The Christmas Special: An Introduction
Once again, my friends, the Christmas season is underway, and that means it’s time to immerse ourselves in the sort of cheerful yuletide content that we all love. There are Christmas books, Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas food (oh… oh dear Heaven the Christmas food…) but there’s one entertainment medium that, as far as I’m concerned, Christmas dominates like no other.
The television Christmas special.
Let’s think about it here. Think for a moment about what a TV special is – a short film made for the small screen. It’s not long enough to block out the two hours for a legitimate TV movie. It’s not necessarily part of a regular TV series, although it may be a spin-off, reunion show, or a backdoor pilot for one. Sometimes the characters are familiar, sometimes they’re one-off visitors, sometimes they’re telling a timeless story and sometimes they’re giving us something new.
And I don’t know about you guys, but the vast majority of the great television specials that linger in my mind are Christmas specials
Oh sure, there are a few Halloween greats, the odd Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day yarn, but let’s be honest here. During those golden days when the word “SPECIAL” would spin out at us from our TV screens to announce the next thirty to sixty minutes of CBS would not be our regular programming, we were hoping to see Rudolph, or Frosty, or Charlie Brown putting up his sad little Christmas tree.
So this year, I’m giving my month of December to a discussion of 25 of the most memorable Christmas specials, at least as far as I’m concerned. Interestingly, this project has proven to have the opposite problem of this Halloween’s comedy/horror project, in which I simply couldn’t find very many old movies to discuss. This time around, the closer we get to the present day, the harder it is to find a truly great special. I managed to scrape up a few, but we’re still going to spend most of the month without getting past the 80s. I also tried to restrict myself to just one special per franchise, although there are countless Muppet, Sesame Street and Peanuts films I could have gone with. And I also refused to go with any of the endless reiterations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, not because I don’t like them, but because there are so damn many of them I rather think it would be fun to do a Reel to Reel project someday looking exclusively at those films.
So come back tomorrow and we’re going to begin, appropriately enough, with the first great special from the good people at Rankin/Bass productions. We’re traveling back to 1964 to spend some time with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.