Saturday, December 12, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: Interview with Joanna Wilson, author of The Christmas TV Companion!

Thanks for taking the time to chat about your book, The Christmas TV Companion. What gave you the idea to write an entire book on weird Christmas specials?

Actually, "The Christmas TV Companion" is drawn from a much larger project: an encyclopedia of all things Christmas on TV. So I've been researching and compiling information and summaries on every Christmas-themed TV episode, special and made-for-TV movie for several years now. After watching literally thousands of programs, most of which are very traditional and follow the same basic formulas and themes, some of them really stood out as unusual, non-traditional and some are downright bizarre. Of course, these stand-out programs are the ones that are easy to remember. And, I decided to gather these more provocative listings together for this smaller book before the eventual release of the encyclopedia. I'm excited to finally have a public forum to discuss the broad range of Christmas material that is produced. Most people have no idea that there is so much weird Christmas stuff out there. I love being the spokesperson for weird Christmas programming on TV.

How on God's green earth did you find them all?

Yeah, that's the fun of a big research project like this. Sometimes it's like a treasure hunt! I use every available source at my disposal: public libraries, video rental stores, Netflix,, YouTube, Goodwill and thrift stores, and every once in a while I'll actually buy something I can't access from another source. But mostly--I watch TV. I comb through TV networks online TV schedules and I watch what airs--which is ALOT. (Christmas episodes are broadcast year-round as reruns!) And it's cheaper. I also make sure I always have a functioning VHS player because there are some older programs that are still easier to find on VHS than in digital formats. But that's one of the things about Christmas materials-- people are nostalgic and sentimental about programs from their past. There is a steady stream of re-releases of older programs every year. Accessibility is always changing.

What were your favorite specials as a kid?

A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Rankin/Bass 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' and 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. My big sister and I were obsessed with the made-for-TV movies 'The House Without a Christmas Tree' and 'The Homecoming'--the movie that led to the long-running TV series "The Waltons." I'm not exactly sure why we were obsessed with these two particular movies except to say that the early 1970s weren't over-saturated with Christmas movies. And both feature storylines with young girls like ourselves.

Your books seperated into sections--macabre, sci-fi, variety, animation, etc--what were your favorites to write about?

What's great is that this whole book is sort of a collection of my favorites! But of course there are some that...shall I say...have marked me? I loved having an excuse to write about the holiday episodes of 'Squidbillies,' 'Superjail!' and 'Tom Goes to the Mayor.' I keep vowing I'm going to make myself a "Rats Off to Ya!" t-shirt (from 'Tom Goes to the Mayor'). I loved writing about "The Hard Nut," the most unique production of 'The Nutcracker' I've ever seen. The Christmas special by the British series 'The League of Gentlemen' blew my mind when I first saw it. How often does one get a professional opportunity to write about John Waters' film "Female Trouble?" That movie is so much fun! But the book represents something I'm really passionate about so they were all my favorites when I was writing about them.

How long did the research for the Companion take?

I started my research and began compiling information on Christmas-themed materials in 2002. So I've been at this for a long time. Once I had the idea for 'The Christmas TV Companion,' it came together quite quickly because I was able to extract material for the book from my own database. I already had the research categorized by genre and theme. So it was simply a matter of selecting the best weird and memorable stuff.

Anything else in the works?

I'm VERY BUSY trying to keep up with watching and summarizing all the 2009 holiday material that's airing on TV right now. The goal is to have the encyclopedia ready for release for Christmas 2010.

Sell your book over twitter--140 characters or less!

The Christmas TV Companion is the freaky fun star on the tree of your holiday viewing for 2009!

Your trapped on a dessert island with ONE book, ONE tv show and ONE movie--what are they?

Regular answer: BOOK: a cookbook with 1001 ways to prepare coconuts, TV SHOW: The Rockford Files, (I was in the James Garner Fan Club when I was 11 years old!) MOVIE: Raising Arizona

Christmas Answer: BOOK: 'A Family Christmas' by Caroline Kennedy--it's a collection of classic holiday essays, many of which have provided inspiration for Christmas TV episodes, movies, and specials. TV SHOW: The Addams Family--I love the Christmas episode. MOVIE: This is tough! If I was told that there was one Christmas movie that I could never watch again--not being able to see 'Christmas in Connecticut' with Barbara Stanwyck would make me the saddest. So perhaps that's my favorite. In years past, when I didn't see it at Christmas time--it just didn't feel like Christmas.


Thanks to Joanna for the interview, and you can order the Christmas TV Companion on Amazon, Book Depository and other online retailers.


Alexia561 said...

Enjoyed your interview! Especially Joanna's answer for which book she would take with her to a desert island. Too funny, yet practical as well. :)

Louise said...

I saw The Addams Family last year and loved it! Lane and Neuwirth were fantastic as well as Krysta Rodriguez. The story line and music were very entertaining and tickets weren't cheap, i got them from ...hopefully they do make it on Broadway again.
It’s one of my favourite shows; I would see it again in a heartbeat!

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