Here it is two days before Christmas, which means we’re almost to the end of the pestilent parade of inane Christmas specials.

Every year it’s the same old story. The shows can be broken up into the usual categories:

Roaming bands of has-beens, never-beens and sometime-before-the-Stone-Age-beens hit the screen to mangle the Christmas songs we know and love. “And now, I’d like to introduce a dear, dear friend of mine, Mario Lopez, who will sing `Silent Night.’ AAARRGGHHH!”

Quirky, one-hour dramas have cutesy, dumb episodes about vagrants named Kris Kringle washing into their hospitals and law firms.

Worst of all, there are special “Christmas episodes” of such unlikely contenders as “Baywatch.” “Hmm . . . I’m getting a lot of requests for silicon here,” Santa is heard to mumble.

And of course there are the Hallmark films, featuring white women dumping successful city guys for flannel wearing hometown bros for whom “awww shucks” is a swear, which are a special ring of hell best completely ignored.

Hallmark Hell And More: An Icy Look At The Sleighload of Christmas Specials

These shows are the gauche scrooges of the holiday TV schedule. Vapid and specious, they degrade a sacred and honest season with their superficial presence.

One nice thing to note is that people haven’t been buying it.

The Nielsen ratings prove that while these types of shows are struggling, some classic Christmas shows — “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and the like — are still drawing Santa-sized numbers.

They should. These shows are the essence of the season. Well-meaning, innocent and pure, they mirror the spirit of Christmas.

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Some of my fondest childhood Christmas memories are tied in with my favorite Christmas TV shows. Other than the calendar and the snow on the ground, the half-page ad for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in the TV Guide was the most tangible harbinger of the season. The shows were as eagerly devoured as the first tree-shaped cookies off my grandmother’s stove.

Who could forget them? They held some of the most genuine and heart-tugging moments on the tube. Forget the last episode of “M.A.S.H.” Who could keep a dry eye when Frosty melted, or Charlie Brown drowned in sadness after “killing” his scrawny little tree?

And then there were the wildly imaginative specials, which usually featured those stop-motion animated puppets. What were those things — animated, stuffed animals, or what?

“Rudolph” was the classic. It taught little kids that being different wasn’t a trait to be ashamed of, it was one to be cherished. The sight of Rudolph and the elf who wanted to be a dentist on the Island of Misfit Toys still beats any Disney movie in my book.

But while “Rudolph” was one of the best-known stop-motion specials, the one I anticipated most was “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” You might not remember the title, but you remember the characters, such as Heat Mizer “He’s too much” and Jack Frost. They were studs.

My favorite Christmas shows haven’t changed since I was little — they’re “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy.”

The “Grinch” is classic Dr. Seuss, dark and creative. As usual, Theodore Geisel packed this story with loving detail and subtle humor.

The other shows are a bit more straight, but no less amusing.

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All of them have their share of laughs, adventure and sentiment. All have some awesome scenes backed by effective music. The redemption of their lead characters is touching, especially in the case of “The Little Drummer Boy.” The scarred orphan’s determination to win back the life of his pet lamb is a magical moment. It still chokes me up. I’m sure it still gives a lot of people a lump in their throat.

That’s why these shows still draw such large audiences, why the ritual of watching them gets passed from generation to generation. The feeling that emanates from these shows is palpable. There are few things that can create that sense of wonder anymore.

That’s why in 2094, families will still probably be watching these shows. I’d like to see anyone say that with a straight face about the craptacular Hallmark movies.

Hallmark Hell And More: An Icy Look At The Sleighload of Christmas Specials
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.
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Hallmark Hell And More: An Icy Look At The Sleighload of Christmas Specials

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