Christmastime and the new year send television into overdrive with specials and holiday-themed episodes. What stands out? Here's a look at noteworthy programs and a countdown to the most special of all specials:
12. House, 8 p.m. Dec. 9 on Fox: Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a modern Scrooge. But in this episode, a Fox press release says, "House gives a clinic patient an unbelievable holiday gift and keeps the team guessing about who might have sent him a particularly thoughtful Christmas gift." Executive producer Katie Jacobs says, "The Christmas episode really has a very satisfying surprise for Cuddy and House in a personal kind of way." The episode is titled "Joy to the World."
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11. Greatest Holiday Moments: Songs of the Season Countdown, 8 p.m. Dec. 12 on NBC: This special looks at beloved renditions. The selections range from Gene Autry's Frosty the Snowman and Bing Crosby's White Christmas to John Lennon's Happy Christmas and Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You.
10. Little Spirit: Christmas in New York, 8 p.m. Dec. 10 on NBC: Duncan Sheik, composer of the hit Broadway musical Spring Awakening, supplies the original songs in this new special. NBC says the special's look mixes 3-D technology and traditional painting. The voices include Danny DeVito, Lucy Liu, Freddy Rodriguez, Brenda Song and NBC anchor Brian Williams.
9. Christmas in Washington, 8 p.m. Dec. 17 on TNT: Kristin Chenoweth of Pushing Daisies supplies Broadway pizazz. Julianne Hough of Dancing With the Stars brings the down-home country feel. Dr. Phil and Robin McGraw host this special, which will feature Darius Rucker, Casting Crowns and the a cappella group Straight No Chaser. The president and first lady usually attend the concert, which benefits the National Children's Medical Center.
8. A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, 8 p.m. Dec. 17 on NBC: In this new special, Kermit and his buddies race to get three letters to Mr. Claus. This new special features songs by Paul Williams. The many guest stars include Uma Thurman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Jesse L. Martin, Steve Schirripa and Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico.
7. Christmas in Rockefeller Center, 8 p.m. Dec. 3 on NBC: Al Roker hosts. The performers will include Tony Bennett, Faith Hill, Beyoncé, the Jonas Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., American Idol victor David Cook, Rosie O'Donnell and Rascal Flatts. The high point is usually the Christmas tree lighting.
6. Shrek the Halls, 8 p.m. Dec. 1 on ABC: Have you seen a gingerbread man throw up? A cooked turkey dance in a parade? Clever sight gags abound in this tart special. The story: Shrek is uptight. Villagers fret over preparations. A party falls apart. The best-laid holiday plans can go horribly wrong. ABC will repeat the program at 8 p.m. Dec. 22.
5. Kennedy Center Honors, 9 p.m. Dec. 30 on CBS: TV's classiest awards show will tape Dec. 7. Caroline Kennedy is the host. The deserving honorees are Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who, country great George Jones, actor Morgan Freeman, choreographer Twyla Tharp and singer-actress-director Barbra Streisand. You're going to hear People and The Way We Were.
4. A Christmas Story, Dec. 24 on TBS: A 24-hour marathon begins at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Jean Shepherd narrates this 1983 movie based on his memoir. It's the story of a boy (Peter Billingsley), a Red Ryder BB gun and some priceless comedy. Let us all give thanks for Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon, who play the parents. The movie also will air at 8 and 10 p.m. Dec. 3 on TNT.
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 8 p.m. Dec. 3 on CBS: Best reason to watch? The glorious voice of Burl Ives. The "Animagic" special, a favorite since 1964, has been digitally remastered, but the story hasn't changed. Rudolph and his pals still scurry to save Christmas.
2. It's a Wonderful Life, 8 p.m. Dec. 13 on NBC: George Bailey (James Stewart) learns what life in Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never lived. Frank Capra directed this 1946 fantasy, which features vital contributions from Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers. NBC will repeat the movie at 8 p.m. Dec. 24.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas, 8 p.m. Dec. 8 on ABC: This beloved special, which first aired in 1965, has been digitally remastered. The program remains a classic for its beguiling simplicity and the message imparted by Linus. ABC will repeat the special at 8 p.m. Dec. 16.