Yule specials aim to please
‘Yes, Virginia’ seeks staying power of the classics
The creative forces behind “Yes, Virginia” know they face daunting odds.
At this time every year, TV programmers serve up shiny, new holiday-themed fare, only to have viewers discard most of it like crumpled wads of gift wrap.
“It’s tough to break through the crowd,” says Matt MacDonald, a producer for “Yes, Virginia,” which debuts Dec. 11 on CBS.
“A lot of specials in recent years have failed to stick around. Everyone seems to love the classics from the 1960s.”
“Yes, Virginia,” featuring the voice talents of Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Alfred Molina, is a computer-animated offering that revisits the late 1800s tale of little Virginia O’Hanlon, who wonders if Santa Claus really exists.
She eventually writes a letter to the New York Sun newspaper, which responds with an editorial that has become part of Christmas lore.
The story received TV treatment for a 1974 special, but MacDonald and his collaborators thought it was worth telling again.
“We anchored it in reality, but we didn’t try to make it too hip or too modern,” he says. “We don’t want it to be something that has its day and is gone. Twenty years down the road, we’d love to be right there with Charlie Brown and Rudolph.”
Here’s a rundown of some of prime-time television’s upcoming holiday highlights, both old and new:
Holiday Hall of Fame
•“A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec. 8 and 24, 8 p.m., ABC): A pathetic little tree gets some love and the Peanuts gang learns the true meaning of Christmas.
•“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Wednesday, repeats Dec. 12, 8 p.m., CBS): It’s a celebration of nonconformity as North Pole outcasts rise and shine.
•“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (Monday, 8 p.m., ABC): Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle melts the heart of the Burgermeister Meisterburger.
•“The Year Without a Santa Claus” (Dec. 8, 8 p.m., ABC Family): Say it isn’t so: The big guy goes on strike.
•“Frosty the Snowman” (Dec. 18, 8 p.m., CBS): It’s time to chill out with the jolly, happy soul.
•“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (Dec. 23, 8 p.m., ABC): Quick, put Whoville on lockdown. The greedy grouch is lurking once again.
New for the kiddies
•“Disney Prep & Landing” (tonight, repeats Dec. 16, 8:30 p.m., ABC): An elite unit of Santa’s elves readies homes for the big night.
•“Yes, Virginia” (Dec. 11, 8 p.m., CBS): Neil Patrick Harris and Jennifer Love Hewitt lend voices to familiar tale of girl who questions the existence of Santa.
•“A Christmas Carol” (Thursday, 5 p.m., TCM): The 1938 version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge.
•“The Polar Express” (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., ABC Family): Tom Hanks is the conductor on a magical train en route to the North Pole.
•“White Christmas” (Saturday, 8 p.m., AMC): Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye work hard to make your days merry and bright.
•“It’s A Wonderful Life” (Dec. 12 and 24, 8 p.m., NBC): Capra classic still has the power to turn us into blubbering wrecks.
•“A Christmas Story” (Dec. 24, 8 p.m., TBS): We triple-dog dare you not to watch this nostalgic charmer over and over and over.
Gifts that keep giving
•“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (Dec. 8, 7 p.m., ABC Family): Disney does Dickens in this 1983 ‘toon.
•“A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” (Dec. 8, 9 p.m., ABC Family): A 2008 sequel to 1974’s “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
•“A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa” (Dec. 11, 8 p.m., NBC): Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang celebrate the holidays.
•“The Flight Before Christmas” (Dec. 12, 9 p.m., CBS): Animated tale of a young reindeer who aspires to be an expert flyer like his father.
•“Frosty Returns” (Dec 18, 8:30 p.m., CBS): Apparently, there’s still some magic in that old silk hat.
Freshly wrapped TV movies
•“Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle” (Saturday, 8 p.m., Hallmark): Doris Roberts plays a heaven-sent housekeeper who gives a fractured family an unforgettable holiday.
•“12 Men of Christmas” (Saturday, 9 p.m., Lifetime): Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth plays a PR exec who raises temperatures in a Montana town with a hunk-filled calendar.
•“Christmas in Canaan” (Dec. 12, 8 p.m., Hallmark): Billy Ray Cyrus stars in a tale about two boys who form an unlikely friendship in the 1960s.
•“The Christmas Hope” (Dec. 13, 8 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network): A social worker (Madeleine Stowe) bends the rules and takes in an orphaned child.
Making spirits bright
•“Christmas in Rockefeller Center” (Wednesday, 8 p.m., NBC): Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Barry Manilow and others help light up the big tree in the Big Apple.
•“Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special” (Monday, 8 p.m., Fox): The country crooner performs holiday classics with her pals, including Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley.
•“Jennifer Hudson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Dec. 14, 8 p.m., ABC): The Oscar-winning “Dreamgirl” gets into the holiday mood.
•“Christmas in Washington” (Dec 20, 8 p.m., TNT): Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Sugarland and others celebrate in musical style.
•“A Home for the Holidays With Faith Hill” (Dec. 23, 8 p.m., CBS): Celebrities present inspirational stories about adoption.