Friday, November 26, 2021

Interview with Joanna Wilson of 'Tis the Season TV

Joanna Wilson is a Christmas visual media junkie, a renowned expert nonpareil of movies and television programming related completely or tangentially to Christmas (with some Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure).

Joanna has:
  • written Tis the Season TV, a 770 page encyclopedia of Christmas episodes, specials, made-for-TV movies, and the classic films that we see replayed every year.
  • written Merry Musical Christmas (Volume One), discussing the musical highlights of many  Christmas episodes of favorite television programs
  • written The Christmas TV Companion: a Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials, and Outrageous Oddities
  • Watched "A Christmas Story" for 24 hours straight (twelve viewings), and described the experience in her book The Triple Dog Dare (which Der Bingle highly recommends)
  • had a dress made of Netflix mailing envelopes from all the Christmas DVDs she rented (Joanna must have her picture up in the Netflix offices)
  • established the Tis the Season TV and Christmas TV History Facebook pages
  • created the Christmas TV History website, which has in-depth discussions of Christmas-themed television episodes
  • and there's more!  Visit the 1701 Press website for a complete list.

Joanna Wilson

Joanna is a great friend to many of us in the Christmas interwebbery world, so she graciously agreed to spend some time and answer a few questions about her work, what's coming next, and Christmas topics in general.  I've gotta say - I love her job!

Merry & Bright Interview with Joanna Wilson

Merry & Bright: Hello Joanna, and Merry Christmas! Thank you for dropping in to Merry & Bright to chat!  Let’s jump right in and talk some Christmas TV. Tis the Season TV is your encyclopedia of Christmas television programs and films. It is giant, extensive, and sits on the endtable next to my chair throughout November and December every year. How did Tis the Season TV come about?

Joanna Wilson: I have a passion for the history of television and film, and I’ve always been a pop culture junkie. However, I also have a Bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, and a Master’s degree in Philosophy. After teaching college for several years, I knew I wanted to move into writing and research and that’s when I stumbled across Christmas entertainment. I quickly could see that there was a long, rich history of Christmas movies, specials and episodes that was largely overlooked by scholars and critics. I jumped right in!

MB: So, ballpark estimate, how many of the shows and movies in the book have you actually seen?

JW: I’ve been a TV and film historian for twenty years. I’ve been to archives across the country. I’ve seen almost everything that still exists at this point, although new Christmas programs are released each year and I spend months watching them.

MB: As you’re doing your research on Christmas programming, do you ever need to take a break from holiday shows and, say, binge watch “Schitt’$ Creek”?

JW: Yes—but even “Schitt’$ Creek” has a Christmas episode so then it becomes work again.

MB: You have a new edition in the works, right? What can we expect to see in the 2nd edition, and when are you expecting to publish it?

JW: The expanded and updated 2nd edition of Tis the Season TV is coming out in 2022. It has more than twice as many listings as the first one because Christmas on TV is growing each year, and because I’ve worked hard to expand and improve the older program listings too. The 2nd edition also contains more information on each listing. And, there are many appendices and an expanded index to make my research and the book’s content more accessible and user-friendly.

MB: What are a couple of your favorite TV programs that are less well-known? The Rankin-Bass Christmas shows are all great, but there are some real gems that few people know about.

JW: Whoa! Slow down. Most people don’t even know there are TWENTY Rankin/Bass Christmas and New Year’s programs, so there are hidden gems even inside Rankin/Bass’ catalog. However, your point is made. Stop motion animation fans should not overlook last year’s (2020) “Alien Xmas” on Netflix. Made by the Chiodo Brothers who are masters at animation (they also made the stop motion segments in 2003’s “Elf”), the story about an alien invasion at Christmas is adorable. In terms of imaginative storytelling, I don’t think the holiday episodes of the animated series “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” (2009’s “Low Tidings”) and “Chowder” (2008’s “Hey, Hey It’s Knishmas!”) get enough attention or appreciation. These holiday stories are bonkers, yet made for kids!

MB: If you could pick one Christmas TV show to have restored and made available, what would it be? For me, it would be the PBS presentation “Simple Gifts” (which I learned about from you).

JW: I think “Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory” from 1966 should have a restoration and official re-release. It’s such a heart-warming story, and beautifully written. Capote himself narrates the Depression-era tale, and Geraldine Page is fantastic as Cousin Sook. I don’t want it to be forgotten.

MB: Do you feel that ‘they made ‘em better in the old days’, or do you see new, great quality Christmas programming coming out every year?

JW: Both. I know TV creatives made high-quality stories and swingin’ Christmas variety specials in years past, and there are still fantastic new Christmas programs being created each year.

MB: Let’s talk ‘the Hallmark Effect’. Hallmark has created a new genre of Christmas television programming that now includes Lifetime and, to a degree, Netflix and other streaming/cable services. What do you think about the impact Hallmark movies has had on our holiday viewing habits?

JW: Let’s be clear, Hallmark didn’t create the romance TV movie genre, and they didn’t even make the first Christmas romance movie. The Hallmark Channel has perfected a formula for Christmas rom-coms that are so popular that other TV networks and streaming platforms imitate the formula. It has certainly given viewers an appetite for watching new holiday movies each year. This year alone, there are more than 150 new Christmas movies being released. Twenty years ago, in 2001, there were 17.

MB: “A Christmas Story” – you watched this absolute classic for 24 hours straight, simulating the broadcast by watching a recorded version in the Summertime twelve times in a row. What was the most surprising thing you learned about the movie after this marathon viewing?

JW: Being immersed in the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story,” I quickly discerned the difference between binge-watching a series (which we’ve all done) and marathoning a movie over and over. It takes much more mental stamina to endure the same story twelve times in a row than it does to watch a new episode in a series as the whole story progresses when we binge-watch. I also became convinced that “A Christmas Story” is far better written and more complex than I had given it credit for prior to watching the marathon. However, my book “Triple Dog dare” is about far more than the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.” It’s ultimately about the experience of watching Christmas movies and examining the appeal of holiday entertainment in general.

MB: Kurt Russell has starred as Santa Claus in two “Christmas Chronicles” movies produced for Netflix. In your opinion, where does Kurt rank in the pantheon of TV and movie Santas? Personally, I think he’s one of the best, though no one will ever top Edmund Gwynn.

JW: Yes—Kurt Russell is an impressive Santa Claus. He’s definitely the Santa with the best hair! I admire Russell for steering into the whole discussion of himself as Santa and Elvis Presley, by performing the song “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” within the first movie. Russell of course played Presley in the 1979 TV movie “Elvis” and that song was a hit for Presley in 1957.

MB: I've gotta ask - Fruitcake: Yes or No?

JW: Yes.

MB: Joanna, all of your work – your published books, your website, social media channels, even the Christmas music mixes you put together every year – just overflow with Christmas joy! I think maybe when I retire I’ll apply to be your research assistant 😊 Thank you so much for joining me for this interview. Have a very Merry Christmas 2021!

You’re hired!

Joanna and the DVD Dress

All the links...

1701 Press website - Order all the books here!

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