This week's look back to television treasures of yore goes beyond Throwback Thursday. It's Throwback Thanksgiving!
While we usually focus on unearthing memorable (for better and for worse) TV promos, an exception needed to be made for Throwback Thanksgiving. Because how could we not include this incredible Thanksgiving ad from 2001, featuring Robert De Niro dressed as a pilgrim and Billy Crystal as a turkey?
The Barry Levinson-directed ad was part of BBDO's pro-bono "New York Miracle" campaign to entice visitors back to New York City for the holidays, in the uncertain aftermath of 9/11.
It's a perfect use of that unlikely comedy duo, and far funnier than anything they did a year later in Analyze That, De Niro and Crystal's dud sequel to Analyze This.
The spot showcases De Niro right before he entered the unfortunate "I'll do anything for a big paycheck!" phase of his career, including an inspired send-up of his Taxi Driver character, Travis Bickle: "You want me to be the turkey? You want me to be the turkey?" It even includes a kicker from Rudy Giuliani back when he was still universally adored!
Now, back to our regularly scheduled Thanksgiving promos. For starters, here's how NBC promoted its Thanksgiving Day lineup in 1977, including that year's Thankgiving Day Parade (hosted by Ed McMahon) and an NFL faceoff between the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Cardinals:
Out of all the music options they had, why choose the same awful arrangement we're forced to endure when someone puts us on hold? And could they really think of nothing else of interest to say in that promo, other than listing the individual start times for Eastern, Central and Mountain time zones?
A decade later, NBC had upped its Thanksgiving promo game. This ran in 1987, touting the Friday night portion of its "Thanksgiving Comedy Weekend": Walt Disney World's Celebrity Circus (featuring Lisa Bonet, Malcolm Jamal Warner and Jim "Ernest" Varney) Followed by an airing of Police Academy ("Call them slobs, call them jerks…just don't call them when you have trouble!").
Wait, what the heck is Jay Leno's Family Comedy Hour, which that promo aired during? Twenty-two years before The Jay Leno Show, NBC programmed this special on Nov. 25, 1987, the night before Thanksgiving. It put Leno in a variety of comedy sketches, including "Robopop" (with LA Law's Susan Ruttan as Leno's wife). Here's the promo, featuring more mugging than should be legally allowed in 20 seconds:
"You'll crack up with Jay Leno the family man!" seems more like a threat than an enticement. The program's other guests included Bea Arthur (who really should have avoided holiday-themed variety specials entirely after the Star Wars Holiday Special), Corbin Bernsen and Barbara Billingsley.
But the networks have scheduled even more bizarre Thanksgiving fare than that over the years. In 1980, CBS aired Thanksgiving in the Land of Oz, which it paired with perennial favorite A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Judging by this promo, it's safe to say that we're not in Kansas—or in anything resembling a project worthy of the 1939 classic film—any more:
For starters, Dorothy and Toto's "exciting new adventure" apparently involves meeting creepy, crudely drawn characters, one of whom looks like a ticked-off Dumbledore. The premise of that special, which featured voicework by Sid Caesar, was this: Dorothy is carried back to Oz by a green turkey balloon. Which is really all you need to know. "Two special Thanksgiving treats"? Sorry, CBS, you're only half right.
And for our final helping of Thanksgiving leftovers, let's go back to 1997, when CBS was airing a Saturday morning kids series starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, called (you'll never guess!) The Weird Al Show. The program only lasted 13 weeks, as Yankovic butted heads with the network, which kept pushing him to channel his adult-oriented humor into something kid-appropriate. That tug-of-war seems evident from this Thanksgiving promo, where by the end even Yankovic seems confused about what his proper tone should be:
Happy Thanksgiving, and watch out for green turkey balloons!