode set to air in the 2019 season, quietly remove them from the schedule and save them for these special holiday marathons. And now, finally, viewers can binge on the retro seasonal goodness.

The December 24 marathon includes holiday episodes of Bewitched, One Day At A Time, The Jeffersons, Mork & Mindy, The Monkees and more, including two CHCH staff favourites: Laverne & Shirley’s Oh Hear The Angels’ Voices, from 1976 (“The ladies perform a stage version of Walking in a Winter Wonderland with slapstick humour like only they can”) and Happy Days’ Christmas Time, from 1978, in which Henry Winkler’s Fonzie receives a gift from his absent father: “It’s an emotional scene that shows a range of character not usually seen in the Fonz.”

The December 25 marathon features multiple episodes of The Jeffersons, The Facts Of Life and Good Times, as well as additional Laverne & Shirley, Bewitched and Happy Days holiday shows and another staff favourite: Cheers’ Christmas Cheers, from 1987: “Of course the bar is open on Christmas Eve! And Norm makes a memorable entrance as Santa.”

CHCH has also been running festive feature films in its 8 pm movie slot throughout the month of December – with a Die Hard movie every Sunday! – leading to the big holiday guns: Jim Carrey’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas on the evening of December 24, and Bill Murray’s Scrooged late night after all the presents are put away on December 25. 

Supervising editor Sean Linton, who created the Retro Little Christmas promotional spots, had to sift through every one of the episodes looking for perfect moments. 

“They really got me into the holiday spirit,” he says. “They offer something a little different from the holiday specials you see every year.”

Linton’s highlights are a little darker: Hill Street Blues’ Santaclaustrophobia, from 1982 (“Undercover officers dressed as Santa and reindeer in a police chase!”) St. Elsewehere’s Santa Claus Is Dead, from 1985 (“Santa has a heart attack and has to be rushed into surgery”), and The Wonder Years’ Christmas Party, from 1991 (“the Arnold family’s annual neighborhood Christmas party gets lit!”).

As the new year approaches, CHCH will continue to engage with the possibilities of retro programming, rescuing beloved television series from obscurity. (And old mascots, too Mr. 11, who dates back to the 50s and sports the station’s over-the-air channel number, has been revived for the new brand.) 

The channel is even asking its 1.3 million weekly viewers to let them know which other shows they’d like to see. Early in the retro schedule’s inception, they heard from these same viewers disappointed that their favourite show was replaced before its conclusion.

“It’s fascinating how many people become invested in storylines from programs that are four or even five decades old,” Bannard says.

That’s not really an issue with the Christmas marathons, which offer audiences the chance to reconnect with beloved characters and favourite programs in a looser, sillier mode. Santa has a way of pausing even the most complicated story arcs, and it’s always fun to hear a familiar theme song remixed with sleigh bells.

The Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere episodes are still a little grim, though. But that was kind of their thing.

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