How soon is too soon for festive TV specials? Your opinion hardly matters because the deluge of holiday programming has already begun.
The Oregonian reports on the seasonal tradition of Christmas-related specials that unofficially commenced with CBS’s airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Tuesday night.
First broadcast in 1964, the animated story of the little reindeer ostracized because of his shiny nose has more or less become the kickoff event for the annual parade of holiday TV chestnuts, along with A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the inimitable Frosty the Snowman.
But Rudolph always goes first, and this year the special aired earlier than ever before. For the record, the U.S. Thanksgiving is this weekend.
For broadcasters, these old-school holiday specials are a win-win proposition. There’s almost no cost involved in airing them and they continue to grab healthy ratings.
Case in point: Whenever CBS airs Rudolph, the network is guaranteed a U.S. viewing audience of five to six million viewers. Every single time, without fail.
The same viewer loyalty holds true in Canada, with commensurately smaller ratings, every single time Rudolph airs here on YTV and CBC. In the TV racket, Rudolph is probably as close as it comes to a sure thing.
And really, what’s not to like about Rudolph? Working off only a corny Christmas novelty song as source material, the stop-motion special has lost little of its charm over the past half-century. We love it because we grew up with it.
In some ways, Rudolph enables viewers to suspend disbelief, and how many TV shows can make that claim? Viewers are willing to look past the jerky animation style, or the fact that the Abominable Snowman looks like he was made out of carpet samples. It’s like a snow globe fantasy brought to life, and there are positive messages in the story.
Despite great adversity and a glowing honker, Rudolph learns to survive in this hard old world. Everyone else receives a message in tolerance, those horrifying misfit toys finally find a home and that tubby jerk Santa is forced to come crawling back to Rudolph in the end.
Is it any wonder that the special has inspired the musical production Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical?
Weirdly, most people can’t get to the festive programming fast enough. The Oregonian conducted an online poll asking readers whether they’d be watching Rudolph on Tuesday night. The results: 47 per cent said, “No, it’s too soon!” and 52 per cent said “Yes, I love ‘Rudolph,’ so why wait?’”
‘Tis the season.