Monday, December 14, 2020

This Day in TV History: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town premieres (we think)

50 years ago today, the beloved Rankin-Bass classic Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town premiered on ABC. At least that's what you see if you Google the special or look it up on Wikipedia, IMDB, or

That seems pretty solid. Yet if you look at the TV listings for December 14, 1970, on Ultimate and TV Tango, you see ABC as showing The Young Lawyers at 7:00, Silent Force at 8:30, and Monday Night Football at 9:00. Each site lists Sunday, December 13, as the airdate of Santa.

Animation/record expert Greg Ehrbar, who recorded a commentary track for a home video release of the special, writes this in a piece on Cartoon Research:

The first broadcast was on Monday, December 14th, 1970, pre-empting the short-lived drama The Young Lawyers. It competition was the fading Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and the long-running Gunsmoke on CBS. One of its sponsors was Parker Brothers.

That settles that, right? The TV listings sites must be wrong, right?

Well, maybe it's not so simple. I write that because I checked two local newspaper TV listings for Sunday, December 13, 1970, and each listed Santa as premiere that night.

What is going on here? I e-mailed the pre-eminent Rankin-Bass historian, Rick Goldschmidt (author of acclaimed books on the studio and its output; his website is here). He was gracious enough to give me a quick response, saying that he always heard December 14 and that he researched it back in the Nineties, likely getting the date from original press materials, and enver heard December 13.. He pointed out that TV was very different back in 1970, and that's absolutely true. For one thing, note that the networks still had the 7:00 hour for themselves!

Rick suggests that maybe some markets did air it a day earlier, and that seems to be the case, but it's still a bit of a mystery to me. I joked yesterday in the top 10 post that the Mickster's performance was too big for just one night!

To 2020 eyes, a Sunday night premiere makes more sense than a lead-in to Monday Night Football, but the "official" date is obviously December 14.  So with that in mind, happy 50th, Santa Claus! And happy 50th to that episode of Silent Force!

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