We count down the must-see holiday TV shows, right up until Dick Clark drops the ball
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(Wed., Dec. 1, 8-9 p.m., CBS)
STARRING Burl Ives (as singing narrator Sam the Snowman), plus lesser-known actors voicing Rudolph, Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowmonster, and the Misfit Toys
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT The first and best of the classic stop-motion animated holiday specials created by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (the folks behind Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and The Little Drummer Boy), Rudolph celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, making it the longest-running special in TV history. And it all came about because Rankin lived next door to ”Rudolph” songwriter Johnny Marks. Just be happy he didn’t live next door to the composer of ”Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
Nick and Jessica’s Family Christmas
(Wed., Dec. 1, 9-10 p.m., ABC)
STARRING Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson, and 33 of their relatives — including Ashlee Simpson and Drew Lachey. Nonrelatives performing include Brian McKnight and the late Bing Crosby.
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT The no-longer-newlyweds continue their heroic quest to singlehandedly revive the variety show — and to disprove tabloid tales of family turmoil. They duet on ”Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Ashlee tries not to get upstaged by Jessica (and to prove she can really sing) on the sisters’ performance of ”The Little Drummer Boy.” Nick and Drew reunite with their boy band, 98 Degrees, long enough to sing ”I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Nick even duets with Crosby’s Ghost of Christmas Specials Past on ”White Christmas.” Here’s hoping we also get to see Ashlee’s Christmas-hoedown jig.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
(Tues., Dec. 7, 8-9 p.m., ABC)
STARRING Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and Schroeder
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT This may be the only yuletide special in which someone (namely, Linus) demonstrates the meaning of Christmas by actually reading from a relevant passage in the Gospels. (Even back in 1965, the network tried to talk Peanuts creator Charles Schulz out of it.) No grown-ups, no Santa, no sugarplums, not much green on that sad little tree — the whole thing would have been a trifle gloomy were it not for Vince Guaraldi’s buoyant jazz score, which will have you bobbing your head like Snoopy. After the 30-minute original special, ABC is airing a series of vignettes called Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales, with each built around one of the Peanuts gang.
A Clay Aiken Christmas
(Wed., Dec. 8, 8-9 p.m., NBC)
STARRING Clay Aiken, Barry Manilow, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, and Megan Mullally
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT The American Idol star had to postpone his holiday-themed Joyful Noise Tour because of Aiken sinuses, but Clay-o-philes can hear him go a-caroling in their own living rooms. Clay’s interesting choice of costars — before she was on Will & Grace, Mullally was an accomplished musical-theater performer — suggests that maybe he’s got a little more edge than we thought.
Robbie the Reindeer
(Sat., Dec. 11, 8-9 p.m., CBS)
STARRING The voices of Ben Stiller, Hugh Grant, Britney Spears, Jim Belushi, Brad Garrett, Leah Remini, Jerry Stiller, and James Woods
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT Two recent British animated specials about Robbie were redubbed with bigger stars for rebroadcast here. Ben Stiller provides the voice of Robbie, a North Pole reindeer who finds himself in competition with bad-boy buck Blitzen (Grant). In the first installment, Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, Robbie and Blitzen vie for a spot on Santa’s sleigh team; in the second, Legend of the Lost Tribe, Robbie and a tribe of Vikings race to stop Blitzen from opening a reindeer theme park. Let the reindeer games begin.
(Dec. 12, 8-10 p.m., ABC Family)
STARRING Ed‘s Tom Cavanagh (pictured), plus Ashley Williams (Good Morning, Miami), Bobb’e Thompson (The Tracy Morgan Show), and Patrick Fabian (Joan of Arcadia)
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT Unlikely Santa Claus (Cavanagh)? Check. Cute moppet (Thompson) living in a boarding house? Check. Love interest (Williams)? Check. This new made-for-TV movie provides holiday comfort food, as Cavanagh’s Nick Snowden, taking over the North Pole family franchise, learns that one of his reindeer has been captured by a zoo. Nick has three days to rescue the reindeer, help the kid, find true love, and save Christmas. And you thought your December schedule was busy.
Christmas in Washington
(Wed., Dec. 15, 8-9 p.m., TNT)
STARRING Dr. and Mrs. Phil (hosting), President and Mrs. Bush (attending)
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT You’ll have the opportunity to see the President feigning interest during performances and to see Dr. Phil struggling against the temptation to tell the President to ”get real.” Thirteen-year-old hip-hop star JoJo, LeAnn Rimes, Vanessa Williams, and Ruben Studdard (pictured) are slated to perform at the 23rd presentation of this annual concert, which benefits the National Children’s Medical Center.
Home for the Holidays 2004
(Wed., Dec. 22, 8-9 p.m., CBS)
STARRING Jamie Foxx, Ashlee Simpson, Jamie Lee Curtis
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT Presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Children’s Action Network, the special, now in its sixth year, is intended to encourage the adoption of children with special needs. Foxx, who was adopted, hosts; the Black Eyed Peas and Ashlee Simpson will sing; and Curtis will join other adoptive parents to share inspirational stories.
A Christmas Story (24-hour marathon-TBS)
A Christmas Story
(Fri., Dec. 24, 8 p.m., to Sat., Dec. 25, 8 p.m., TBS)
STARRING Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT In 1940s Indiana, little Ralphie begs for a BB gun and then his friend gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. And then his friend gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. And then his friend gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. And eventually you decide to turn off the TV. The annual 24-hour marathon of this Wonder Years-esque Christmas movie has switched channels this year, but the concept is as hypnotically hilarious as ever.
Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve
(Fri., Dec. 31, 10-11 p.m., 11:35 p.m.-2:05 a.m., ABC)
STARRING Regis Philbin, Ashlee Simpson (pictured)
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT Philbin steps in for Dick Clark, who has counted down the Times Square ball drop for 32 years but is recuperating from a stroke. Simpson will host the West Coast concert portions of the show, featuring performances by Billy Idol, Earth Wind and Fire, Ciara, Los Lonely Boys, Simple Plan, and Fabolous. Meanwhile, two young microphone hogs who have been called Dick Clark’s heirs apparent are hosting their own network New Year’s specials for the first time. Carson Daly hosts NBC’s party (10 to 11 p.m.) from New York’s Rockefeller Center, with Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5, Duran Duran, and Donald Trump (live via satellite from Florida). Or you can swing it Seacrest-style with Fox’s creatively titled New Year’s Eve: Live from Times Square with Ryan Seacrest (11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.). The special unveils Usher’s new mini-movie, ”Caught Up,” which includes four of his songs and a cameo by Seacrest.
MTV’s New Year’s Eve Special
(Fri., Dec. 31, 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., MTV)
STARRING Lindsay Lohan (pictured), Snoop Dogg, Green Day, Ryan Cabrera
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT Broadcast live from MTV’s studios overlooking Times Square, it’s like the ”cool kids’ version” of the Dick Clark special, except with Ryan Cabrera. MTV VJs Damien, LaLa, Quddus, and Vanessa will host and will announce that their New Year’s resolution is to get last names.
South Park New Year’s
(Sat., Jan. 1, Midnight-3 a.m., Comedy Central)
STARRING Trey Parker and Matt Stone as the voices of spherical kids Eric, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny
WHAT MAKES IT A TREAT After watching either MTV’s or Dick Clark’s celebrity-stuffed galas, six back-to-back classic rock-themed South Park episodes, featuring messed-up musical numbers and boy bands gone wild, should clear the palate. The movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut follows.