TV Lineups Keep Their Holiday Spirit

"Frosty The Snowman," the popular animated musical special narrated by Jimmy Durante, will be rebroadcast Friday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m.
AP Photo/CBS Entertainment
The Hollywood writers' strike may have put a stop to television production, but it hasn't stopped the networks from keeping their December schedules filled with holiday spirit.

Viewers will still find traditional fare and specials throughout the month, along with holiday-themed episodes of their favorite series - minus a few who didn't make it into production before the strike began in early November.

Shows such as ABC's "Boston Legal" and "Dirty Sexy Money," and NBC's "30 Rock," "My Name is Earl" and "Las Vegas," among others, will each feature tinsel-themed episodes.

"There's something about holiday-themed episodes that unites the show with the viewer. It's a rare moment where you take the show out of its fictional world and bring it into the real moment that you're living in," says NBC's series programming chief Erin Gough Wehrenberg.

Turning to specials, PBS offers viewers a wide variety of musical programming, including the jazzy "Red Hot Holiday Stomp" on Dec. 10 with Wynton Marsalis and traditional tunes with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Dec. 19, while NBC is replaying its "Saturday Night Live" Christmas compilation on Dec. 13.

Other specials include CBS' ninth edition of its "A Home for the Holidays" on Dec. 21, featuring stories about adoption, along with performances by James Blunt, Carole King, Reba McEntire and Sheryl Crow, herself an adoptive parent.

Photos: Christmas Around The World
Says CBS executive Jack Sussman: "We've done the show for so long now, we're actually telling stories about people who watched the show a few years ago, and were so moved by what they saw that they now have a bigger family as a result of adopting children. It's a great way to take the power of television and use it to effect change in a very positive way."

While holiday-themed movies of the week have been on the wane on the broadcast networks, the Hallmark Channel continues the tradition with four new films, including "A Grandpa for Christmas," airing throughout December and starring 90-year-old Ernest Borgnine as a grandfather who builds a relationship with a young granddaughter he never knew he had.

Premiering Saturday on Hallmark is "The Note," starring Genie Francis as a newspaper columnist seeking to reunite a note from a passenger onboard a deadly airline crash with its intended recipient.

"Both films are really about reunion and reconciliation," says David Kenin, Hallmark's vice president of programming. "They're about doing what human beings should do, which is to try to give love and understanding and acceptance."

While newer programming may tune viewers into today's holiday world, audiences still embrace traditional holiday specials - some of which have been airing for 40 years - as well as classic Christmas theatrical films.

Such perennial programming seems to have a life of its own, continuing to garner high ratings year after year.

"People view them almost by appointment," says CBS' Sussman. "They want to be part of it because they were a part of it as a child with their parents, and they want to share that experience with their kids."

ABC has already aired the 1965 favorite "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and plans another Peanuts special, "I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown" from 1993, on Dec. 10.

NBC brings back the 1946 Frank Capra classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" (Dec. 14 and Dec. 24), while CBS offers the return of older TV specials, "Frosty the Snowman" (Friday) and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Tuesday), both stop-motion animation from the 1960s.

"The message in these shows is universal. It transcends religion or age," says Sussman. "And they give you a sense of hope and confidence that life is good. And in today's world, that's a great message to hear."