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(Courtesy photo) Kris Kringle in "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town."
Making a TV Christmas specials list, checking it twice

Television » Half a dozen lists, actually, of top holiday programs to enjoy again and again.

By Scott D. Pierce

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Dec 05 2013 09:56 am • Last Updated Dec 06 2013 01:26 pm

Not so long ago, we were slaves to TV programmers — even at Christmastime. If there was a special we wanted to see, we had to watch it when it was scheduled.

Those days are long gone. And not just because so many of us have DVRs (having replaced our VCRs), but because pretty much every imaginable Christmas TV special is available on DVD and/or Blu-ray.

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What hasn’t changed is that so many of those specials have become part of our holiday traditions. It just wouldn’t seem like Christmas if Rudolph didn’t lead Santa through the storm; if Charlie Brown didn’t pick that terrible tree; and if the Grinch didn’t bring all those presents back to Whoville.

Here are a few lists of the best made-for-TV Christmas specials to brighten your home viewing:

ANIMATED SPECIALS » Cartoons you can’t help but love.

1. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965) » This perfect mix of charm and heart may just be the best holiday special ever.

2. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966) » It will touch your heart when the spirit of Christmas makes the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.

3. "Frosty the Snowman" (1969) » Jimmy Durante narrates this classic.

4. "Olive, the Other Reindeer" (1999) » A Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Drew Barrymore) tries to substitute for Blitzen.

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5. "It’s a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special" (1992) » Buster the Bunny makes like George Bailey.

TV SCROOGES » The best adaptations of Dickens’ classic.

1. "Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol" (1962) » An outstanding animated musical.

2. "Mickey’s Christmas Carol" (1983) » You can’t get better casting than Scrooge McDuck.

3. "A Christmas Carol" (1984) » George C. Scott is magnificent in this TV movie.

4. "A Christmas Carol" (1999) » Patrick Stewart is magnificent in this TV movie.

5. "Blackadder’s Christmas Carol" (1988) » Rowan Atkinson is hilarious in this parody.

RANKIN/BASS STOP-MOTION ANIMATION » This production studio made stop-motion an art form.

1. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964) » This holiday classic still charms a half-century after it first aired.

2. "Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town" (1970) » Great songs, great story, Fred Astaire narrates.

3. "The Little Drummer Boy" (1968) » Based on the familiar song, of course, this mixes entertainment and the Christmas story.

4. "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974) » Lots of fun and a great villain — the Snow Miser.

5. "Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (1977) » Who knew Santa had a donkey?

HOLIDAY TV MOVIES » Top teleflicks.

1. "The Christmas Box" (1995) » Maureen O’Hara stars in this excellent adaptation of Richard Paul Evans’ book.

2. "The Gathering" (1977) » A dying man (Ed Asner) tries to reunite his family.

3. "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" (1971) » Heartfelt TV movie that launched "The Waltons."

4. "A Dog Named Christmas" (2009) » Hallmark Hall of Fame production about a developmentally disabled young man trying to save shelter dogs.

5. "A Very Brady Christmas" (1988) » Hokey but engaging TV movie that reunites America’s favorite blended family.

MERRY MUPPETS » Much more than just Kermit the Frog.

1. "Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas" (1977) » Charmer about an otter boy, his mom and the true meaning of Christmas.

2. "A Muppet Family Christmas" (1987) » Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the gang celebrate the holiday.

3. "Elmo Saves Christmas: (1996) » Elmo rescues Santa Claus.

4. "A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa" (2008) » The Muppets try to deliver letters to the North Pole after Gonzo accidentally diverts them.

5. "Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree" (1995) » Mr. Willowby (Robert Downey Jr.) searches for the perfect tree.

TV SERIES EPISODES » They’re all available on DVD releases of the proper season.

1. "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (1989) » Bart’s tattoo almost ruins Christmas in the very first episode of "The Simpsons."

2. "All in the Family: Draft Dodger" (1976) » A draft dodger and the father of a soldier killed in Vietnam spend Christmas with the Bunkers.

3. "The Big Bang Theory: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis" (2008) » Penny gives Sheldon the best gift ever.

4. "M*A*S*H: Dear Dad" (1972) » Hawkeye writes home about Christmas in Korea.

5. "Ally McBeal: ’Tis the Season" (2000) » Heartfelt, bittersweet episode that features Robert Downey Jr.’s character at the piano singing to the child he rarely sees.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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