TNB Night Owl: The Paul Lynde Halloween Special

Publicity photo of American comedian and actor, Paul Lynde, circa 1974. Photo by Eve Light Honthaner.

This is all because Alien said, “Why don’t you do a Night Owl on one of the strange movies you’ve seen?” If this Night Owl causes you to go down a rabbit hole of disco sadness , blame him.

It’s true, I like to watch strange movies. Some good, some not so good, some I don’t even realize are strange until someone points it out to me. So when he said I should write about something “weird” it was too general. “You mean, weird like Liquid Sky?” I asked.

He said, “No, we like these people.” Instead he brought up something the night before I’d been glad to find streaming. “What about ‘The Paul Lynde Halloween Special‘?”

“Are you sure about that one? I mean, you have seen it before, right?” Turns out he hadn’t. This led to something he probably now wishes he’d never had to experience.

For those of you not around for (or paying much attention during) the 70s, Paul Lynde was a comedian and actor, most famous for his snarky turns at the Center Square in “Hollywood Squares.” The special aired on October 29th, 1976. That was the era of the holiday specials, where anyone with the slightest bit of fame could be given a show, loosely centered around a holiday. There’d be a few jokes, a hokey (but minimal) storyline, and few songs, a few dances, then soon forgotten. Only a handful of these holiday specials are remembered, and never for a good reason.

One would come two years later–“The Star Wars Holiday Special” (often mistakenly referred to as “The Star Wars Christmas Special” or “The Pain”). The two are often compared as some of the worst television offerings of the 70s. It’s sad, but it’s true.

On paper, the special looked like it would be fantastic–Lynde as a star, famed comedy writer Bruce Villanch co-writing. His co-stars were Margaret Hamilton (reprising her role as the Wicked Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ), Billie Hayes (revisiting her role as Witchiepoo from “H.R. Pufnstuf”) and Tim Conway (“The Carol Burnett Show), with cameos by Florence Henderson, Donnie and Marie Osmond, Betty White, Billy Barty, and the band KISS (trivia–this special marked their prime time debut, leading the way for KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK, more proof that TV execs did hard drugs in the 70s). Sounds like it SHOULD have been great, right?

What are the ways of the fail? Let me count those ways:

1-The thin storyline. The Wicked Witch and her “sister” Witchiepoo have recruited Paul Lynde to help repair the reputation of witches. How do they go about this? By offering to grant three wishes. One of his wishes is to be a rhinestone-studded trucker because…70s. You may find yourself asking what this has to do with Halloween? I think you were supposed to forget that question eventually. The writers did a few times.

2-The jokes aren’t all that funny. When being introduced to the members of KISS: Ace, Peter, Paul, and Gene he responds with “I love a religious group!” In response to Betty White’s inquiry on why the witches wanted Lynde as their spokesperson, the witches respond with, “He was available.” Most of the time the only way you know those are supposed to be jokes is by the canned laugh track.

3-Florence Henderson, still best known as Carol Brady, in tight black sequins belting out a disco tune. Okay, that wasn’t completely bad. It had a camp factor.

The most entertaining parts of watching it, honestly, were watching the looks of horror and disbelief flash onto AM’s face, stunned that an entire studio worked on this, had tons of talent at their disposal, and this was the best they could come up with. I laughed so hard watching him that our 7 year old daughter came out of her room wondering what was so funny.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a six minute chunk to whet your appetite:

If you’re still curious, you can watch the whole thing on Amazon Prime.

Question of the night: what’s your favorite thing to come out of the disco era?

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