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Up to Here with Holiday Cheer



Published January 7, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

God bless us, every one. We made it through the holliest, jolliest, most supersized holiday season in history, and it's a Christmas miracle there's a tooth left in our heads after such a sugary blizzard of TV specials and celebrations. Being a big fan of the holiday -- my home stereo plays Yule tunes year 'round -- I might have been tempted to call it too much of a good thing. In reality, though, it was merely too much.

Good things were few and far between on the small screen. The classics of my youth, of course: Charlie Brown's special, Rudolph's, Frosty's, the Grinch's. I even found a channel carrying my old favorite, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Holiday favorites from Hollywood such as It's a Wonderful Life, A Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story were put into heavy rotation by multiple outlets, along with younger helpers such as Bill Murray's Scrooged and Jim Carrey's live-action Grinch.

But those don't explain why I feel overdosed on Yuletide cheer; a dozen or so holiday broadcasts, spread out over the two or three weeks leading up to the big day, seem about right. No, what put me in a Christmas coma were the more than 100 additional special offerings broadcasters crammed into that same short span of time.

Think I'm kidding? Nope. I counted. This past year brought a proliferation of holiday programming that defied explanation -- not to mention common business sense. There were more seasonal broadcasts on television than Santa and an army of elves could possibly have watched working in shifts around the clock: "Crazy for Christmas" (HGTV); "Christmas at Rockefeller Center" (NBC); "The Man Who Saved Christmas" (Lifetime); "Mary Christmas" (WWBI); "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (CBMT); "Cathedral Christmas" (EWTN); "One Christmas" (Hallmark); "In Search of Christmas" (The History Channel); "It Nearly Wasn't Christmas" (Disney); "Once Upon a Christmas," and the imaginatively titled sequel "Twice Upon a Christmas" (Hallmark). Did you take in even one of these?

Perhaps you were too busy trying to keep up with the never-ending roll-out of Rudolph and Frosty spin-offs, which this year included "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" (Family); "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" (Family); "Olive, The Other Reindeer" (Cartoon); "Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire" and "Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe" (both starring Rudolph's "son" and broadcast on CBS). And then there was "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" (Family). We couldn't have waited until next summer for that one?

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Holiday Inn, Scrooge, White Christmas and A Christmas Carol are certified classics of the season. Broadcasters hit a new low, however, in their attempts to pass off less beloved fare as equally must-see viewing. The Santa Clause (ABC), Jack Frost (Family) and the freshly minted National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (NBC) do not exactly have Tinseltown immortality written all over them. I'm not sure Home Alone (WCAX) even counts as a Christmas movie, though a portion of it does take place on the holiday. And I'm fairly certain Ben Affleck's failed caper flick Reindeer Games (TBS) is never in season. As for Governor Arnold's botched directorial debut, Christmas in Connecticut (CBMT), I doubt even the first family of California tuned in for that rare airing.

Other disturbing trends: Specials documenting the vast differences among the ways disparate cultures celebrate Christmas; educational offerings such as "Christmas in New York" (Travel); "A Smoky Mountain Christmas" (CMT); "An Adirondack Christmas" (WCFE); "Christmas in My Hometown" (Lifetime); "A White House Christmas" (HGTV); and "Vegas Christmas" (Travel). I'm sure these will prove invaluable to the anthropologists of the future.

Equally worrisome: The avalanche of dopey new made-for-TV holiday films such as Undercover Christmas (CBS), in which Jami Gertz plays a sassy cocktail waitress who learns the true meaning of the season; A Carol Christmas (Hallmark); Santa Jr. (Hallmark); The Christmas Shoes (CBS); and Stealing Christmas (USA), in which Tori Spelling, Lauren Holly, Rob Lowe and Tony Danza learn the true meaning of the season.

Animated specials got totally out of hand, too. In addition to the classics, this year's lineup included "Spongebob," "Fairly Oddparents," "Rocket Power," "Rugrats," "Jimmy Neutron" and "Hey, Arnold" on Nickelodeon; "Powerpuff Girls," "Johnny Bravo" and multiple "Flintstones" on the Cartoon Network; and "Eloise" (Family) and "Arthur" (PBS) holiday installments.

Charles Schultz may have gone to that great drafting table in the sky, but that didn't prevent -- and more likely made possible -- production of an all-new special. "I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown!" (ABC) made its debut on December 9, shamelessly appropriating the original's much-loved music in an attempt to mask its utter lack of wit and charm. We all got a dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Mickey Mouse turned 75 this year. You might figure Disney would give the old guy some time off over the holidays. Instead, the media behemoth sent him after its slice of the Christmas pie in "A Disney Holiday" (Travel); "Mickey's Magical Christmas" (Discovery); and "A Merry Mickey Celebration" (ABC), on top of his part in ABC's "Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade."

And it's official: Any celeb can now have his or her own Christmas special. In violation of holiday law, which at this point in history reserves that right to Andy Williams and a few select contemporaries, entertainers of every type and stripe presumed to play host. Results were mixed and, in some cases, even fulfilled prophesies from the Book of Revelations concerning the Apocalypse. Contributing to the merriment: "An Osbournes Christmas" (MTV); "Marvin Hamlisch's Christmas" (VPT); "An American Idol Christmas" (Fox); "An Anne Murray Christmas" (CBMT); "Rick Mercer's Christmas" (CBMT), "Sean Cullen's Christmas" (CBMT); "A Barry Manilow Christmas" (A&E); "A Columbo Christmas"(A&E); and "A Kid Rock Christmas" (VH1). Hear that festive whirring sound? It's Bing Crosby spinning in his grave.

Yes, there was something for everyone and plenty for probably nobody at all: "An All Dogs Christmas Carol" (Discovery); "Christmas in Cowboy Country" (CMT); "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" (WB); "Without Santa" (Family); "It Must Be Santa" (CBMT); "Biography: Santa Claus" (A&E); "Santa Claus Brothers" (Discovery); "The Life of Santa Claus" (Family); "Santa Is Coming to Town" (Family); "Call Me Claus" (Family); and "Mr. St. Nick" (Family).

And let's not forget "A Holiday Festival on Ice" (WCAX); "Sunk on Christmas Eve" (National Geographic); "A PMO Christmas Show" (WCFE); "Where Christmas Began" (Travel); "Babes in Toyland" (Discovery); "The Ultimate Small Town Christmas" (A&E); "The Christmas Gift" (Lifetime); "Comfort and Joy" (Lifetime); "A Christmas Visitor" (Hallmark); "The Christmas Box" (Hallmark); "The Littlest Reindeer" (ANPL); "'Twas the Night" (Disney); "The Ghosts of Dickens' Past" (CBMT); "Jesus: The Complete Story" (Discovery); and the Oxygen Channel's disconcerting "Oh, It's a Wonderful Christmas!" featuring a festival of films by Alfred Hitchcock. On second thought, let's try to forget.

Let's try especially hard in the case of HGTV's "Extreme Christmas: Bigger & Brighter," in which producers traveled from coast to coast to showcase the country's most overdecorated homes, including that of a Delaware family which sported more than a million holiday lights.

While I'm glad that Kid Rock, Tori Spelling, Barry Manilow, Tony Danza and Columbo all learned the true meaning of the season, I can't help but hope broadcasters will rein things in a little next year. Less is usually more, and holiday specials might feel special once again if every member of SAG didn't feel obligated to appear in at least three, and if network heads resisted the temptation to exploit every bit of talent, human or animated, at their disposal. That will be at the top of the list I send Santa next December. The holidays, after all, are supposed be merry, peaceful, filled with good will and tinged by wonder. One thing I'm pretty sure Christmas was never meant to be is extreme.

On the up side, now that the holidays are finally over, we can all get back to watching poker on TV.

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