November 1: The Countdown Begins

It's officially on. Slowly approaching is The Family Programming Month - the stretch from Thanksgiving to Christmas when network TV - CBS, ABC, and NBC - airs programs that can attract the entire family. Not all of these telecasts are Christmas or Thanksgiving related, but most of them are, and no telecasts during The Family Programming Month are bigger than the Big Eight.

What are the Big Eight? They are the telecasts that advertisers rush to get their commercials played during (though nowhere near as big as that football game in February). They are the eight most watched television events during The Family Programming Month. They are:

  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 30-minute cartoon, not the feature film with Jim Carrey)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • It's a Wonderful Life
Here's a brief (just kidding, it's in-depth) history of these seven telecasts.

THE MACY'S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE is an annual event held in New York City since 1926. The parade ends at Herald Square outside the giant Macy's store in New York and often features celebrities and/or singers, giant balloons, and marching bands. Since the mid-1950s, NBC has televised it every year. This year, it will air Thursday, November 23 at 9:00 AM EST on NBC. 
A factoid about this telecast: Macy's is close to bankruptcy. 

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER is a 1965 hour-long stop-motion puppet fantasy that was made by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, the celebrated team behind many holiday classics. The special is based on Gene Autry's 1949 song and stars Burl Ives, Billie Richards, and Paul Soles. Rudolph premiered Sunday, December 12, 1965 on NBC as an episode of "The General Electric Fantasy Hour" from 6:30 to 7:30 PM. NBC played it for 45 years until 2011, when it moved to its current home on CBS. This year, it will air twice: Tuesday, November 28 at 8:00 PM EST on CBS and Saturday, December 9 at 8:00 PM EST on CBS.
A factoid about this telecast: The original Rudolph stop-motion figure still exists and is in a private collection. 

FROSTY THE SNOWMAN premiered Sunday, December 3, 1967 on CBS from 7:30 to 8:00 PM. The special is based on Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins' 1951 song and stars Jackie Vernon, Jimmy Durante, and Billy DeWolfe. CBS has aired the 30-minute cartoon every year since its premiere. This year, it will air twice: Friday, November 24 at 8:00 PM EST on CBS and Saturday, December 9 at 9:00 PM EST on CBS. Both telecasts will be directly followed by 1993's Frosty Returns, which I encourage you to avoid at all costs.
A factoid about this telecast: If you watch and listen closely, "Christopher Columbus" is among rejected names for Frosty.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is a 1967 30-minute animated special based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book of the same name. This animated adaptation gave the Grinch his iconic green color and the unforgettable performances of Thurl Ravenscroft as the narrator and Boris Karloff as the Grinch. The special premiered Sunday, December 10, 1967 on NBC from 6:30 to 7:00 PM and has been aired by NBC every year since its premiere. This year, it will air Friday, November 24 at 8:00 PM EST on NBC. 
A factoid about this telecast: The Grinch is green because he represents the corporate greed for money.

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a 1968 30-minute animated special based on Charles M. Schultz's Peanuts comic strip. It premiered Friday, December 6, 1968 on CBS from 8:00 to 8:30 PM. CBS played it for 36 years until 2002, when it moved to its current home on ABC. This year, it will air Thursday, November 30 at 8:00 PM EST on ABC. 
A factoid about this telecast: Despite its negative portrayal of commercialism, it was commissioned by Coca-Cola. 

A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING is a 1972 30-minute animated special also based on the Peanuts strip. It premiered on Thanksgiving Day 1972 from 7:30 to 8:00 PM on ABC. This year, it will air Wednesday, November 22 at 8:00 PM EST on ABC.  
A factoid about this telecast: My grandmother also lives in a condominium.

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN is a 1970 hour-long stop-motion puppet fantasy that provides an origin story for Santa Claus, as well as being the origin of the classic song. The special premiered Friday, December 4, 1970 on ABC from 7:30 to 8:30 PM and stars Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn. It is currently a staple of Freeform, an ABC cable affiliate, and doesn't air on ABC / network television every year, but typically gets the highest ratings for Freeform of the year. This year, however, it will air Friday, November 24 at 8:00 PM EST on ABC. 
A factoid about this telecast: It's not broadcast in its full format anymore. ABC cuts two songs, trims two other songs in half, and abridges the opening nowadays.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a classic 1946 movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The movie flopped during its original 1946 theatrical run, but in the 1960s, when it started being a TV staple, it evolved into a classic. Although the story and movie are in the public domain, it is almost always aired on NBC, and this year will air twice: Saturday, December 9 at 8:00 PM EST on NBC and Sunday, December 24 at 8:00 PM EST on NBC.
A factoid about this telecast: It's a bit disgusting how they did some of the special effects in this movie. Some of them involved coffee stains.


But these aren't the only family movies that air at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is a long history of movies that have NOTHING to do with either of those holidays airing at that time because of how ripe it is for family-oriented programming. This is why I call it "The Family Programming Month" and not "The Christmas TV Month." Here are five movies that have a history of being broadcast at Christmas and Thanksgiving but have nothing to do with those holidays.

"The Sound of Music": This might be the best-known example of a non-Christmas-related movie becoming a Christmas staple. This is part of the reason My Favorite Things is often on musicians' Christmas albums, the other being the fact that the song contains many instances of winter-related imagery. (And no, it's not because the song sounds like a wish list. Who's ever found raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens in their stockings?) For more information on The Sound of Music becoming a Christmas tradition, click here.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory": This 1971 movie musical was frequently aired by CBS at Christmastime, though never for more than five years consecutive. Unlike the songs from The Sound of Music, I've never heard "Pure Imagination'' or "Oompa Loompa" on a Christmas album or on K104.7 radio.

"Mary Poppins": You might be noticing that movie musicals have a trend of being telecast at Christmas. From 1966 to 1999, ABC aired Mary Poppins annually at Christmastime. I have heard some of the songs from that movie on Christmas albums, though not as much as the Sound of Music soundtrack.

"The Wizard of Oz": Ah, the granddaddy of all the movie musicals. For nearly 50 years, from 1953 all the way to 2000, NBC aired The Wizard of Oz during The Family Programming Month. I have no record of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on Christmas albums, but that may be because Wizard of Oz usually aired on Thanksgiving Day, directly after the parade.

"Star Wars": Sometimes just the original film, and sometimes the whole original trilogy, but, yes, Star Wars was a Christmas staple (and still is - The Last Jedi comes out December 14.) In 1982 and 1984, CBS aired the original Star Wars movie at Christmastime. From 1985 to 1989, NBC aired the entire original trilogy all Christmas Day. There is no need for Star Wars scores played by Kenny G, because I already associate "Rey's Theme" and such with December.


Well, I'm pushing to change that. On the other side of my big break, back to school may become a big family programming time - my screenplay "Surviving Middle School" and my idea-in-the-works "Isabella vs. the Womp Womp" (click to see Old Navy ad that is my inspiration) could shape it into such.

But for now, there's not really such thing as a television special that's not a Christmas television special. Could my plans to publish a book entitled "The Illustrated Screenplays of Leo Finelli" change that? Could that be my big break?

You tell me, loyal readers.