‘Magical Mystery Tour’ — on TV and in your channel searching

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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The Beatles perform "I Am The Walrus for the film Magical Mystery Tour. (Apple Films Ltd)

A new television special highlights both a moment in musical history along with the present and future of television.

The show is Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, a segment of PBS’ Great Performances looking back at the 1967 film made by the Beatles, full of hit songs but puzzling to many viewers then and now. Revisited includes recent interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as other people involved in making Mystery, along with archival footage of George Harrison and John Lennon — all to consider why this film was so reviled in its day while inviting current comparisons to everything from classic art films to “an elaborate home movie.” Great Performances has also offered stations Magical Mystery Tour itself to air as a companion piece. (You can also find it on DVD and Blu-ray.)

So maybe you’re thinking you would like to see it, and have begun searching the listings. That’s where the fun starts.

Great Performances offered the shows for premiere on Dec. 14, with Revisited at 9 p.m. and the original film at 10. But, as happens with some PBS programs, this one comes with a “check local listings” warning.

WNEO/WEAO (Channels 45/49) will air the programs at 9 and 10 p.m. Dec. 15, but not on its main channel. If you get the stations over the air, you will find the shows on its secondary Fusion channels, 45.2 and 49.2. If you have cable, you need to consult your guide for Fusion; on Time Warner, it’s on Channel 993. WVIZ (Channel 25), meanwhile, has the shows on its main channel, but not until Dec. 19, and then at 4 and 5 a.m.

This is just one more sign of the fragmenting of our TV options, a process that dates back to the expansion of available broadcast channels, the arrival and explosion of cable, the rise in online viewing and, since broadcast stations went digital, their addition of supplemental channels like Fusion, Antenna TV and Me TV.

It’s certainly a different viewing world from 1967, when Magical Mystery Tour aired on British TV as a holiday special and then all but disappeared from wide public view; the Revisited special says that the reaction was so negative, a planned U.S. telecast never happened.

The reasons are evident when you watch both Tour and Revisited. At the height of their popular and critical acclaim, the Beatles chose to make a movie that was highly personal, and very British, and so engaged in moments and images that it argued against the idea that they were artists fixated on enduring mass appeal. Instead, they were fascinated with the possibilities of music, and cinema, and art generally. It doesn’t work consistently, but it does intrigue — as do the tales of how it came to be.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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