Rediscover TV's lost holiday classics, from 'Animaniacs' to 'Ziggy'

Joal Ryan
Yahoo TV
Ziggy gets into the holiday spirit in the Emmy-winning <i>Ziggy’s Gift</i> (Image: ABC)
Ziggy gets into the holiday spirit in the Emmy-winning Ziggy’s Gift (Image: ABC)

When it comes to holiday TV, the forsaken inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys are doing just fine. They’re beloved, quoted, and widely watched year after year. It’s Ziggy, Yakko, and Tina Sinatra who could use some pub. As you prepare for the seasonal onslaught of Yuletide treats, here’s Yahoo Entertainment’s quick guide to the ghosts of Christmas past, those specials that are indeed special, but sadly overlooked.

The lost stop-motion-animation classic

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“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” Community

After you catch the 53rd consecutive broadcast-TV airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, look for Community’s wholly committed second-season homage to the world of Rankin/Bass. The cult comedy’s 2010 episode riffed on Rudolph, created its own “Animagic” (not to mention songs), and won a Primetime Emmy.  (Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube)

Watch the opening:

The lost Charlie Brown classic

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

A Charlie Brown Christmas is an impossible act to follow. And so although this 2002 animated anthology, featuring the final screenplay from Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who died in 2000, routinely airs on broadcast TV, as it will Nov. 30 on ABC, it’ll serve as the unbilled, time-slot-filling undercard to its esteemed 1965 predecessor. Give yourself a treat: Check out Christmas Tales‘ five stories in their combined 18-minute-long, uninterrupted entirety. The show stands on its own two ice skates. (iTunes, Amazon) 

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The lost Muppet classic

A Muppet Family Christmas

It’s safe to say the 1992 theatrically released A Muppet Christmas Carol is the go-to Yuletide offering for most Muppet fans, save Lady Gaga diehards, in that it’s well-regarded — and, no small thing, widely available. By contrast, 1987’s A Muppet Family Christmas, isn’t available on streaming, isn’t scheduled to air on any of the major networks, and is out of print on home video. But it’s worth seeking out. It features sunny show tunes, a persistent icy patch, and what feels like a rare mashup of Muppet Show and Sesame Street characters. Putting a bow on it: Muppets creator Jim Henson, who would die in 1990, and who handled vocals for Kermit the Frog, Ernie, et al., appears on camera at the close.

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Bonus for Muppet enthusiasts: 1979’s Emmy-nominated John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together is another candidate for a lost Muppet classic. While the special has fallen out of television’s holiday rotation, its soundtrack is impossible to miss.

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The lost crazy-town classic

B.C.: A Special Christmas

The Star Wars Holiday Special, starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Bea Arthur, is notoriously bananas. For fans of the truly obscure holiday weird, we present this 1981 animated special, based on the prehistoric comic strip B.C. It’s about a pair of scam-artist cavemen who invent the “myth” and “legend of Xmas.” Since it originally aired on HBO, it also features cleavage and saxophone music. Today the show would be used as Exhibit A in the War on Christmas. Back in the day, it was just another anachronistic Yuletide tale, a companion to every Christmas story ever to feature Fred Flintstone. B.C.: A Special Christmas distinguishes itself with sharp writing and voice-actor work by the comedy-team legend of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.

Watch via YouTube:

The lost variety-show classic

The Dean Martin Christmas Show (1967)

In truth, there’s no reigning Christmas variety-show classic; there’s no single special we collectively and ritualistically watch each year. Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas from 1977 probably comes the closest in that young, old-ish, and old audiences have sampled it thanks to the Crosby-David Bowie duet of “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” now a Christmas standard.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is no shortage of thoroughly lost-in-time Christmas variety specials. One that was a joy to unearth, thanks to YouTube, was 1967’s The Dean Martin Christmas Show (not to be confused with the same-titled home-video release, which features the 1968 special). The 1967 show teams its host with Frank Sinatra, and both singers’ respective families, minus Sinatra’s then-wife, Mia Farrow. (Now there’s an oh-what-might-have-been.) It’s smoky, chummy, and occasionally bracing — i.e., you don’t just watch the 20-something Frank Sinatra Jr. and Dean Paul Martin (billed as Dean Martin Jr.) sing a song about their fathers; you know in hindsight that neither went on to live as long as their fathers. While it’d be easy to call the show a Rat Pack time capsule (there’s even a cameo from Sammy Davis Jr.), it’s more like family home movies, filled with all the cringeworthy, bittersweet moments those films can evoke.

Watch via YouTube:

The lost “A Visit From St. Nicholas”-inspired tale

“Christmas Day Before,” Animaniacs

The 1974 animated Rankin/Bass special ’Twas the Night Before Christmas is a favorite, mouse-ified take on the classic Clement Moore poem. The Season 1 Animaniacs tale is a fun, fast, Yakko-, Wakko-, and Dot-ified version told in rhyming verse, punctuated by cartoon mayhem and featuring cameos by Pinky and the Brain. The only problem here is many early Animaniac episodes are not currently streaming.

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The just plain lost classic

Ziggy’s Gift

Just about everybody has a favorite obscure Christmas special that they take misplaced credit for discovering. This gentle, quiet show is ours. To cross-reference our holiday specials, Ziggy’s Gift is one sincere pumpkin patch.

Until we started hunting for “lost” TV Christmas treasures, we’d never seen much less heard of this 1982 tale — a Primetime Emmy winner, no less, for Outstanding Animated Program. Now we can’t shake its sublime Harry Nilsson contribution, “Give, Love, Joy,” or stop feeling bad that we’d forever written off Ziggy as lame. Turns out Ziggy’s really just a kindhearted guy who says a lot when he doesn’t say anything at all.

Sniff-snuffle-sob is the new ho-ho-ho, right?

Watch via YouTube:


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