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Holiday TV Preview 2011: Many Christmas specials wouldn't be the same without wingmen

Contra Costa TimesNovember 25, 2011 

Charlie Brown is the star, but Linus van Pelt helps him in his struggles in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

  • HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS

    Here are some highlights of holiday-themed TV programs airing between now and Christmas. Some of these shows will have repeat airings. For those times, and for other programs, consult your listings.

    GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING

    Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: An animated interpretation of the annoying yuletide tune. (8 p.m. Nov. 25, The CW.)

    Olive the Other Reindeer: A dog (Drew Barrymore) thinks she's ready to help pull Santa's sleigh. (9 p.m. Nov. 25, The CW.)

    Shrek the Halls: The cranky swamp ogre struggles to get into the Christmas spirit. (8:30 p.m. Nov. 28, ABC.)

    A Miser Brothers' Christmas: A sequel to 1974's A Year Without a Santa Claus. (10 p.m. Dec. 8, ABC Family.)

    Frosty Returns: A new snow-removal spray threatens our favorite snowman. (8:30 p.m. Dec. 9, CBS.)

    Yes, Virginia: A curious, letter-writing girl questions the existence of Santa Claus. (9 p.m. Dec. 9, CBS.)

    The Flight Before Christmas: A young reindeer yearns to become an expert flier just like his dad. (9 p.m. Dec. 10, CBS.)

    The Story of Santa Claus: Animated saga traces the early days of the jolly big man. (9 p.m. Dec. 17, CBS.)

    NEW FOR THE KIDDIES

    Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas: The pink kitty and green bunny travel back in time with a young Kriss Kringle. (8 p.m. Nov. 25, CBS.)

    Jingle All the Way: A spirited Husky pup bonds with a boy during a visit to a Christmas tree farm. (8 p.m. Nov. 25, Hallmark.)

    The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf's Story: An elf named Chippey helps a boy struggling to believe in Christmas magic. (8:30 p.m. Nov. 25, CBS.)

    Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice: The adventures continue for elves Lanny and Wayne, who try to thwart a naughty computer hacker who is out to spoil Christmas. (8:30 p.m. Dec. 5, ABC.)

    Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas: There's trouble in the arctic when Sid accidentally destroys Manny's favorite holiday decorations. (9 p.m. Dec. 16, Fox. Premiered Nov. 24.)

    NEW TV FILMS

    Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas: Tom Cavanagh and Faith Ford star in the third film of a series. (8 p.m. Nov. 26, Hallmark.)

    Desperately Seeking Santa: An ambitious marketing executive (Laura Vandervoort) dreams up a sexy-Santa contest to boost traffic at a shopping mall. (8 p.m. Nov. 27, ABC Family.)

    Good Luck, Charlie, It's Christmas: Chaos breaks out as the Duncan family gets separated during a holiday road trip. (8 p.m. Dec. 2, Disney.)

    A Princess for Christmas: A reclusive English Duke (Roger Moore) tries to reconnect with his estranged American relatives. (8 p.m. Dec. 3, Hallmark.)

    Annie Claus Is Coming to Town: Santa's daughter (Maria Thayer) leaves the North Pole for a trip to sunny California. (8 p.m. Dec. 10. Hallmark.)

    12 Dates of Christmas: Amy Smart and Mark-Paul Gosselaar star in a romantic comedy about a woman who continually relives the same first date on Christmas Eve. (8 p.m. Dec. 11, ABC Family.)

    Christmas Comes to Canaan: Country crooner and Flatwoods native Billy Ray Cyrus stars in this sequel to a 2009 film. (8 p.m. Dec. 17, Hallmark.)

    BIG-SCREEN EVERGREENS

    The Santa Clause: Tim Allen dons the red suit and fluffy beard. Chaos ensues. (7 p.m. Dec. 1, ABC Family.)

    The Polar Express: Tom Hanks is the conductor on a magical train bound for the North Pole. (8:30 p.m. Dec. 5, ABC Family.)

    A Christmas Carol: Reginald Owen plays the miserable miser in this 1938 version of the Dickens classic. (9:45 p.m. Dec. 5, TCM.)

    Miracle on 34th Street: A department store Santa restores our faith in humanity. (Noon Dec. 6, TCM.)

    MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT

    Christmas in Rockefeller Center: Tony Bennett, Justin Bieber, Cee Lo Green, Faith Hill and others light up the big tree in the Big Apple. (8 p.m. Nov. 30, NBC.)

    CMA Country Christmas: Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and others belt holiday tunes. (9 p.m. Dec. 1, ABC.)

    The Sing-Off Holiday Special: Reality series looks to provide plenty of comfort and joy. (8 p.m. Dec. 5, NBC.)

    National Christmas Tree Lighting 2011. Stars serenade as the Washington tree is lit. 9 p.m. Dec. 5, KET.

    A Michael Bublé Christmas: He sings songs from his new Christmas album. (8 p.m. Dec. 6, NBC.)

    Kentucky Life: 2011 Christmas Special. The holidays are explored across the state, including at the University of Kentucky. 8 p.m. Dec. 17, KET.

    A Home for the Holidays: Celebrities extol the virtues of child adoption in the 13th annual special. (8 p.m. Dec. 21, CBS.)

    Berea College Christmas Concert. The school's music ensembles perform. 10 p.m. Dec. 24, KETKY.

Rudolph. Charlie Brown. The Grinch. They're longtime favorites who always grab top billing when the networks roll out their holiday programs.

You have to wonder, though, whether they would have become big TV stars, or whether their shows would have earned "classic" status, if not for the extraordinary contributions of solid supporting players. After all, to achieve lasting pop-cultural shelf life, it usually takes teamwork.

With that in mind, we salute some of the top holiday scene-stealers — great characters who make us laugh, cry and sometimes wince, year after year:

Max the dog in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: We adore Cindy Lou Who, the sweet little tot who melts our hearts. But no one tops the pitiful pooch who is essentially a slave to the abusive Grinch yet loves him unconditionally. The wild trek that has Max, with makeshift reindeer headgear, pulling an overloaded sleigh over treacherous mountain passes is pure slapstick brilliance. Seuss said it best when he described the cartoon canine as an "Everydog — all love and limpness and loyalty." Interestingly, Max was just a minor character in the Seuss book, but animator Chuck Jones wisely expanded his role for the TV adaptation. (Airing at 8 p.m. Nov. 28, ABC.)

Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Yes, the blustery prospector (voiced by Larry D. Mann) is full of himself, but he provides a jolt of comic relief. Not only does Yukon utter some of the show's funniest lines, he is pivotal to its final resolution — outwitting the "Bumble" and paving the way for Rudolph's heroics. (8 p.m. Nov. 29, CBS.)

Linus van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas: The levelheaded Linus (voiced by Christopher Shea) is the show's voice of reason, helping to keep anxiety-ridden Charlie Brown from going berserk. His quietly eloquent reading from the Gospel of Luke packs an emotional wallop and remains one of the most memorable moments in any holiday program. Network executives argued against having Linus read from the Bible, but Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was adamant that the scene remain. Shea was only 7 years old when he performed the part. (8 p.m. Dec. 5, ABC.)

Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: The blissfully ignorant, beer-swilling, mooching relative of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) makes Homer Simpson look refined. In one day alone, the character (played by Randy Quaid) sets the stage for a sewer explosion and commits a kidnapping that brings out the SWAT team. Few characters are as repulsive as they are amusing. (9 p.m. Dec. 7, ABC Family.)

Clarence, Angel Second Class, in It's a Wonderful Life: He might seem cheerfully incompetent, but Clarence (Henry Travers) gets the job done — saving George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from suicide and finally earning his wings (listen for the bell). With the perfect blend of facial expressions, childlike wonder, voice and delivery, Clarence never fails to make us smile. (8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 24, NBC)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

A few other holiday scene-stealers who have left an indelible impression on us:

Miles Finch in Elf: The incensed Finch (Peter Dinklage) kicks Will Ferrell's butt. (8 p.m. Nov. 26, USA.)

The Winter Warlock in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town: Quite simply, the coolest name ever. (8 p.m. Dec. 1, ABC.)

Heat Miser and Snow Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus: Mother Nature's warring sons strike gold with their vaudevillian theme songs. (9 p.m. Dec. 8, ABC Family.)

Professor Hinkle in Frosty the Snowman: The hatless villain just needs to chill out. (8 p.m. Dec. 9, CBS.)

The leg lamp in A Christmas Story: Ah, the power of fishnet. Rarely has a lone prop gained so much attention. (24-hour marathon begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 24, TBS.)

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