The broadcast networks are only now rolling out their holiday specials, with “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” airing last night and the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” slated for tomorrow morning.
But on cable, ‘tis already the season for holiday specials, and they’ve been doing quite well in the ratings.
Comedy Central has run Christmas specials the past two Sundays. The first, “Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special,” became the most-watched telecast in network history with 6.6 million total viewers.
Last Sunday’s “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All” was basic cable’s top-rated show of the day among men 18-24 and drew 2.3 million total viewers, 1 million better than the network’s usual primetime average.
The top movie of the week on cable was Disney’s rerun of “The Santa Clause,” drawing 3.75 million total viewers Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Hallmark Channel’s original movie “Old Fashioned Thanksgiving” drew 3.5 million Saturday at 9 p.m., and a rerun of ABC Family’s “Holiday in Handcuffs” averaged 3.09 million on Sunday at 8, making the three holiday films the week’s most-watched movies on basic cable.
Finally, CMT’s “Larry the Cable Guy’s Christmas Spectacular” was the network’s most-watched show for the week ended Nov. 23, according to Nielsen, averaging 1.17 million viewers.
Why the glut of holiday specials days before even Thanksgiving?
Some of it is simply practicality. With Thanksgiving coming late this year, there’s just four weeks until Christmas and not a lot of time to squeeze in those Santa-themed specials.
If cable rolls its specials out early, there’s less chance of competing against favorites on broadcast like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Shrek the Halls.”
But there’s also likely a nostalgia factor at play intensified by the recent economic woe. In troubled times, viewers consume the TV equivalent of comfort food, as noted by spikes in ratings for CBS’s criminal procedurals and comedies over the past three months.
The holiday specials are cable’s comfort food. They’re familiar, even if they’re first-year productions. Colbert’s first-ever holiday special, for instance, was a spoof of old-time Christmas specials in which the host cavorted with a cavalcade of celebrity guests.
And “Thanksgiving” had that comforting trademark Hallmark happy ending. With each day bringing bad economic news, that’s the sort of reassurance viewers are looking for in their downtime.
By Toni Fitzgerald
Nov 26, 2008
Media Life Magazine