November 29, 2010

Holiday TV specials to warm the heart

Thanks to his diligent scholarship as a child, our TV writer plumbs a deep, deep (some might say too deep) well of knowledge to compile his list of holiday specials to warm the heart.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

There are very few times in my adult life when I'm proud of the fact I watched way too much TV as a child.

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"A Charlie Brown Christmas"

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But this time of year – holiday season – is one of them.

Basically, I did an extensive amount of research in the area of Christmas TV specials as a youngster. So now I am so well-versed on the subject of classic TV holiday viewing, I know exactly what I need and want to watch each year.

So in the spirit of holiday generosity, I will share that knowledge with you.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965) – My all-time favorite, basically because I have always been and will always be Charlie Brown. He wants to be optimistic, he wants to be involved, he wants to enjoy the holidays, but life and circumstances seem to beat him down at every corner. Until he succeeds, that is, and finds his own version of "the true meaning of Christmas." And this animated, half-hour production has my favorite line, uttered by Lucy: "Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree." Airs Dec. 7 on ABC.

"Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) – There are so many reasons to love this tear-jerker about a Macy's department store Santa who refuses to admit he's anything but the real deal. I love the incredible court scene that reveals much about our society and legal system, even today. The lawyer defending the Macy's Santa, and his claim to reality, produces in court thousands of letters from little kids. The lawyer, played by John Payne, then declares: "Your Honor, every one of these letters is addressed to Santa Claus. The post office has delivered them. Therefore the Post Office Department, a branch of the federal government, recognizes this man, Kris Kringle, to be the one and only Santa Claus." The judge, not wanting to buck the post office, agrees. Case dismissed. Pass the Kleenex. Airs Dec. 21 on ABC.

"A Christmas Story" (1983) – Based on the wonderful childhood stories of Jean Shepherd and set in the 1940s, this film about a boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas is full of observations that prove true. Like how kids learn bad habits from adults, how most snowsuits leave children immobile, and how one great day can trump a lot of bad ones. The scenes of young Ralphie fantasizing about clever ways to get a BB gun are priceless, as are his observations on having to wash his mouth out with soap so often: "Over the years, I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness." TBS' annual 24-hour marathon starts at 8 p.m. Dec. 24.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966) – Horror legend Boris Karloff is scary and sweet as the voice of the Grinch in this animated tale based on the Dr. Seuss story. The Dr. Seuss wordplay is wonderful, as is Karloff. So are the underrated songs, as when the Whos in Whoville sing the praises of Christmas with the made-up but classical-sounding "Fahoo Foraze." But the real classic Christmas song to come from this special was "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. Trivia: Ravenscroft was the voice of what cereal pitchman? See the end of this story for the answer. Airs Tuesday on ABC.

"Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964) – The best of the stop-motion animation specials that those of us older than 40 grew up on. This one has wonderful characters like Hermey the elf, who'd rather be a dentist and be "in-dee-pendent," as well as Yukon Cornelius the explorer. When Cornelius declares the fog as thick as "peanut butter," he's corrected and told the phrase is "thick as pea soup." To which he erupts: "You eat what you like, and I'll eat what I like!" Airs Tuesday on CBS.

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“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

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“It’s a Wonderful Life”

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"A Christmas Story"

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“Miracle on 34th Street”

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“Frosty the Snowman”

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“The Year Without a Santa Claus”


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