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Christmas on TV in 1989
by Billy Ingram

Thirty years ago at Christmastime in the United States this is what you would have channel surfed through. It was a simpler time, an era of stone washed jeans, teased up hair, electronic music and puffy shirts.

This sampling of commercials from the ’89 holiday season is a clear example of just how much society has changed over the last 30 years. And yet it all seemed so complicated back then. Computers were arriving in the workplace in greater numbers (no matter the profession), carphones were becoming reasonably affordable, easy credit and a prosperous economy led many to believe the good times would never end.


The handheld Game Boy was introduced in August 1989 so naturally that was the hottest item of the holiday season, along with the Sega Genesis 16-bit video game console.


"Turtle power!" Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Pony were popular cartoon series that spawned an endless array of branded merchandise from skateboards to breakfast cereal to video games.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" aka "The Simpsons Christmas Special", was the very first broadcast episode of The Simpsons television series and it was a massive hit, both ratings-wise and critically. No one had ever seen anything like it; it’s no exaggeration to say TV would never be the same. The half-hour aired on FOX on Sunday night December 17, 1989. (The only full-length episode to air during the 1980s.) These are the commercial breaks that ran during that very night:

Matt Groening on Late Night with David Letterman on December 12th to promote that first episode of The Simpsons.

On December 18th, the I Love Lucy Christmas episode from 1956 was broadcast on CBS for the first time in over 30 years. That black and white show was colorized for the occasion - which I normally don’t care for but if it brings great classic comedy back to primetime…


Johnny Carson comedy segment on Fruitcakes on the Tonight Show on December 28th. Written by Bob Dolan Smith, and starring Chip Clarke as "The Inspector."


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Christmas on TV - 1989

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Also notable during Christmastime in 1989:

The Top TV shows: The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Cheers, A Different World, Golden Girls, Wonder Years, Empty Nest, Unsolved Mysteries, and Who’s the Boss.

Vice President Dan Quayle sent out 30,000 holiday cards in 1989 with a typo - beacon was misspelled beakon.

By Christmas morning, over 15 inches of snow had fallen in Wilmington, quite rare for eastern North Carolina. Meanwhile it was -42°F in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, -47°F in Hardin, Montana and a bone chilling -60°F in Black Hills, South Dakota.

It was Jane Pauley’s last week on NBC’s Today.

Baseball player / manager Billy Martin passed away Christmas Day.


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