a very special christmas special: Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa (or: Who Killed Mindy Cohn?)

30 Nov

I did this last year and people seemed to like it, so I’m doing it again.  For the next month or so, I’ll be reviewing Christmas specials of days gone by, including some Very Special Christmas Episodes and Christmas movies.  If you have any suggestions of beloved holiday classics you want to see me eviscerate lovingly scold, please feel free to leave them in the comments.


We’ll start off this festive season by getting obscure.  Real obscure.  So obscure, in fact, that even I have no memories of this special, and I’m a guy who remembers Hi, Honey, I’m Home.

Back in the 80s, NBC had a serious TV line up.  It had Cosby.  It had Cheers.  It had LA Law and Silver Spoons.  It had Knight Rider.  And oh did it ever like to strut its stuff (peacock-like, of course) by presenting its galaxy of stars in a series of Special Presentations.

Yes.  Let’s all be there.  NBC was the cock of the walk in those days.  Strut strut strut.  Case in point: Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa. Oh yes, we’re very obscure today, folks.

I don’t think this is the complete special.  If anyone has it, or has access to it, then God yes I want to see it.  Especially if there’s more crazy shenanigans from the NBC kids.   Oh, those crazy NBC kids.  Always getting into trouble with their DUIs and breast reductions and such.

This is, of course, before all that.  This is from 1985,  a simpler time, a time when you could play on the audiences nostalgia of an even simpler time by dragging out friendly Andy Williams and his friendly sweaters and having him sing to a gaggle of adorable anklebiters.  Especially if the adorable anklebiters are, in this case, highly paid tele-brats.

Witness the magic for yourself below the cut.

(Thanks to xosweetcharityxo for this.)

Andy Williams, you see, has decided that he and his friends are going in search of Santa Claus.  Because they’re so young, they all have to ask permission first.  Even though they’re supposed to be appearing as themselves here, they still need to ask authority figures from their respective NBC Primetime shows.   awnbckids4That’s why Claire Huxtable is in this, and Phylicia Rashad gets to show us what a decent singer she is.  Surprisingly, Henry Watermont isn’t bad either.  And, of course they all think it’s a wonderful idea to let these kids go off with a strange man to a cold and barren land in search of a man they can’t find – these ain’t their real kids.  Heck, they’ve been trying to get rid of the spoiled little divas for ages so they can go do some real acting in the National Tour of Raisin In The Sun, or with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Or at least Police Academy.

Oh God, they have to mention the name of their shows in the songs don’t they?  “I’ll miss these Silver Spoooooons…”  Okay, Alfonso.

(They also had Andy Williams and the NBC Kids: Easter in Rome.  I kid you not.  Granted, some of you are saying well isn’t that lovely and how come you can’t show religion on TV any more and the liberals stole Christmas, etc.  I feel the need to remind you that, even among those who celebrate Easter in the US, only 17% of them would find Rome an appropriate place to spend it.  I’d hazard a guess that maybe half of them might enjoy the idea of Andy Williams merrily skipping through the Vatican with Tina Yothers.   This leaves us with a show that only 8.5% of the population of the US is going to be at all interested in.  Still, that’s a pretty significant number of people, and really, what else were you gonna watch that night?  Hooperman? This was the ’80s, a simpler time when people gathered around the television with their families and their
microwave popcorn and their Tab, when men were real men, Russkies were real Russkies and short black kids were hilarious.)


This special was just right for watching with your microwave popcorn and your Swiss Miss while Mom fluffed her shoulder pads by the fire.  It featured all your friends from NBC.  There’s the Cosby kids, of course, and the cast of Punky Brewster (it was 1985, and if you didn’t watch Punky Brewster, they sent you to a relocation facility for the hopelessly un-American.  It was in North Dakota and you weren’t allowed to wear socks), plus Joey and Matthew Lawrence straight from the death throes of Gimme A Break, Alfonso Ribero from Silver Spoons, and Mindy Cohn from The Facts of Life.

Except… Mindy Cohn disappears after the first scene.

As I told you before, we don’t have the whole special here.  I’m wondering if we’re missing a scene where, on the way to the North Pole, the plane crashes and our intrepid team is forced to cannibalize one of their number to survive.  Now, not to be disrespectful to Ms. Cohn, who is a good comedic actress and managed to find interesting things to do with her Facts of Life character for years, and who  managed to score a role on a hit TV series despite not having The Right Prescribed Figure for such things…  but honestly, if your plane went down and – NO ANDY THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY YOU CAN WRITE THIS PARAGRAPH WITHOUT COMING ACROSS AS GROSS AND DEMEANING.

Yeah, but seriously, who else?  Keisha Knight-Pullham?  Like she’ll feed a party of thirteen REALLY, DUDE I’M SERIOUS, DON’T GO THERE.

Fine.  Whatever.  All I know is, one minute, Natalie from Facts of Life is there, telling Alfonso to “stick with her”, and the next minute, she ain’t.  At some point, everyone gets on a plane, and they make the hazardous trek from California to Finland.  You cross a lot of frozen tundra.  I’m just saying, from a purely survivalist standpoint SEE, THIS IS WHAT GETS ME.  EVERY TIME YOU TALK ABOUT CHRISTMAS SPECIALS, YOU GOTTA DRAG CANNIBALISM INTO IT SOMEHOW.  YOU DID IT WITH THE MUPPET FAMILY CHRISTMAS, AND NOW YOU’RE DOING IT WITH THIS.    PLUS, IT’S NOT COOL TO TALK ABOUT MINDY COHN THAT WAY.

Sigh.  All right.  Fine.  How about this: they also cut out the scene where they pick up George Wendt in Boston, and then the plane goes down and they have to eat him, and Mindy Cohn feels so guilty about it, she throws herself off of an ice berg.  There.  Happy?


Very well then.  Apparently, Santa Claus lives in Finland.  No explanation for that, but we’re off to Finland.   Once we get there, the older kids don’t believe in Santa Claus, and Andy Williams has to set them straight.

Here’s Mr. Williams singing about his beautiful package of love.  Yep.  Simpler times, kids.  What concerns me is that the song is called “Love Is What You’re Getting For Christmas.”  I mean, my God, Andy Williams has like billions of dollars, folks.  The least he could get for the kids is a savings bond.

I always wondered if the girl who played Margaux on Punky Brewster was really a heinous bitch, and whether she screamed at little Joey Lawrence for always messing up his dance moves, Stewie and Olivia style


Then we cut to some function hall, for some reason, where all the kids are singing and dancing to a “funky” version of “Jingle Bells.”  I’m sure we’re supposed to find this adorable, but Matthew Lawrence can’t dance.  There.  I said it.  I know he’s like five years old, but he’s a professional and I never got to be on TV when I was a kid and I could totally dance better than him.  Now I’m a meth fiend.  Thanks, NBC.

Alfonso Ribero, however…. well, look, he’s a young black actor on a white people network like NBC.  Of course he can dance.  Of course he can tap dance.  Of course he teaches the Finnish a thing or two about “being a funky soul brother.”   Race relations in the 80s weren’t so much strained as they were kind of adorably crooked.

This is why Saul Williams wrote “Black Stacy,” you realize.  This.  This shit, right here.

Aaaand there’s a song about “ooh we’re going to meet Santa Claus, it’s really going to happen and oh my God it will be the best thing this network has shown since we cancelled Diff’rent Strokes,” and just as we’re about to meet Santa Claus…. this portion of the video ends.


I honestly don’t know.   There is, like, NO information about this special anywhere on the internet, which is surprising, because if there’s one thing the internet’s good for, it’s obscure pop culture crap from the ’80s.  They’ve got Popples and Wuzzles a plenty.  They’ve got Chewalls and Jellies galore.  You want Pogo-Balls?  They’ve got twenty.   But nothing about Andy Williams and the NBC Kids.   Not even X-Entertainment remembers this one.

Therefore, it’s pretty hard to pass judgment on this thing.  If it’s really as flimsy a conceit as it seems, then NBC must really have been feeling pretty cocky.  They were so sure of themselves and of their hot young stars back then, they used to have the kids film bits in between cartoons on Saturday morning.  Perhaps you remember the shiny bold days of One To Grow On?

It was assumed that, at least among little kids, Soleil Moon-Frye wasn’t just a talented kid actress, she was also an authority on not talking to strangers.  And it probably worked.  So, of course NBC would expect us to sit through any old crap so long as it featured Punky and her pals, and the Cosby kids, and everyone else.  NBC wanted to be more than a TV network, they wanted to be part of your family, and we the viewer would naturally put up with this cheeseball Christmas nonsense in the same way that we’d put up with our kid’s 3rd grade Nativity play.

So here’s Andy singing us something sweet about…. believing and kids and… I haven’t the faintest idea.    And that’s the end of the show, apparently.  It’s not like my life won’t be complete until I see Allan and Cherie sassing Theo about messing around with the words to Silent Night or whatever, but I still sort of want to find out what happens next, at least so I can sleep well knowing that Mindy Cohn is okay.

(Note: apparently, she got sick after filming the first scene and couldn’t participate in the rest of the special, so, yes, she’s fine.  Ya gotta love how NBC thought we wouldn’t notice, though.  “Meh,” said Brandon Tartikoff   “It’s Natalie.  I mean…. Facts of Life…  is that show still even on?” )



19 responses to “a very special christmas special: Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa (or: Who Killed Mindy Cohn?)

  1. butthorn

    November 30, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I would pay an appalling amount of money for a copy, however grainy, of that Andy Williams special. We’re goin’ on a search! For Santa Claus! Can we go? We’re beggin’ on our kneeeeees! It’s more fun than an ocean cruise!

    Joey Lawrence: Iiiiiiiiiii’m ready! To make this trip!

    Matthew Lawrence: But there’s one thing you gotta take.

    Joey Lawrence: And what is THAT?

    Matthew Lawrence: You gotta take me!

    Joey Lawrence: Matt, gimme a break!

    My brother and I discuss this special constantly, and we used to have in on tape. Watched it endlessly for some reason. I know all the facts of life, so you just stick! With! Min! Dy! Cooooooohn!

    Man, I like you so much more now that you did this blog! I gotta find that tape. We probably taped over it with “Hey Vern It’s Ernest” or something similarly upsetting.

  2. geekusa

    December 1, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Seriously, guy, if you find it, send it to me and I’ll send you Rosenshontz.

  3. Bill D.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I knew this entry would bring Jer running.

    I remember seeing this when it aired, or part of it anyway. I preferred watching the older Andy Williams Christmas specials from the 60s and 70s when they showed up on Nick at Nite, though, the ones with his hot French then-wife (Claudine Longet, the one who later went on to “accidentally” shoot that skier).

  4. Carrie

    December 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    I saw this when it aired, i was 3 at the time. My mom taped it that year. And i had watched it ever winter since then until 2 years ago. And that first Christmas i didn’t have the tape anymore because i lost everything i owned when my apartment burned down i was very upset. I would pay to get a copy of this! Even better it it has the commercials. Part of what i liked watching about it over and over was seeing the old commercials. Though i really like the cheesy story too. Most of my friends are relived that i cant force them to watch this with me anymore actually.

  5. butthorn

    December 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Sounds like you need some new friends!

  6. Stephanie

    December 22, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I had been searching for any information regarding this vague memory I had of the Cosby kids getting ready to go search for Santa in an old special. It was painful to find NO evidence of it at all on the internet in the last half dozen years when every December I’d go looking for proof I wasn’t crazy so I could hear them sing about searching for Santa. I, too, would love to have the internet community pull together and find a complete copy of it somewhere…

  7. Jason Barrett

    May 13, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Has anyone found a copy yet? I would pay good money for this, i have been searching for this for years. I even contacted NBC studios who said they did not have it (hard to believe) My sister and i used to watch this all the time as kids, and it would make the greatest present for her. Please someone post back if they have located a copy.

  8. Liz

    November 6, 2009 at 9:56 am

    If anyone finds a copy, please let me know!! I’ll pay whatever for it!! I Have been looking for it forever!

  9. Kate

    February 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    If you can believe this…I HAVE A COPY!! VHS, taped straight off the tv, it is my favorite xmas special. I could recite it verbatum. I think it even has commercials.

    • James A Isaac

      June 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

      I would love to have a copy and I would like to know what it costs.My dad always loved Andy Williams and we were introduced
      to his brand of music from a very young age.He has since passed away in 1981.I watched the NBC-In search of Santa Claus and felled in loved with it.It is mu only wish that I would one day secure a copy of this tape in DVD of in its original form.If u have a copy please reply as soon as possible.I am now 50 years of age but a day never goes by that
      I will always have that program dear to my heart,Amen

  10. Kate

    February 10, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I’ve got a copy. VHS, taped straight off the tv. Best Special Ever.

  11. Kate

    February 10, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    oops, i thought the first comment didn’t post. sorry.

  12. Dana D

    August 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Best. Special. Ever.

    The most hilarious thing . . . I was thinking about this special . . . yes randomly 20-something years later on a hot August night . . . and when you google it . . . this is the only website that comes up!!!

    Love the synopsis . . . so on point about Mindy . . . as a child that totally confused me. I was waiting the whole episode for her to magically appear . . .

    And PS- I can so recite lines too. and YES the commercials were the best- old school McDonalds and Hallmark ones- SUCH TEAR JERKERS!

    I just tried to You Tube it . . . but then got sucked into Punky Brewster clips. I have to go through boxes . . . I know I still have this OLD decrepit VHS copy somewhere.

  13. Amy Plasse

    December 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I have an old copy from a vhs tape that my mom transfered to dvd with the old commercials and all. It was my sisters and my favorite holiday special for years. I’m surprised she could transfer anything from it. I wish NBC would pull it out of their vault and put it on DVD as it was on TV. Even the commercials back then were better than today. I miss the pre-disney star mania! Those were the good days of christmas specials…they don’t have those anymore, not like this one was!

  14. someone

    February 7, 2011 at 9:00 am

    just wanted to mention that i have a full copy and put up a bunch of screenshots from it on my blog.
    (this special will NOT be uploaded to youtube btw)

    just to give a decent summary:

    Andy invites the kids and a few adults from a bunch of NBC shows to finland to help him with an issue with santa clause, one of his previous family members had an issue with him and santa mentioned that he could only be forgiven if a relative came to him (santa) and brought along 12 true believers.
    so when the kids arrive in finland, there are a bunch of musical numbers/dancing and some singing from a finnish choir with Andy, at the end they follow santa’s mailman and Andy gets to meet santa and santa forgives him and leaves , but not before everyone gets a bunch of presents…

    that’s pretty much it and runtime is an hour (48 min. without commercials)

  15. Jim S.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong… but in the Easter one, isn’t there a scene where Joey Lawrence gives Pope John Paul II (HIMSELF!) some sort of present, telling him that it’s from the kids in America…. jeez, I can barely remember it! I just remember the Pope being caught off guard, and kind of grunting “huh?” when Joey addresses him. I think there was probably a big crowd around…. I too would pay large sums of money to see that video if someone has it!

  16. keels

    November 25, 2011 at 9:50 am

    There was an EASTER one, too?! Insane… my sis & I used to watch this & I have been looking… we may still have it somewhere in storage at my mom’s house (if it didn’t get thrown out), but we missed the first five minutes or so…. but I have the end! They all get gifts except the “older kids” and then they sing a song when they realize that Santa is real- and then they get gifts for “the last true believers”. Touching…
    I think that this came at the perfect time when most people had recently gotten VCR’s and just taped everything out there… a few years earlier, not as many had VCR’s, and a few years later, we were over taping every “very special episode” that came down the line.
    Sis & I were talking at Thankgiving- having heard that Andy was recently diagnosed with some sort of cancer, and hoping that they may re-issue the special this year in support? Far fatched, I realize, but one can hope…


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