The Art Of The TV Christmas Special From A Charlie Brown Christmas to A Colbert Christmas, the televised holiday special is a time-honored tradition. Some are sappy, and most are laden with clichés, but we still tune in. Which special is your favorite?
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The Art Of The TV Christmas Special

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The Art Of The TV Christmas Special

The Art Of The TV Christmas Special

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Despite the occasional frustrations of the season - parking at the mall, wrapping-paper cuts, the inevitable pop-star Christmas album - there is at least one place you can turn to bliss: the tube, the Christmas television season, from the very special events on Lifetime to that inviolable trio of Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Rudolph. And of course, there are more modern cult classics. We're talking about Christmas specials this hour. A little later, we'll get back to politics and talk about the president-elect's decision to invite Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. But first, we want to hear from you. What special have you always watched and made your kids watch? Or which special events make you choke on cliches? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at; just click on Talk of the Nation. And let's begin with a caller. Ron is with us, Ron, calling from Amherst in New York.

RON (Caller): Amherst, New Hampshire, but that's OK. "The Star Wars Christmas Special" has got to be the absolute worst of all time.

CONAN: The "Star Wars" Christmas - we happen to have tape from "The Star Wars Christmas Special."

RON: It's so bad.

CONAN: Let's listen in.

(Soundbite of TV special "The Star Wars Holiday Special")

(Soundbite of Chewbacca growling)

Mr. HARRISON FORD: (As Han Solo) All of you are an important part of my life, pal. I'm glad I could be here.

(Soundbite of Chewbacca growling)

Ms. CARRIE FISHER: (As Princess Leia) This holiday is yours. But we all share with you the hope that this day brings us closer to freedom and to harmony and to peace.

CONAN: And Ron, I don't know if you heard it, but we had Princess Leia on the show earlier this week. And it turns out, she absolutely agrees with you.

(Soundbite of NPR's Talk of the Nation, December 16, 2008)

Ms. CARRIE FISHER (Actress): How could you be a fan of that and not need psychiatric care?

CONAN: Carrie Fisher on this program earlier this week. Ron, you remember that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RON: I didn't know they celebrated Christmas in a galaxy far, far away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Long, long ago.

RON: Right. Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Ron. Appreciate it.

RON: Thanks, bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

RON: Bye.

CONAN: Well, of course, our most iconic Christmas specials were born in the 1960s: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Phil Roman was one of the animators of the 1966 "Grinch," which, of course, was voiced by Boris Karloff. He later worked on more than a few Christmas specials and became a producer on "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill." He joins us today from a studio in North Hollywood. Welcome. Happy holidays. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. PHIL ROMAN (Producer and Animator): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And did you know...

Mr. ROMAN: Glad to be here.

CONAN: Did you know when you were working on "The Grinch" that it was going to be something special?

Mr. ROMAN: Well, you know, when we were working on it, it was just another project, and - but it was a special project because, you know, I was very familiar with Dr. Seuss' books and characters. And - but it was very - it was a lot of fun working on it. But the thing with any project is, you know, you finish it and then it goes off and gets a life of its own. And so, once it aired, I mean, it just connected with the audience. There was something about it that people loved. There was - it had that chemistry that very few shows have. You know, the Peanuts has it, you know, the "Wonderful Life" has it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROMAN: And so, I mean, I'm very pleased to have been part of it. But at that time, you know, it was just another project we were working on.

CONAN: Well, it was an interesting project, though, because you were under the direction of Chuck Jones, the great Warner Brothers' animator. And I've read that, in fact, a lot of the animators came over from Disney, who'd just been laying people off.

Mr. ROMAN: Well, the guys I worked with on "The Grinch" were mostly animators that had come over from Warner Brothers with Chuck. There was - Don Towsley and I, I think, were the only ones that were - Don was an ex-Disney animator and I was - I had just been promoted to animator from - with - by Chuck. You know, he just kind of liked my work. And so I was very fortunate to be part of that crew. But, yeah, most of the animators were - like Ken Harris, Benny Washum(ph), (unintelligible) Ray and Dick Thompson were all ex-Warner Brothers' animators for Chuck. And Chuck was just a terrific guy and he was a terrific director. And I - you know, he's one of those classic (unintelligible) who - that's considered a legend in the animation business.

CONAN: Now, we mentioned you'd worked on other animated TV specials. Here's a clip from one that people may remember.

(Soundbite of TV special "A Garfield Christmas Special")

Mr. THOM HUGE: (As Jon Arbuckle) Garfield, wake up.

Mr. LORENZO MUSIC: (As Garfield) Good morning, Jon.

Mr. HUGE: (As Jon Arbuckle) No time for small talk, Garfield. It's Christmas morning and, you know what that means.

Mr. MUSIC: (As Garfield) Of course, I do. Christmas means presents - lots of lots of presents.

Mr. HUGE: (As Jon Arbuckle) First things first, Garfield. You can't open presents on an empty stomach. Here are your breakfast lasagnas. You may eat your way to the tree.

CONAN: That's, of course - the odious cat gets its own show...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: In another special. Garfield learns the true meaning of Christmas in the end, naturally.

Mr. ROMAN: Yeah, that's right. Well, you know, that's a great thing about these kind of shows. You know, they have great characters, have a good storyline, and it has, like, redemption at the end. You know, like, the Grinch discovers that the real - what the real meaning of Christmas is, you know, and Charlie Brown, you know, just very simple kind of - a Christmas tree, a great story, but it was very meaningful, you know? At that time - I think it was the very first Christmas special done - and it just - and another one the struck a chord with the audience.

CONAN: How come do you think that the Garfield one did not?

Mr. ROMAN: I don't know. You know, it's that magic thing. You know, the - I think the Charlie Brown one was, like, say, the first one, a very simple story. You know, Sparky - Charles Schulz - he - you know, it's his creation. He wrote her to work pretty solidly with Bill Melendez. And I didn't work on it, but I worked on some Charlie Browns later on. And again, it's getting the creator's because - his message across. It's a personal - it's very personal. The same thing with the Grinch, you know, Chuck working with Dr. Seuss, with Ted Geisel. And it's preserving that...

CONAN: Original vision.

Mr. ROMAN: Original thought by the original creator. And so, like I say, you know, when you work on these shows, you just never know which one is going to click.

CONAN: I guess so you just - like you say, it's got a life of its own. You put it out there and...

Mr. ROMAN: Yeah, yeah. And then all of a sudden it becomes a classic and everybody expects it at the Christmastime.

CONAN: Which of all the Christmas specials - and we'll have to leave your particular children out of this one - which of the ones you've not worked on is your favorite?

Mr. ROMAN: That I haven't worked on?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. ROMAN: Well, of course, the Peanuts' Christmas special. That to me is - I wish I would have been involved in that one. And the doctor - I mean, Mr. Magoo's Christmas. You know, that was also one that...

CONAN: Of course, you remember the great Jim Backus as the voice of Mr. Magoo.

Mr. ROMAN: Yeah, yeah.


Mr. ROMAN: And somehow that - it's kind of (unintelligible) time. It was one of the ones that would be (unintelligible) annually. And - but - you know, there's - another one I worked on was "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" just a few years ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMAN: And - so all of these, you know, type of - like, that one's still airing, you know, every year.

CONAN: Yeah. Do you watch these when they show up on TV?

Mr. ROMAN: Sometimes I do. You know, I - it depends what I'm doing. And - but if I have a chance, I always sit down and watch it because you know what? It brings back a lot of memories. And you know, after you finish it, you just kind of go on to, like, to the next project. But when you sit back a couple years, five years, 10 years later, all of a sudden, you know, it opens up all these memories and recall of the people you were working with. And it's just a very positive, a very good feeling of knowing that you've been part of this.

CONAN: Phil Roman, we're glad you dropped by and shared some of your memories with us today.

Mr. ROMAN: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Phil Roman, one of the original animators on the classic "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" - as he mentioned, he worked on a few others, too - with us today from Riverton Studios in North Hollywood. Let's see if we can get some more callers on the line. And let's go to John, John with us from Alaska, Michigan.

JOHN (Caller): Hey, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

JOHN: Good. I'm going to turn this off so I can hear you. There we go.


JOHN: Well, my favorite is Charlie Brown, by all means. I sold Christmas trees for 20 years and when the Lucy van Pelts of the world would come and try to pick out a tree, it just made you love it that much more.

CONAN: Everybody remembers this scene from the - "Charlie Brown's Christmas."

(Soundbite of TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas")

Mr. PETER ROBBINS: (As Charlie Brown) Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER SHEA: (As Linus van Pelt) Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them.

CONAN: The biblical test - text, I think, works better with a lisp.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: By all means, by all means. It's just such a great show.

CONAN: And you watch it every year when it comes up?

JOHN: You bet. You got it.

CONAN: And when - how old were you, you first time you saw do you think?

JOHN: I was probably seven or eight, I guess. What year did it come out?

CONAN: I would have thought the late 1960s some time.

JOHN: All right. Well, then, I was probably eight or nine years old then.

CONAN: Uh-uh.

JOHN: And still watch it every year since.

CONAN: By the way, when you turned off - what were you turning off?

JOHN: My tractor. I'm feeding cows right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I bet they're hungry.

JOHN: Getting ready for a foot of snow tonight.

CONAN: Oh, then I best - we best let you get back to work.

JOHN: No problem. Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

JOHN: Bye.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Mary on the line. Mary's calling us from Birmingham, Alabama.

MARY (Caller): Hi, Neal. I was calling to say my favorite was the Walton Family Christmas show that I believe was the pilot.

CONAN: The pilot for "Little House on the Prairie"?

MARY: No, no, no. For "The Waltons."

CONAN: No, no, no. For "The Waltons," yes. Excuse me. I'm getting confused with John Boy.

MARY: Oh, that's OK.

CONAN: Yeah.

MARY: Now, John Boy was my favorite and - but all those - the parents, grandparents, they were great actors and actresses and that was just a sweet story. So - and well, the series was great, too.

CONAN: And they then proceed to tell a lot of sweet stories.

MARY: Yes. So, anyway, it's not animated, but it's my favorite.

CONAN: Well, we're willing to accept all sorts of nominations, Mary.

MARY: Well, thank you. And merry Christmas to you.

CONAN: And merry Christmas to you.

MARY: Thank you.

CONAN: Mary calling us from Birmingham, Alabama. Of course, every good animated or Christmas special of any sort - well, we mentioned the Grinch. We mentioned Garfield. Everybody's got to have a kind of a villain, and there's one classic Christmas villain of all time.

(Soundbite of TV special "Mickey's Christmas Carol")

Mr. ALAN YOUNG: (As Ebenezer Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck) Get on with your work, Cratchit!

Mr. WAYNE ALLWINE: (As Bob Cratchit/Mickey Mouse) Speaking of work, Mr. Scrooge, Tomorrow is Christmas and I was wondering if I could have half a day off.

Mr. YOUNG: (As Ebenezer Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck) Christmas, eh? Well, I suppose so. But I'll dock you half a day's pay.

CONAN: Scrooge McDuck and Mickey, of course, in "A Christmas Carol." Christmas specials don't stop after the Grinch and Charlie Brown, something Dan Snierson of EW may come to regret. We'll hear about what he calls his annual masochistic movie marathon next and more of your favorites or most despised holiday TV specials. 800-989-8255. Send us your picks by email. That address is Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song "Frosty the Snowman")

Mr. GENE AUTREY: (Singing) But he waved goodbye Saying don't you cry, I'll be back again someday. Thumpitty, thumpitty, thump, thump I'll be back again someday. Jingle, jingle, jing jingle. Jingle, jingle, jing jingle. Look at Frosty go!

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. By now, most of the well-known Christmas TV specials have already aired, "A Muppet's Christmas" just last night. Still, "It's a Wonderful Life" won't run until Christmas Eve. And you can catch some of the new made-for-cable-TV holiday movies over the next few days. More on those in just a moment. What special have you always watched, or made your kids watch, or which special event made you choke on cliches? 800-989-8255; email You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to and click on Talk of the Nation.

This email from Anna in Columbus, Ohio: The He-Man Christmas cartoon special seems not to get as much airplay as it did in the 1980s when I was growing up. It involves Skeletor singing Christmas carols when he accidentally ends up on Earth around Christmastime. To use the vernacular of the day, it is totally rad.

Let's get Andrew on the line, Andrew calling us from Cleveland.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi, Neal. I have to say, I was always a fan of, I guess, what you call the second string. So, I was a big fan of "The Year without Santa Clause" with the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser. There's just some great music with those two characters. And I would love if somebody would actually put on the DVDs for these - just go to the trouble of actually putting - recapturing that wonderful moment when you were a kid watching TV and suddenly the message came up and said, "Mork & Mindy" will not be seen tonight. In its place we present this following special. And then you had this special...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREW: Remember this from the '70s and '80s? And you had the special that would come out and the word "special" would kind of rotate towards the screen and then you just had to kind of wait for a second because you didn't know what's coming. And then you get the thrill of finding out if it was Rudolph or Frosty or what it was, but...

CONAN: You didn't get your issue of TV Guide that week, I guess.

ANDREW: Yeah. I - well, we lived in the country, so that didn't always happen. It was just kind of a special treat to find out what we hadn't heard was coming on, and we were getting a surprise. But I guess the DVD copies are lacking in that.

CONAN: You'd think that, you know, TVLand or one of those that would get onto this and have their own seasonal specials.

ANDREW: This is true. This is true. And interestingly enough, I just - I want to add this before I go - my wife and I have started a new tradition as far as our own holiday special, which is actually a book. And for all the jaded Christmas people out there, I can totally tell you it's a fantastic book by Berkeley Breathed of Opus and Bloom County Fame called "When the Red Ranger Came Calling," and it's a great little read, and it's just truly magical. I can fully endorse that that as my new holiday special. CONAN: Thanks for the call, Andrew.

ANDREW: Yup. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This from Lawrence in Cleveland, an email this time. My favorite new Christmas special, "The Boondocks (A Hughie Freeman Christmas)," second only to the Fat Albert Christmas special, to my mind. And let's see if we can get Kay on the line, Kay with us from Las Vegas.

KAYE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call, Neal.

CONAN: And some, well, unseasonable but seasonable snow.

KAYE: Yeah. I came down to visit family and I was, like, wow, for I haven't seen snow in Vegas since second grade.

CONAN: Well, congratulations.

KAYE: A long time ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAYE: Yeah, thanks. With Christmas specials, what's funny is we used to watch the stop animations, all the - you know, the last caller mentioned that "A Year without Santa Claus," you know, the story of Kris Kringle and Rudolph and all that stuff. And we actually have - I have a set of cousins, first cousins, who are a little bit younger than me and my siblings. And we always kind of make fun of them because they have the really round cheeks and the really tiny, pointy chins, so we call them Christmas people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Christmas people?

KAYE: Yeah, because they look just like the little, like, Kris Kringle, like, with the little, tiny chin and really big cheeks. And they just look so cute, but they look like little wooden Christmas people from those Christmas shows.

CONAN: I'm sure their psychiatrists are getting rich now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAYE: The thing is - well, and one of them actually has red hair, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAYE: He actually really does look like the little character from the Kris Kringle one.

CONAN: Well, going back to Rudolph, just to motion - the stop-motion animation one, the plot - we went back and looked at it - it's pretty convoluted.

(Soundbite of TV special "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer")

Mr. PAUL SOLES: (As Hermey) Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?

Ms. BILLIE MAE RICHARDS: (As Rudolph) You wouldn't mind my red nose?

Mr. SOLES: (As Hermey) Not if you don't mind me being a dentist.

Ms. RICHARDS: (As Rudolph) It's a deal.

CONAN: That, from 1964, was, of course, Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman.

KAYE: Yeah.

CONAN: All right. Kaye, have a great, snowy Christmas visit there in Las Vegas.

KAYE: Yeah. Winter Wonderland. Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Every year, senior Entertainment Weekly writer Dan Snierson takes on a somewhat repulsive holiday tradition: He watches the original holiday movies perpetrated on the season by cable networks like Lifetime, Hallmark, ABC Family and a few from Nickelodeon in order to put together EW's annual Holiday Movie Cliche Checklist. This year, one of those gems was a Hallmark original. Well, let's go ahead and spoil the ending.

(Soundbite of TV movie "Moonlight and Mistletoe")

Ms. CANDACE CAMERON BURE: (As Holly) Christmas was always different for me. It was always better. I just forgot that for awhile. Dad and Jimmy run Santaville together now. Peter and I were married there, complete with moonlight and mistletoe. And by the next Christmas, Santa will have a new little elf to train.

CONAN: Yes, everything turns out OK in the end - Candice Cameron narrating the happy ending of "Moonlight and Mistletoe." Dan Snierson joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Dan, nice to have you with us. Happy Holidays.

Mr. DAN SNIERSON (Television Writer, Entertainment Weekly): Thanks for having me. And did you have to spoil the ending there? People did not need to know that it ended with the gift of love.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I wonder, have you recovered from the gift of love delivered so often, so regularly?

Mr. SNIERSON: You know, it's amazing what a spiced, dark fruit cake will do for you. But, yes, I think I'm OK now. It's was a brutal stretch there for awhile, and I'm recovering.

CONAN: How did you get this marvelous assignment?

Mr. SNIERSON: What happened was, several years ago, an editor, Dalton Ross, of the magazine - Dalton Ross and I were working on this thing called the Series Finally Cliche Checklist. And we noticed that all these series were signing off this year, and there were all these sort of treacle-y cliches like, of course, the wedding/engagement, the birth/pregnancy, you know, peek into the future. And so we did that and it was successful, and we just sort of track a bunch of shows. And then about a few months later he called me and said, how would you feel about doing that for the Christmas movie genre? And I said, that would be mean if you'd assign that to me. And then I said, also I'm Jewish, so that's really cruel. And as he recalls, he said, I didn't accept the assignment immediately. Call me back. We talked a few days later and I said, you know what? I'm in. It's got to be amazing. It's going to be just an adventure for me. So, that's how it started. And you know, all these movies just share so many common characteristics that we felt that it was our duty to bring it to the world's attention.

CONAN: And there are people in this world who specialize in very arcane things. There are people who specialize, for example, year round, in the NFL draft. You have one of those niche specialties in life.

Mr. SNIERSON: I do. I do. It's just like - it's one of those things where everyone is obsessed with, you know, Oscar coverage and Golden Globes, and Emmys. And, you know, I wanted to kind of create an award show that's celebrated, you know, this genre - absurd achievement in this genre, and I just wanted to be the one expert tracking this genre.

CONAN: So, you invented a new category of awards called the Yulies.

Mr. SNIERSON: That's right. Again, we're celebrating absurd achievement in the Christmas TV movie genre. And the categories this year included such things as, you know, the biggest holiday ham - you know, the actor that hammed it up the most - outstanding achievement in ugly Christmas sweaters and of course, you know, the category you need, which is most tolerable movie for a Jewish person to watch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So, well, the category of ham - there's got to be some pretty stiff competition there.

Mr. SNIERSON: You definitely have that right. I mean, my money this year was on Tom Arnold because, you know, in that movie that you were just talking about, "Moonlight and Mistletoe," he was playing Santa and I was like, he has to be the easy winner here. But the thing is, he didn't go for the broad shtick. And it turned out that Tom Cavanagh, people might remember him from "Ed," he was in "Snow Two: Brain Freeze" and he was playing Santa. And he fell out of frame not once, but twice. So, - did that sort of goofy, you know, eyes crossed thing. And you know what? You've got to give it to that guy for that. And, you know, I actually - it was tough for me. I didn't actually see "Snow" - the original one - I just saw "Snow Two: Brain Freeze," but if it was half as good as "Snow Two: Brain Freeze" it wasn't very good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So, why do the networks make these every year? Do these things make money?

Mr. SNIERSON: Yeah, they do and they do OK in the ratings. And there's sort of this built in audience. I mean, we all sort of make fun of them for their cheesiness, but the truth is that as you're, you know, cozying up with a loved one, you know, at the end of the year, people tend to tune in to these. And the networks have found - even some networks have found with minimal, you know, marketing and advertising that they'll still pull a good number on these. So, they decided to keep making them.

CONAN: Not as good a number as they seem to get for the Grinch or something like that.

Mr. SNIERSON: Well, maybe not. But, you know, again I think they know their audiences really well. They're casting actors that, you know, are - like, for example, on Hallmark and Lifetime, you now, they're doing so many movie-of-the-weeks and stuff that they know their audience really well. And it's built in, so it works well for them.

CONAN: Here's an email from Jeff. As a veteran of many Xmas specials, the particular format that bugs me are the ones where they have one of those screw-up comic relief characters having to help Santa save Christmas. I always felt like Santa never got enough credit in most specials, let alone these. It makes it seem like the big guy is just an oafish boob. Any with that particular plot line?

Mr. SNIERSON: You know, I didn't actually see that this year as much. The Santa portrayals were a little more straight ahead, though you could argue Tom Cavanaugh's Saint Nick needs a little help from Mrs. Clause. But we did have a fair amount of goofiness and this year, a big trend I was tracking was the, whoa, fall off the roof or the ladder. That was a big one. And...

CONAN: Invented by Tim Allen, I think.

Mr. SNIERSON: That's exactly right. And we gave checkmarks out in those categories and, you know, awarded the movies, you know, appropriately. Though, I will say that other ones had a character on a ladder that was falling over and swaying back and forth but didn't actually fall, therefore, they did not get the check.

CONAN: Did not get the check. Are you going to be doing this, do you think, for the foreseeable future?

Mr. SNIERSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it just feels like it's growing every year and it's sort of getting a little bit of a cult following now. And, you know, I think we definitely see a big future for this.

CONAN: And when you give out something like a Yulie, a less than enthusiastic endorsement of film, I wonder - you have to deal publicists all the time. How do they react to this?

Mr. SNIERSON: Well, it's a great question. I mean, the first year we did it, the EW Holiday Movie Cliche Checklist, I didn't actually call it that when I was, you know, acquiring all the movies from the publicists. I just said, oh, it's sort of a fun chart that we're going to do. And you know, it came out with that title.

And then in year two when I did it, you know, I called them up and I said, so we're doing this thing. And they said, yeah, the Cliche Checklist. We want in. And so, they actually really embraced it. And it's gotten the point during the fact-checking stage, I watch so many of these movies and I'm full, you know, with so many facts that I will double-check something with them. And I'll leave this publicist unnamed, but there was a publicist who actually sent me an email and was saying, you know, in your fall off roof/ladder category? We really think we deserve a checkmark in that category, even though our character fell through the roof, not off the roof. So, it can get pretty heated.

CONAN: Dan, you've got a career.

Mr. SNIERSON: Thank you. Thank you.

CONAN: Dan Snierson, congratulations and happy holidays.

Mr. SNIERSON: To you, too.

CONAN: Dan Snierson, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, with us from the studios at NPR West. Let's go back to the phones. Randy with us, Randy calling from Tallahassee.

RANDY (Caller): Hi, I have to say this time of year, I practically get diabetes every time I turn on the TV and see Christmas specials because they are so sugary sweet and cloying and treacle-y. And the one that I kind of like is the one that's called just "Christmas Story." It's Jean Shepard's reminiscences about his childhood.

CONAN: Oh yeah, absolutely. You could put your eye out with that.

RANDY: Yeah, exactly. I love that. That one scene with the malevolent elves that's shot through a fisheye lens is just such classic and I love that. And I don't mean to sound like I contrarian but I have to raise this - I hate "It's A Wonderful Life" because, at the end, it's supposed to be a happy ending and all I kept thinking was, yeah, but the crook kept the money and he got away with it. And he never was brought to justice. And I found that so upsetting.

CONAN: He was actually sentenced to play Dr. Gillespie in a whole bunch of Dr. Kildare movies. So, he did pay the price and we, by the way have one of our producers here who confessed in our morning meeting today that she, too, hates "A Wonderful Life." She's going to work every Christmas from now on.

RANDY: I didn't know that about Dr. Gillespie but that makes me feel better that there's some retributive justice.

CONAN: Randy, thanks very much for the call.

RANDY: Sure.

CONAN: Happy viewing. We're talking about Holiday TV Specials. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get Ethan on the line. Ethan's with us from Ada, Oklahoma.

ETHAN (Caller): Hey, how you doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

ETHAN: Hey, I was looking to say, I'm pretty young, fairly - I'm 17 years old and I'm not much for the old, traditional kind of stuff. But mostly, what I watch around Christmastime is the Muppet's Christmas special.

CONAN: The Muppet's Christmas special - that was their interpretation of "A Christmas Carol," wasn't it?

ETHAN: Yeah, yeah, it was.

CONAN: We don't have tape of that. We do have tape, though, of a Sesame Street Christmas special that - Bert and Ernie in the O'Henry classic "The Gift of the Magi." Here, Ernie wants to get Bert something to hold his paperclip collection.

(Soundbite of TV special "Sesame Street's The Gift of the Magi")

Mr. JIM HENSON: (As Ernie) I don't have any money, but suppose I gave you Rubber Ducky here for that cigar box. Would you trade?

Mr. WILL LEE: (As Mr. Harold Hooper) Ernie, your rubber ducky? Are you sure?

Mr. HENSON: (As Ernie) I just got to have that cigar box, Mr. Hooper.

CONAN: Well, you guessed it, Bert pawns the paperclips in order to get a soap dish for poor pawned rubber ducky. But never fear, Mr. Hooper sets all to right, bringing both Bert and Ernie gifts on Christmas Eve.

ETHAN: That's it, man. I love Jim Henson's whole puppet cast. With the Muppets you get everything - you know, everybody in the family has someone they like or someone they enjoy the most. And I think it's just - it's like one of your last callers said, you know, a lot of it's cliche or whatever. But, in the same sense, you can just - you can all just be with your family and you can all just enjoy this whole barrage of puppet characters that you see on TV.

CONAN: All right. Well, by the way, Vivian in San Francisco emailed (unintelligible) to watch "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas" every year on HBO. That was another Jim Henson creation from 1977, haven't seen it in years. Looks like I could get it on DVD but I don't think they air it on TV anymore. So, Jim Henson's contributions. Thanks very much for the call, Ethan.

ETHAN: Thank you. Happy holidays.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to - this is Lisa, Lisa from Portland, Oregon.

LISA (Caller): Hi. My favorite one is the Supernatural Christmas special.

CONAN: And which one is that? I'm not familiar with that one.

LISA: "Supernatural" is a TV show on CW Network and it's about these two brothers who travel around the country taking on urban legends and ghosts and demons and things.

CONAN: Oh, yes. That show. Yes, sure.

LISA: Well, they start - the earlier caller referenced the network screen that would come on with the Christmas special, and it would swirl around, and then you didn't know what was coming up next. They resurrected that for this Christmas special last year. And so, they started out with that and then they went on and they took on the - Santa Claus was a drunk, the boys were trying to sing Christmas carols and they didn't know them and it turned out that a pagan god - the pagan gods were going out sacrificing people for Christmas time to get back to old ways. And it was just really fun.

CONAN: I'm glad you liked it, Lisa. Thanks very much for the call.

LISA: Sure, bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here're some emails we should catch up on before we have to leave. This is from Michael. When I was an adolescent, I had at least 40 taped television specials that I would routinely watch every year. Many of them were from the 1980s and early '90s. Favorites include "A Claymation Christmas with the California Raisins," "Roseanne," "Perfect Strangers," "Married with Children" and "Living Season."

Sarah in Bend, Oregon: We have so many, we watch every year from "White Christmas" to "The Grinch." But the one we sit down with all the kids and quote all year long is "The Muppet Christmas Carol." It's so well done. We laugh at the same places every year.

Susan in Waterville, Ohio - I think that's right. Let's see if I can get that right. Yeah, Waterville, Ohio - What about the original O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi," my all-time Christmas favorite where each couple - each of the couple sacrifice something they valued to buy the other precisely the accessory for what the other had sacrificed?

And Karinia(ph) in Fresno, Ohio writes, am I the only one enough (unintelligible) to recall a "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. That was a tradition as I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s. My favorite story read to my children when they were small and now even into adulthood is Rumer Godden's "The Story of Holly and Ivy." Well, that's one that has escaped me. Thanks for the recommendation.

Thanks to you all for calling and writing to us about your favorite Christmas TV specials. When we come back, well, it's back to politics. We're going to be talking about the selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration - a lot of people upset with that. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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