Christmas on TV: A sense of community around the electronic hearth

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28 2013 1:00 p.m. MST

Thomas Mitchell, left, and Jimmy Stewart in Thomas Mitchell, left, and Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life." (NBC)

PROVO, Utah — For Diena Simmons, Sandy Ewing and Wendy Thomas, Christmas comes twice a year.

The first time comes in late September and early October, when the three KBYU Eleven programmers begin putting together their line-up of Christmas-oriented programming for December.

“I don’t care how hard you try, you seriously cannot help but sing Christmas songs while you’re working on putting together a schedule of Christmas programs,” said Simmons, who is station manager of KBYU Eleven.

“When I’m working on the schedule, I’m looking for programs that are entertaining and that help you get into the Christmas spirit,” program manager Ewing added. “And so it’s September and we’re walking around feeling all Christmas-y. There’s just something about Christmas music, you know?”

"It's a Wonderful Life" (NBC)

The second time comes when those programs start appearing on the air

“We get caught up in the spirit of the season just like anyone else,” said Thomas, an acquisitions executive. “We love Christmas!”

For the KBYU programmers, the station’s Christmas philosophy is diversity.

“We like to have a selection of programs to appeal to a wide variety of audiences,” Ewing said. “Kids are important to us at KBYU, so we have a lot of entertaining and educational holiday programs for kids. We also look for programs that will target adults and parents, with musical specials featuring Celtic Women and Nathan Pacheco and Matthew Morrison (of 'Glee' fame).

"A Christmas Story" (TBS)

“And then we really try to reach out to our senior viewers,” Ewing continued. “Most commercial television stations tend to ignore the older demographics because they aren’t the most desirable advertising target. But we’re a public television station, and we aren’t driven by advertising revenue. So we make sure we have specials featuring Lawrence Welk and the King Family — programs that our older viewers tend to enjoy.”

Simmons said they try to always remember “that everybody’s life situation is different.”

“There are people who are alone on the holidays, people who can’t get out — we know our communities are a lot more than just moms and dads and their children,” she said. “Our Christmas programming philosophy includes bringing some holiday cheer into their homes. We hope some of our programs bring a sense of community into their lives and help them to feel that they are part of a large, communal celebration.”

Santa and Peter Billingsley in Santa and Peter Billingsley in "A Christmas Story." (TBS)

That sense of community seems to spread across the entire spectrum of televised possibilities each Christmas, with new movies and specials joining older, traditional offerings prompting people to gather — as families and individuals — around the electronic hearth.

One special that is likely to prompt a number of such gatherings is NBC’s live production of “The Sound of Music,” scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 5, featuring Carrie Underwood as Maria and Steven Moyer as Capt. Von Trapp. Others will be attracted to “The Great Christmas Light Fight” on ABC, a five-part series during which families compete to out-decorate each other. And others will be drawn to Christmas music specials featuring Michael Buble (Dec. 18 on NBC), Matthew Morrison (Dec. 23 on PBS) and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Dec. 24 on PBS), with Alfie Boe and Tom Brokaw.

A scene from A scene from "Fir Crazy." (Hallmark Channel)

For those who prefer their Christmas entertainment in a dramatic form, the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, ION, UP and ABC Family all feature a number of original movies with holiday themes, from “The Christmas Spirit” (Dec. 1 on Hallmark) to “A Snow Globe Christmas” (Dec. 14 on Lifetime) to “Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Miracle" (Dec. 3 on UP).

And, of course, there will be plenty of showings of classic Christmas movies: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Dec. 14 and 24 on NBC), the 1949 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” (Dec. 4 on HBO), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (Dec. 3 on ABC Family) and “Elf” (Nov. 30 on Starz). And don’t forget TBS’s traditional “A Christmas Story” marathon beginning Christmas Eve and extending through Christmas Day.

For all of the other Christmas specials and movies you’ve come to love — including several different Charlie Brown specials, three different versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and a number of different incarnations of “A Christmas Carol,” please see the accompanying list.

Tom Brokaw in Tom Brokaw in "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." (PBS)

Email: jwalker@deseretnews.com

Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company