Nearsighted Editing


NBC ran Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol in prime-time the other night — a fiftieth (!) anniversary airing. A number of folks have written to me in outrage over the editing done to it which included lopping off the opening number and much of the closing one.

Or so I'm told. I didn't watch. I have the show on DVD and couldn't think of any reason to tune it in on NBC and watch with commercial interruption. Yes, the show was pretty much constructed to play with commercial interruptions with clearly-indicated act breaks…but it wasn't intended to have that many commercials in it.

When it first aired on December 18, 1962, it was in an hour slot and the actual program elements (animation, titles, credits) ran 52 minutes. Oddly enough, I occasionally hear from someone who swears it was at one point ninety minutes long and sometimes they even remember specific scenes and songs that were cut. They're misremembering.

A few years ago, a correspondent hectored me for some time with his insistence that it was an hour and a half. I finally pointed him to eBay where a TV Guide was up for auction for that week in 1962. I wrote to him, "Buy it and send me a scan of the page which shows it was in a ninety-minute slot and I'll admit you're right and tell the world!" He bought it and wrote to me to say, uh, well maybe it was an hour when it was first run but they must have added more material to it for later broadcasts. Nope.

These days, the program content of a network prime-time hour can dip as low as 44 minutes and that's with the end-credits compressed down to a few nano-seconds. So the minute it was decided that Magoo would have an hour, a lot had to come out. Simple fact of life…and maybe a good reason not to air it in network prime-time if you're only going to give it an hour.

What they might have done was to put it into a ninety-minute slot, let it run in full and then pad out the end of the slot with something else. Some folks are suggesting today they should have done that and filled with a little "making of" documentary as has been done when A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas had the same problem. The catch here is that I don't think NBC ran Magoo because they thought this was a timeless Christmas classic that the world loves and is dying to see again. I suspect they ran it because it was a cheap way to fill up an hour and no one was interested in spending any money on it.

Fortunately, the full version is not hard to come by. Maybe this new airing will spark some folks who were previously unfamiliar with this great special to seek it out. Or maybe it'll leave them wondering, "What was so great about that?" and cause them not to. Oh, well. At least they didn't just lop off the ending and leave it so Scrooge didn't change.

They didn't, right?