‘The Waltons – The Homecoming: A Christmas Story’: How to Watch the Holiday Classic Today

by Suzanne Halliburton

Are you feeling sentimental for old-school Christmas entertainment? Check out the original The Waltons, back when it premiered as a stand-alone holiday TV special.

It’s been a half-century since CBS and Earl Hamner introduced us to The Waltons. And INSP TV network is broadcasting The Homecoming: A Christmas Story Sunday afternoon (Dec. 19). It originally ran Dec. 19, 1971.

The network’s social media account posted on Instagram:

“It’s been 50 years and we still get tears just watching it. Don’t miss The Waltons – The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, today at 4PM ET.

If you’re not familiar with the cable channel, click here for more information. The network used to be the PTL Network, founded by Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker. It was rebranded in 2010 and runs a lot of classic westerns and TV shows. It’s really John Wayne and Gunsmoke friendly.

CBS Tweaked Top of The Waltons Cast Between Pilot, Series

Now, let’s take a look at the first-ever The Waltons offering. Here’s the plot summary to refresh your memory. “On Christmas Eve 1933, the Waltons prepare for the holiday. However, John Walton, who was forced to take work in another part of the state, has not returned home yet, and his family are becoming increasingly worried.”

If you remember your The Waltons trivia, this cast looked different than the one assembled in 1972 for the series. Academy Award winner Patricia Neal portrayed Olivia Walton. For her role as Olivia, Neal won a Golden Globe and received a Primetime Emmy nomination.

Andrew Duggan played her husband, John Sr. He’s the man in the movie poster featured in the INSP Instagram post. And Edgar Bergen was Grandpa Walton. None of these actors were in The Waltons TV series. But all seven actors who played the kids, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, were in the Christmas pilot and the series. So was Ellen Corby, as Grandma Walton.

Neal had health problems and didn’t want to continue the role as Olivia. So CBS turned to Michael Learned. The show initially wanted Henry Fonda as John Sr. After all, Fonda played a similar character in Spencer’s Mountain. That was Hamner’s first try at putting his childhood on screen. The movie came out in 1961. A decade later, names were changed and Hamner’s story became about The Waltons.

Fonda said: “What do you want me for? The kid is the star! The whole family is the star! You don’t need me.”

Ralph Waite, who was a late-bloomer when it came to acting, earned the role of John Sr for the series.

The Waltons had such staying power that the CW did a reboot of the initial pilot a half-century later. Thomas was the only cast member from the original to be part of the revival movie. But Thomas was the narrator, not John Boy. When the movie premiered last month, it earned the CW its best ratings since April.