We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1977’s “Christmas” from Lou Grant.
Lou Grant, of course, is one of the most unusual TV spinoffs in the history of the medium, where Mary Richards’ (Mary Tyler Moore) boss at a Minnesota TV station on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), moved to Los Angeles to become the City News Editor at a Los Angeles newspaper, but more importantly, Grant went from being a sitcom character to a drama character, as Lou Grant was a hard-hitting TV drama that addressed all sorts of topical issues of the era.
Lou Grant was an excellent TV show, and its first (and only) Christmas episode was a good TV episode, to be sure, but I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of a stretch when it comes to being festive, ya know?
The three major plots of the episode are as follows:
1. Reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) does a spotlight on a poor family living out of their car at Christmastime. People begin sending in letters of support, along with money for the family. Billie and Lou, though, are shocked that the family seems to be blowing the money on frivolous purchases. Still, the managing editor Charles Hume (Mason Adams) wants to promote the story, until the paper’s owner, Margaret Jones Pynchon (Nancy Marchand), reveals that the family has been pulling this same routine all across the country, getting newspapers to write about them, collecting donations, then moving to their next city to try it all over again (pre-internet media in a nutshell, huh?). Lou doesn’t tell Billie, since he knows how happy the story’s success has made her.
2. Lou’s other top reporter, Joe Rossi (Robert Walden), is in trouble with Lou for publishing something that was put “off the record.” So Lou assigns him a boring story about a state DMV executive celebrating his 25th anniversary on the job. However, Rossi discovers that the man is a bigamist (he travels constantly between Sacramento and Los Angeles, and so he has developed a family in both cities). In the end, Rossi decides NOT to blow up this man’s life for the sake of a story, and instead celebrates Christmas with his co-workers (while filing a boring story that Lou naturally buries).
3. Lou misses Minnesota, and the other co-workers agree to throw an office Christmas party for Lou’s sake.
I just don’t think I get “Let a guy continue to have two wives who don’t know about each other” is this great character turning point for Rossi, ya know? I don’t mind some cynicism in Christmas stories, but there was probably a bit too much in this one to have it ranked higher, even though otherwise it was an impeccably well written and well acted episode of a great series.
The episode is currently on YouTube, if you want to give it a watch…