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When I was a kid, I was addicted to TV. I would read the TV guide and plan out my entire week based on what was airing on a given day and at a given time. When one show finished, I knew exactly which channel to switch to in order to not miss the beginning of another show. We even did one of those “Are you addicted to TV?” quizzes at school — and of course my results said “YES”.
In the weeks approaching the holidays, I remember my favorite shows would always have a special Christmas-themed episode. As a result, I have a lot of nostalgia for these episodes at this time of year.
Last year, I wrote a post highlighting the wintery episodes of Murder, She Wrote. And in the spring, I ran my 80s TV Detective Showdown. Looking back at that post as well as everything I learned about 80s TV detectives over the past year got me thinking: Which other 80s detective shows had special Christmas-themed episodes?
It turns out that there are quite a few detective shows that got into the Christmas spirit, so I will first highlight the shows which produced Christmas specials in multiple years before presenting a list of shows with one-off Christmas specials. Wherever possible, I include links where these shows/episodes can be streamed/purchased. Even if you can’t find these episodes to watch, I hope you still enjoy the list and all the titles with Christmas-based puns!
Hart to Hart
Going in chronological order, starting with the shows that aired Christmas specials earlier in the decade, the first of these is Hart to Hart. The show was not only the first detective show to air a Christmas special in the 1980s, it was also the only detective show to air a Christmas special every year (except for its first season).
- ‘Tis the Season to Be Murdered (Season 2, Episode 5; December 16th 1980)
- Hartbreak Kid (Season 3, Episode 9; December 15th 1981) <– about horse racing; not actually christmassy
- A Christmas Hart (Season 4, Episode 10; December 21st 1982)
- Trust Your Hart (Season 5, Episode 11; December 20th 1983)
The most Christmassy of these episodes find our heroes, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, investigating a toy theft and counterfeiting ring (S2E5), and investigating a robbery by going undercover as “jingle-grams” (S4E10).
Unlike Hart to Hart, which waited until Season 2 to inject some Christmas spirit, Magnum, P.I. dived into Christmas almost right from the start. A couple years later, the show followed up with another Christmas-themed episode.
- Thank Heaven for Little Girls (and Big Ones Too) (Season 1, Episode 4; December 25th 1980)
- Operation: Silent Night (Season 4, Episode 10; December 15th 1983)
The first episode was remarkable for being the only Christmassy detective show episode from the 1980s that first aired on actual Christmas Day. However, the second episode was truly Christmassy as it found our hero, Thomas Magnum, dressed up as Santa Claus and trying to celebrate the holiday while trapped with a couple of his pals on an otherwise deserted Hawaiian island.
Cagney & Lacey
Cagney & Lacey continued the tradition set by the two shows I already mentioned. Like Hart to Hart, it started airing Christmassy episodes in Season 2. But like Magnum, P.I., it didn’t follow up with a second Christmassy episodes until three years later.
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Season 2, Episode 9; December 20th 1982)
- Play It Again, Santa (Season 5, Episode 11; December 23rd 1985)
In the first of these episodes, NYPD detectives Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey pursue an arrested Santa who escaped his jail cell.
Scarecrow and Mrs. King
Scarecrow and Mrs. King joined the ranks of Magnum, P.I. and Cagney & Lacey by airing two Christmassy episodes three years apart. Interestingly, both of this show’s Christmas-themed episodes aired on the exact same day.
- The Long Christmas Eve (Season 1, Episode 10; December 19th 1983)
- Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Season 4, Episode 11; December 19th 1986)
In the second of these episodes, private spies “Scarecrow” and Mrs. King help a recently fired employee investigate shady business at his former company — a toy manufacturer.
At first, it seemed that Moonlighting would follow in the tradition of Hart to Hart by airing a Christmassy episode every year starting with Season 2. However, after producing Christmas-themed episodes two years in a row, the show opted to stop and there were no additional holiday episodes in later seasons.
- ‘Twas the Episode Before Christmas (Season 2, Episode 10; December 17th 1985)
- It’s a Wonderful Job (Season 3, Episode 8; December 16th 1986)
The second of these episodes is an interesting homage to It’s a Wonderful Life, which looks at what would have happened if Maddie Hayes had never gone into business with David Addison in opening up the Blue Moon Investigations.
But what’s even more interesting about this episode from the point of view of a detective show fan is that it serves as a crossover with Hart to Hart (two years after the show was cancelled). When Maddie Hayes is shown an alternate universe in which she is not a detective agency owner, the business occupying her old offices is shown to be Hart Investigations, and this is emphasized by the appearance of the Harts’ butler Max and their dog Freeway.
Individual seasons of Moonlighting can be purchased on DVD, but unfortunately to my knowledge it is not currently streaming anywhere.
After Hart to Hart, Matlock is the only mystery show that stuck with producing more than two Christmassy episodes. However, even though at the beginning it seemed like the Christmas episodes would be a regular thing, they only lasted for the first few seasons. As a result, even though Matlock ran well into the 90s, none of its Christmas-themed episodes aired in that decade.
- Santa Claus (Season 1, Episode 13; December 9th 1986)
- The Gift (Season 2, Episode 11; December 22nd 1987)
- The Scrooge (Season 4, Episode 13; December 19th 1989)
In the second of these episodes, Atlanta lawyer Ben Matlock defends a man who was accused of murder after he was seen sneaking into his ex-wife’s home (in order to give his daughter a Christmas gift).
Jake and the Fatman
Matlock’s spin-off, Jake and the Fatman, also got into the Christmas spirit at the beginning of its run but had it wane in later seasons. Thus, even though it ran for a few seasons into the 90s, all its Christmassy episodes were made in the 80s.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Season 1, Episode 12; December 8th 1987)
- What Child Is This? (Season 3, Episode 11; December 13th 1989)
The second of these episodes found prosecutor J.L. “Fatman” McCabe and his investigator Jake helping a young pregnant girl escape danger from the Chicago mob.
Jake and the Fatman is available to purchase on DVD, but as far as I know it is not currently streaming anywhere.
While the shows that I have highlighted above have all produced multiple Christmas-themed episodes, there were many more detective shows that had at least one Christmassy episode in its repertoire. In the list below, I’ve also thrown in a couple of episodes that aired in the 1990s, but which were a part of shows that premiered in the 1980s.
- 21 Jump Street: Christmas in Saigon (Season 2, Episode 11; December 6th 1987)
- The Equalizer: Christmas Presence (Season 3, Episode 11; December 16th 1987)
- Beverly Hills Buntz: A Christmas Carol (Season 1, Episode 9; April 22nd 1988)
- Father Dowling Mysteries: The Christmas Mystery (Season 3, Episode 10; December 13th 1990)
- The Fall Guy: Escape Claus (Season 5, Episode 8; December 21st 1985)
- Hardcastle & McCormick: Hate the Picture, Love the Frame (Season 2, Episode 10; December 9th 1984)
- Hill Street Blues: Santaclaustrophobia (Season 3, Episode 12; December 16th 1982)
- Hooperman: Deck the Cell with Bars of Folly (Season 1, Episode 11; December 23rd 1987)
- Houston Knights: Somebody to Love (Season 2, Episode 10; December 22nd 1987)
- In the Heat of the Night: My Name is Hank (Season 3, Episode 9; December 19, 1989) [I just learned about this one after publishing this post so I haven’t had a chance to add ‘In the Heat of the Night’ to the list of shows with multiple Christmas episodes above.]
- In the Heat of the Night: Blessings (Season 4, Episode 13; December 18th 1990)
- Knight Rider: Silent Knight (Season 2, Episode 12; December 18th 1983)
- MacGyver: The Madonna (Season 5, Episode 11; December 18th 1989)
- Murder, She Wrote: A Christmas Secret (Season 9, Episode 9; December 13th 1992)
- Ohara: And A Child Shall Lead Them (Season 2, Episode 8; December 12th 1987) [You can stream the episode on my YouTube channel.]
- Remington Steele: Dancer, Prancer, Donner and Steele (Season 4, Episode 9; December 17th, 1985)
- Riptide: Home for Christmas (Season 3, Episode 9; December 17th 1985)
- Simon & Simon: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Liberace (Season 4, Episode 13; December 20th 1984)
- Spenser: For Hire: The Hopes and Fears (Season 2, Episode 10; December 20th 1986)
- T. J. Hooker: Slay Ride (Season 3, Episode 12; December 17th 1983)
- Vega$: Christmas Story (Season 3, Episode 8; December 17th 1980)
- Wiseguy: Aria for Don Aiuppo (Season 2, Episode 5; December 7th 1988)
Do you know of any other Christmassy episodes starring 1980s TV detectives? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!