Like many people, I always looked forward to Kathie Lee Gifford’s Christmas specials only to see how they were reviewed by Tom Shales. Here’s the Washington Post TV critic’s assessments of Gifford’s holiday shows and other performances. (Thanks to the Evanston Public Library Periodicals Department for research assistance.)
February 29, 1988
On ABC, The Talk Didn’t Figure; Skating Announcers Mar Olympic Coverage
….Then there’s the charisma quotient of Frank and Kathie Lee: zilch, zero, zip, nada, pas de tout. If they cohosted a morning program it would have to be called, “Go Back to Bed, America.
On Friday, Frank Gifford announced at the start of the broadcast that his wife would not appear that night because of a “long-standing prior commitment.” One suspected that was a euphemism for “ABC News and Sports President Roone Arledge has come to his senses.” Gifford said he would press on alone but lamented that the program would suffer “cosmetically” without Kathie Lee’s presence, thus insulting her even as he attempted to praise her.
February 27, 1992
Oh, Reege! Oh, Kathie Lee!; The Key to Television’s Popular Brew: They Percolate in the Morning
Kathie Lee is basically as wholesome as a corn muffin.
…Ghastly, hideous and downright nightmarish in its desperate cheerfulness, the special gets off to an immediate bad start when the announcer informs us that the guest cast will include “a special appearance by Cody Gifford,” blond tot son of Kathie Lee and husband Frank, the personality-less sportscaster. Cody looks about as happy to be on the special as you will be if you watch it.
Naturally she sings, sings, sings — or rather, not so naturally, just in that excruciatingly bland and vapid way of hers.
At the outset, Kathie Lee announces that Christmas “brings out the best in people.” She should have added, “Present company excepted.”
December 20, 1995
Kathie Lee: The Grin That Stole Christmas
Give her enough tinsel and she’ll hang herself. And she does.
“Kathie Lee: Home for Christmas,” Kathie Lee Gifford’s second annual CBS Christmas special, is perhaps even worse than her first — a sickeningly saccharine vanity production that should really have been titled “O Come, Let Us Adore Me.” That ghastly Gifford grin, ear to ear and back again, seems steeped in self-esteem and almost blinding in its show biz phoniness.
This special is not a treat for the whole family, unless you’re talking only about Gifford’s family. For them, a treat; for others, the equivalent of what commies might have used to torture political prisoners. You can almost hear the poor souls crying out, “No, no — anything but that!”
December 12, 1996
Kathie Lee’s Christmas: Mistletoe by a Mile
At Thanksgiving we get to be grateful that Kathie Lee doesn’t do a Thanksgiving special. … It was often said that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Bing Crosby. But oh brother, would Christmas ever be Christmas without Kathie Lee Gifford.
December 12, 1997
Another Chestnut Ready to Roast; Kathie Lee Gifford’s ‘Little Christmas’
As readers of tabloid tattlers know, Kathie Lee has had a difficult year. And one can sympathize. Her husband, Frank, the dull sportscaster, was videotaped committing extramarital hanky-panky. You’d think Kathie Lee would be intent on getting back at her husband rather than taking it out on all of us. …
The hour, taped for some mysterious reason in Bristol, Tenn., ends with Kathie Lee singing about Christmas past “when the world was kinder, full of hope, and love would last.” Hmmm. A dart aimed Frank’s way, perhaps? Lord knows he deserves it. And yet one suspects that in some unspeakably twisted sort of way, these two may deserve each other.
When it comes to Kathie Lee’s Christmas specials, we all deserve a year off.
December 14, 1998
Kathie Lee? Bah Humbug!
What’s the difference between the 24-hour flu and a Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas special? Twenty-three hours.
You wouldn’t want to catch either one if you could help it. But when CBS refused to make this year’s edition of the agonizing event available in advance to TV critics, one such critic, instead of being grateful for the unintentional kindness, was tempted to tune in anyway to see how, or if, things have improved.
He should have known better.
March 11, 2000
Kathie Lee Gifford, On Her Best ‘Behavior’
Picking on Kathie Lee has become something of a national pastime. Not that she hasn’t invited jeers with her hyperactive ego and her “let’s all talk about me” philosophy. But somebody–say, a Martian–who knew nothing about her or her frivolous battles with the press, and saw her performance in this film, would probably think, “Say, she’s pretty good.”
For one thing, she doesn’t sing. For another, she doesn’t come at you with so many teeth flashing that you think, “Aw-oh, ‘Jaws 4.’ ” In addition, Gifford photographs better on film than on videotape. Film softens her features and thus softens her. Yes, the movie will be shown on TV, but it originated on film, not video, and that makes a difference with Gifford, as with some other performers. Son Cody, meanwhile, bears an odd facial resemblance to comic Louie Anderson.
July 28, 2000
Bye-Bye, Kathie Lee. Sniffle. Sob. Choke.
She will definitely be missed. From a TV critic’s point of view, it’s partly because she was fun to pick on. Her Christmas specials in particular all but begged to be ridiculed, and, when this TV critic saw them, they were.
March 17, 2001
‘Out of Control’: Kathie Lee, Bad As She Wants to Be
She plays an actress, which is a big reach right there, and at one point Howie Mandel, as her manager, tells her, “I’m trying to salvage what’s left of your career.” Last year, after a decade and a half as co-host with Regis Philbin of “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,” Gifford quit, vowing to find other ways to exercise what she considers an infinite number of talents. A hugely promoted Kathie Lee CD, however, laid an egg in the interim. Thus Mandel’s words have a spooky relevance.
December 18, 2004
On Trio, the Roast of Christmases Past
And to Ms. Gifford, my apologies and a plea: Come back, Kathie Lee, wherever you are. Somehow the holidays just aren’t as jolly, and ridiculous, without you.