Christmas shows -- all the time, everywhere

You can't really celebrate Christmas without a scorecard and a master list. There are holiday shows everywhere, all the time.

I sent papers a list that starts Saturday (Nov. 27) and goes on through Christmas. It's packed ... and still incomplete.

And occasionally, it includes shows that are quite splendid. "November Christmas" -- Sunday (Nov. 28) on CBS -- is beautifully crafted and richly emotional. It ranks near the top of any list, in the general turf of "Grinch" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's soon followed by a thoroughly entertaining "CMA County Christmas" on Monday; two days later, ABC Family starts its "25 Days of Christmas," which helped spark this surge.

Anyway, here's the list. Please look it over and also keep an eye on the daily columns:


Music and dance

– “CMA Country Christmas.”
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland hosts a splendid mixture of uptempo tunes and strong ballads. The line-up includes Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker,
LeAnn Rimes and members of Rascal Flatts and Little Big Town.
(9:30-11 p.m., Nov. 29, ABC)

-- "Royal Opera House: The Nutcracker." This launches a five-day string of "Nutcracker" performances, with viewers then choosing their favorite. These will repeat Dec. 19-23, then rerun in an all-day, Christmas Day marathon.

– “Christmas in Washington.”
Ellen Degeneres hosts Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, Andrea Bocelli,
Maxwell, Miranda Cosgrove (“iCarly”) and Matthew Morrison
(“Glee”). (8 p.m., Dec. 17, TNT)

– Also, several new PBS concerts
(check local listings): “L.A. Holiday Celebration” (9 p.m., Dec.
8); “Christmas at Concordia: Journey to Bethlehem” (9 p.m., Dec.
13); “A Renaissance Christmas” (10 p.m., Dec. 13); and “Christmas
With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” with Natalie Cole (8 p.m., Dec.
15). Also, the San Francisco Ballet's “Nutcracker” reruns at 9
p.m., Dec. 12.

Animated (the two giants)

– “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Dr. Seuss' great story joined animation from Chuck Jones, of Road
Runner fame, to create a masterpiece. (8 p.m., Nov. 30 and Dec. 9,
ABC; also, on the Cartoon Network at 8 p.m., Dec. 9; 5:30 p.m., Dec.
12; 7:30 p.m., Dec. 13; 5:30 p.m., Dec. 15; 7:30 p.m., Dec. 18; 7
p.m., Dec. 20; and 4:30 p.m., Dec. 22)

– “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Skillfully mixing humor, heart and a jazzy little score, this ranks
alongside “Grinch” as two of the great moments in TV history. (8
p.m., Dec. 7 and 16, ABC).

Animated (the rest)

– “Merry Madagascar” and “Kung
Fu Panda Holiday Special.” Using the characters from hit movies,
Dreamworks created these TV specials. (8-9 p.m., Nov. 27, NBC)

– “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
has been around for 46 years. (8-9 p.m., Nov. 30, CBS)

– “Shrek the Halls.” In a so-so
tale, Shrek is clueless on how to plan for Christmas. The first
airing follows “Grinch,” the second leads into “Prep &
Landing,” a quick-paced cartoon about the elves who prepare Santa's
stops. (8:30 p.m., Nov. 30; 8 p.m. Dec. 9, ABC)

– “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.”
It's the show's 40th anniversary. (8-9 p.m., Dec. 2, ABC;
also, ABC Family, 8 p.m., Dec. 9; 7 p.m., Dec. 10; 5 p.m., Dec.
18-19; 9 p.m., Dec. 24; 8 a.m., Dec. 25)

– “Mickey's Christmas Special.”
Classic cartoons are assembled. (7 p.m., Dec. 7, ABC Family; also,
10:30 p.m., Dec. 17; 5 p.m., Dec. 24)

– “Frosty the Snowman” has been
around for 41 years, with a zippy song and an OK story. Its first
airing this year (8 p.m., Dec. 11, CBS) pairs it with a shabby
sequel, “Frosty Returns.” Then (8:30 p.m.,, Dec. 17) it follows
“Yes, Virginia,” which debuted last season.

– “The Flight Before Christmas.”
A young reindeer and his squirrel friend search for his father, who
may be a member of Santa's Flying Forces. (9 p.m., Dec. 11, CBS)

– “I Want a Dog for Christmas,
Charlie Brown.” This was created in 2003, based on Charles Schulz's
comic strips. When Snoopy isn't available, Rerun turns to Spike. (8-9
p.m., Dec. 14 and 18, ABC)

– Also: ABC Family loads up on
cartoons, most related to Christmas. They're 6-8 p.m., Dec. 1; 6-7
p.m., Dec. 2; 6-8:30, Dec. 6; 6-8:30 p.m., Dec. 8; 6-11 p.m., Dec. 9,
6-8 p.m., Dec. 10; 6-7 p.m., Dec. 13; 6-8 p.m., Dec. 14; 6-8:30 p.m.,
Dec. 15; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 18; 4-6 p.m., Dec. 19; 6-8 p.m., Dec.
20; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Dec. 24; and 7-10 a.m., Dec. 25.

New TV movies (the best)

– “November Christmas.” Here is
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” at its best – intelligently written and
richly crafted. With his daughter fighting cancer, a dad (John
Corbett) wants to move the holidays ahead; soon, townspeople
(including Sam Elliott) are helping. Director Robert Harmon gives
this the same soft-spoken eloquence he gives to all the Jesse Stone
movies. (9-11 p.m., Nov. 30, CBS)

– “Christmas Cupid.” Three years
ago, singer-actress Christina Milian made “Snowglobe,” one of the
best Christmas movies; now she has another winner. When a Lindsay
Lohan type (zestfully played by Ashley Benson) chokes on a martini
olive, she returns as a ghost to re-direct her self-centered
publicist. (8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 12, ABC Family; also, 7 p.m., Dec.
13; 2 p.m., Dec.21)

– “Call Me Mrs. Miracle.” Doris
Roberts returns as Mrs. Merkle, a benevolent (and rather magical)
soul who inserts herself in strangers' lives. Jewel Staite is
excellent as a well-meaning flounderer. Slickly directed by Michael
Scott, this overcomes any flaws and predictability. (8 and 10 p.m.,
Nov. 27, Hallmark Channel; reruns at 8 p.m., Nov. 28 and Dec. 3)

New TV movies (not so good)

– “The Night Before the Night
Before Christmas.” Santa embarks a day early, causing his magic to
malfunction. He crashes on a roof in Milwaukee and loses his memory.
(2 p.m. Nov. 27, Hallmark)

– “On Strike For Christmas.” With
a mountain of Christmas tasks – all ignored by her husband and sons
– a mom (Daphne Zuniga) goes on strike. It takes almost half the
movie, alas, to get to the fun part. (8 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. PT. Dec.
5, Lifetime Movie Network; reruns at midnight)

– “An Old-Fashioned Christmas.”
There are touches of class, with Jacqueline Bisset, Irish settings
and characters from Louisa May Alcott. Still, this often seems stiff
and lifeless. (8 p.m., Dec. 11, Hallmark)

More coming

– “The Dog Who Saved Christmas
Vacation.” This sequel again has Dean Cain as a hapless thief and
Mario Lopez voicing the thoughts of a heroic mutt. Paris Hilton is
typecast as the thoughts of a pampered poodle. (8 and 10 p.m., Nov.
28, ABC Family; also, 7 a.m., Dec.4.

– The Hallmark Channel has many more
films, each debuting at 8 p.m. They include Kevin Sorbo in “The
Santa Suit” (Dec. 2), Christine Taylor in “Farewell, Mr. Kringle”
(Dec. 4), Ione Skye in “The Santa Incident” (Dec. 9), Fionnula
Flanagan in “Three Wise Women” (Dec. 14), Marla Sokoloff in “Gift
of the Magi” (Dec. 16) and Daniel Stern and Matt Frewer in “Battle
of the Bulbs” (Dec. 18).

Best of the TV movie reruns

– “A Season for Miracles.” Taking
her niece and nephew on the lam, Carla Gugino finds a town where
lives can be remade. (6 p.m., Dec. 1; 4 p.m. Dec. 5, Hallmark).

– “Snow” and “Snow 2.”
Searching for his missing reindeer, Santa's son (Tom Cavanagh) meets
a sweet zookeeper (Ashley Williams). (9 and 11 a.m., Dec. 11; 2 and 4
p.m., Dec. 20, ABC Family)

– “Santa Baby” and “Santa Baby
2.” Now it's Santa's daughter (Jenny McCarthy), a slick executive
who helps her dad. Between movies, Santa changed from George Wendt to
Paul Sorvino, Luke went from Ivan Sergei to Dean McDermott. (2 and 4
p.m., Dec. 12, 8 and 10 a.m., Dec. 21, ABC Family)

Theatrical movies

There are plenty of them, but here are
a few highlights:

– “Elf.” An oversized elf (Will
Ferrell) heads into the real world, finding humor and warmth. (9
p.m., Nov. 27; 6 p.m., Dec. 5; 7 p.m. Dec. 7, USA)

– “Santa Clause,” the Tim Allen
comedy, is 7 and 9 p.m. Dec. 2 on ABC Family. The first two “Clause”
films run at 8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 10; all three are 5, 7 and 9 p.m.,
Dec. 11. Also, the third is at noon, Dec. 12, the first and third at
8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 22, the first at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 23.

– “Santa Clause 2 and 3” also air
as an ABC double feature, 7 and 9 p.m., Dec. 19; “Santa Clause 2”
reruns at 9 p.m., Dec. 24 on ABC, after “Phineas and Ferb's
Christmas Vacation.”

– “Fred Claus.” A good Santa
(Paul Giamatti) needs help from his bad brother (Vince Vaughn). The
result is moderately entertaining. (8 p.m., Dec. 10, TBS)

– “A Christmas Story.” This
1940's portrait mixes warmth and wit. (Every two hours for 24 hours,
starting 8 p.m., Dec. 24, TNT).

– “It's a Wonderful Life” has
been beloved since 1946. (8-11 p.m. Dec. 11 and 24, NBC)

– “Meet Me in St. Louis” is a
lovely, 1944 musical with Vincente Minnelli directing Judy Garland.
It's 8 p.m., Dec. 11, on Turner Classic Movies, after an interview
with their daughter, Liza Minnelli. Also at 2 a.m., Dec. 25, as part
of a marathon that starts with “The Bishop's Wife” (1947) at 8
p.m., Dec. 24.

– ABC Family also has some top
movies, unrelated to Christmas, led by “Wall-E,” two “Toy
Story” films and (Dec. 4-5) a Harry Potter marathon. See

Home-design specials

– “Celebrity Holiday Homes”
chooses three homes from opposite parts of the country – Sherri
Shepherd in Harlem, Trisha Yearwood in Nashville, Brooke Burke in
Malibu. The Shepherd project – reflecting Harlem's jazz age – is
gorgeous; the others are OK. (8 p.m., Dec. 4, HGTV)

– Other new HGTV specials include
specials by Genevieve Gorder (8 p.m., Nov. 27), Mike Holmes (9 p.m.
Dec. 5) and “Design Inc.” (8 p.m. Dec. 11).

– Also, Hallmark has “Martha
Stewart's Holiday Open House” (with Jennifer Garner and Claire
Danes) and “Mad Hungry for the Holidays” with (Lucina Scala
Quinn) at 8 and 9 p.m., Dec. 6


– “12 Nights at the Academy”
(Golf Channel) has nightly golf tips from the pros. It starts Nov. 29
with an overview at 7 p.m. and Greg Norman at 7:30; it continues
daily at 7 p.m., wrapping up with Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and
Arnold Palmer, Dec. 8-10.




Conan VIII: "What Am I Doing Here?"

Maybe Conan O'Brien is starting to realize where he ended up.

After being courted by NBC, ABC and Fox, he ended up at TBS. That's not TNT, the home of terrific original dramas; it's a sister channel known for sitcom reruns and "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns."

Wrapping up his second week tonight, O'Brien had a so-so monolog, with a couple good lines. In the next generation, he said, whites will be in the minority in Great Britain. "As a precaution, people have changed the name to 'Tyler Perry's Great Britain.'"

He also told about a Harry Potter contest. "Out of respect for their families, the names of the winners were not announced."

It was a good line, drawing a frown from the audience member who was dressed as Harry. That guy was just nerdy enough to help save a bad monolog. Also helpful was a clever list of alternatives to the real slogan: "TBS: Very Funny." They included:

-- "Very re-runny"

-- "No, no, no ... you're thinking of TNT"

-- "Last stop before Animal Planet."

This wraps up my two-week habit of blogging after each "Conan." Mostly, the show has settled into a state of being sort of pleasant enough. Tonight included:

-- A slow start. The monolog was weak; so was the race (burly stage hands on little girls' bikes) that was staged to give the Conan blimp something to shoot.

-- A better bit. Since Prince William and Kate Middleton haven't chosen a wedding site, Conan suggested Burbank. The details were funny; a more-formal presentation would have helped.

-- A surprising boost. It turns out that Jesse Eisenberg is an excellent guest -- understated, self-effacing, quite clever.

-- A pointless little chat with Venus Williams. Many of O'Brien's second-guest talks have failed.

-- And a fairly good song from the Decemberists. Irish singer Gillian Welch sang back-up; this may have been the first time she didn't have the reddest hair on a TV show. 

Conan VII has some Brand-name entertainment

Tonight's "Conan" was what late-night shows should be. It started with 42 minutes (less the time for commercials) of non-stop comedy.

David Letterman and others used to be like that. After the monolog and an offbeat sketch, a stand-up comedian would sit down with the host and keep the laughs rolling.

Then someone decided viewers wanted starpower. The first guest would be a big-name actor or actress; the laughs would stop. This became so ingrained that Jimmy Fallon's very first guest was Robert DeNiro; he is not, Fallon admitted later, a verbal man.

The first six nights of "Conan" often had opening guests that weren't particularly funny -- Jon Hamm, Michael Cera, LL Cool J. Tonight, by comparison, Russell Brand brought sheer fun.

The hour started with the longest monolog so far, much of it funny in a perverse way. O'Brien explained, for instance, that Bristol Palin and a "Jersey Shore" guy had taped a commercial promoting abstinence; "unfortunately, there's an uncomfortable moment in the middle, where they stopped and had sex." He also discussed the fact that a doll has been made in the likeness of Justin Bieber: "18 inches tall, with no genetalia; still no word on what the doll is like."

There was the second version of a pseudo-promo aimed at black viewers. And there was a funny visit with a "Conan" staffer whom O'Brien considers perfect for "Jersey Shore."

Then came the first guest, Russell Brand, mixing wonderfully witty words and an offbeat delivery. He left at the 42-minute mark, with the show still on a comedy roll.

Sure, author Susan Casey was merely interesting. The music guest, The 88, was only so-so, especially compared to Kid Rock, who was originally scheduled for tonight.

But by then, "Conan" had shown it can maintain non-stop comedy. I'm not expecting that to happen Thursday, when Jesse Eisenberg and Venus Williams are the guests.




Conan VI: What? Harrison Ford is funny?

You know that life is odd when Harrison Ford is the funniest guy on a show.

It turned out that way on tonight's "Conan." Ford worked that dry-and-dour image to perfection, drawing some huge laughs. By comparison, host Conan O'Brien had a mixed night and comedian Reggie Watts drew no crowd reaction during his first couple minutes, before finally catching on.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the sixth night of "Conan"; please add yours:

1) For his monologs, O'Brien is very smart, but not very agile. With his rowdy audience, simple gags work better than brainy ones. One that worked: "New research shows that Neanderthals lived fast and died young. So don't expect a third season of 'Jersey Shore.'" One that should have, but didn't: For the first time, Chinese TV had a woman discussing the fact that her son is gay. "Unfortunately, all the woman said was, 'It's still better than having a daughter.'"

2) Since O'Brien is no stand-up master, we expect him to make up for it with offbeat films. There was a prime example tonight, pretending to be a "Conan" promo aimed at black viewers. It was fresh, clever and beautifully filmed.

3) The show's first try at "product integration" was mis-handled. Sure, it's nice to give away 20 free cars and to give Chevrolet a plug. Even with humor inserted, it shouldn't have been an entire segment.

4) Then Harrison Ford arrived -- terse, taciturn, mono-syllabic ... and oddly funny. O'Brien handled it perfectly.

5) Yes, that means a Ford was much funnier than some Chevys. Go figure.

6) Rosario Dawson was fine. By second-guest standards, she was excellent.

7) I like the notion of sometimes having a stand-up comedian instead of a music act. Oddly, O'Brien's first two comics have been so-so. Watts eventually recovered with some offbeat music; prior to that, however, this was the uncomfortable experience of watching a comedian talk for a couple minutes with the audience being (understandably) silent.

8) Speaking of music guests, there's been a quick change. Kid Rock had been announced for Wednesday; it would have been the perfect way to end a show that starts with Russell Brand. Now, alas, he's out and it will be music by The 88.









Conan V: Settling for sorta-good

Maybe this is all we can expect from Conan O'Brien's new show -- something light and sorta-fun, easy to watch and easy to forget.

The second week began tonight and O'Brien seemed to be settled into his zone of OK-ness.

The problem is that O'Brien isn't a stand-up comedian and often does only a brief stand-up bit. His mind leans toward odd little bits and pieces, often visual.

For the third time in five nights, he's done a humor bit with the fake moon in the back of the set. Tonight, he also celebrated the arrival of the Conan blimp and borrowed a fake red beard from an audience member.

Such things offer nice little surprises and laughs, but O'Brien also needs bigger bits that sustain the fun. Tonight, a TSA agent borrowed an audience member to demonstrate the new airport pat-down techniques. The "agent: was an actor in disguise, and did well; the audience member was, alas, an audience member, and his grins and laughter took away some of the humor.

To really sustain the fun, however, O'Brien needs to have a funny first guest. He's had that twice, with Seth Rogen and Tom Hanks; he should have that again Wednesday, with Russell Brand.

Tonight, however, the guests -- LL Cool J and B.J. Novak -- were pleasant without being more. Only the music act (Sharon Jones) was exceptional.

It was a fairly enjoyable show, which might be enough to please the people at TBS. O'Brien joked that they said the show is "not just good, but 'According to Jim' good. In they're world, that's good."

Maybe. But after all that fuss, we're still hoping "Conan" will be great. For now, it's merely good enough for a cable channel that has reruns of "According to Jim."