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Christmas media with a message

Lots of family-friendly fare out there; you just have to look

Published: Thursday, Dec. 15 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

"A Charlie Brown Christmas," which debuted in 1965, has only aired a handful of times this year — once on ABC and twice on ABC Family.

Associated Press

In the 1982 British animated short film "The Snowman," the title character owns a relatively long torso and shorter limbs — a body type much more in line with a polar bear's than the generic snowman composition of three snowballs stacked biggest-to-smallest.

The Snowman doesn't speak, and seemingly simple things, like light switches, tinkling bells and Christmas lights, catch his fancy and pique a childlike curiosity.

In short, he's no Frosty.

" 'The Snowman' takes us back to a simpler time," said Mathew Curtis, a professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism, whose primary research examines emotion and the role of comparison. "There is no talking in the movie which allows the viewer to create their own story to accompany the movie."

And yet despite his apparent limitations, The Snowman can fly and is a close personal friend of Santa Claus. By taking the boy who built him to the North Pole to meet old Kris Kringle himself, The Snowman touches the hearts of viewers young and old alike.

"This story creation engages the viewer and results in a strong emotional response to the end of the story," Curtis said. "This was an Academy Award nominee (1983, Best Animated Short) and is not just for children as it is family entertainment adults can enjoy. I just bought this for my son for his first movie."

The mainstream media offer a wealth of family-friendly choices during the holiday season — everything from new animated specials to the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." But as "The Snowman" — a 23-minute cartoon you'll likely have to go to YouTube to watch or Amazon to purchase — illustrates, some of the best content will evade consumers unless they're proactive about searching it out.

"Usually (programming) is so much better this time of year," said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for Parents Television Council.

"Fortunately, the networks and cable channels tend to offer a lot of holiday-specific programming, which generally tends to be very child-friendly and very family-friendly. You've got a lot of the classics that have been around for generations, like 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'"

Indeed, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" aptly illustrates how the evolving consumption of holiday media also affects the prominent fare. When it debuted in 1965, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was hard for viewers to miss because there were only a handful of channels to choose from.

But this year, amid a television lineup replete with hundreds of channel choices, the special has aired once on ABC and once on ABC Family.

A second airing on ABC is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m.

The net result of such a fractured media landscape is something that would've been unimaginable in 1965: It's easy for even the most ardent Charlie Brown fans to miss those airings.

"In those days (watching 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' on TV) was a big deal," said Amy Johnson, daughter of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. "People made a bigger point out of sitting down together and that was your entertainment because there were no other choices. … I personally haven't even watched any of the specials this year, because I thought, 'Well, I'll just watch them on DVD.' "

While the consumption of television media took decades to evolve to the point where the best choices were hard to find during the holidays, the relatively new arena of smartphone apps has been cluttered from the start — and holiday-themed apps are no exception.

Consider the case of Common Sense Media's brand-new Holiday Gift Guide, a free interactive app that offers assistance to adults who buy gifts for children and want to know the age-appropriate nature of media such as DVDs, video games, books and music.

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