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Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ghosts of Christmas cheeseballs past haunt cable

December 14, 2004

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Fans of the lavish, tacky and sparkly specials of yesteryear should not miss "The Christmas Special Christmas Special" (7 p.m. Bravo), a cheeky appreciation of the holiday television tradition narrated by Carson Kressley.

"Special" explores the symbiotic relationship between television and Christmas, the tradition of the huge holiday extravaganza, and the Christmas episodes of every conceivable sitcom and drama, including even the scatological "South Park" and ultra-violent "The Sopranos."

Rich in clips and witty observations, "Special" features inside dish on a backstage feud between Mel Torme and Judy Garland during the taping of Garland's 1963 holiday special. The shaky diva purposefully mangled the words to his "Christmas Song," replacing the word "reindeer" with the self-referential "rainbow" just to tick Mel off. Garland's daughter Lorna Luft recalls the show with equal parts admiration and terror.

Bing Crosby's daughter Mary recalls how her tone-deaf brother was dragooned into participating in her dad's songfests. Other Christmas-special veterans include surviving members of The King Family, Loni Anderson -- a trooper for many a Bob Hope Christmas tour -- and Pat Boone.

"Special" also looks at the golden age of Christmas animation and explores how the exhaustive and repetitious airings of "It's a Wonderful Life" and the 1951 adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" imprinted those films in the memories of the first several TV generations.

It's odd that they don't mention the low-budget 1983 "A Christmas Story" in this roundup. In fact, "Special" is the kind of smart, funny and memory-jarring hour that leaves you wanting more. I can't believe they omitted the ghastly and infamous 1978 "Star Wars" holiday special! Nothing says Christmas like Chewbacca under the tree.

  • Tom Everett Scott stars in "Karroll's Christmas" (7 p.m., A&E). He's Allen Karroll, a cranky greeting-card writer who has come to hate the holiday. Three ghosts haunt him on Christmas Eve. But he's first visited by a stoned Jacob Marley (Dan Joffre), a distant kin to Bob Marley. (Get it?) This sets the tone for the goofball spirits.

"Karroll" ricochets aimlessly and endlessly between belabored slapstick and mawkish sentimentality. If you'll forgive the extended metaphor, it's like a fruitcake baked by a committee stuffed with every ingredient in the cupboard that explodes in the oven and gets tossed into the garbage. And just when you think the sad cake is done with, it is set upon and devoured by rampaging dogs. It may be a holiday disaster, but I couldn't keep my eyes off of it.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Director Jonathan Demme's 2003 documentary "The Agronomist" (6 p.m., Cinemax) profiles Haitian activist Jean Dominique.
  • Riding on the Marrakech express in "The Rebel Billionaire" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • The "Peanuts" gang reconvenes for the holidays in the 2003 special "I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown" (7 p.m., ABC).
  • Panting through airports on "The Amazing Race" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • An unorthodox treatment reveals a nun's hidden past on "House" (8 p.m., Fox).
  • Brooke Burke hosts "Video Game Awards 2004" (8 p.m., Spike), featuring performances by Snoop Dogg & Pharrell.
  • Planted evidence on "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).
  • Director Martin Scorsese discusses his films from "Mean Streets" to the forthcoming "The Aviator" in the film "Scorsese on Scorsese" (9 p.m., Turner Classic Movies).

Series notes

Tony becomes too attached to his work on "Navy NCIS" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Caroline Rhea hosts "The Biggest Loser" (8 p.m., NBC) ... Airport bound on "All of Us" (7 p.m.) ... Rory comes clean on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m.).

Taking a year-end inventory on "Eve" (7:30 p.m., UPN).

Jim decks a Santa on "According to Jim" (8 p.m., ABC) ... Poker earnings up in smoke on "Veronica Mars" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Cliches go c-r-a-z-y on "High School Reunion" (8 p.m., WB).

J.D. and Elliot compete on "Scrubs" (7:30 p.m., NBC) ... Bad holiday memories on "George Lopez" (8:30 p.m., ABC) ... A mother's illness may require harsh justice on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS) ... A missing teen shows up in an abandoned college building on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).

Late night

Cate Blanchett and The Pixies appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts John Travolta and Celine Dion on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Eddie Cahill and Simple Plan appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).

Kevin Spacey and Skindred chat on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Carl Reiner, Joely Fisher and Kelly Clarkson are scheduled on "The Late, Late Show" (11:37 p.m., CBS).

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