True Christmas spectacle: Sutton, Hugh, 17,000 pipes and 21,000 souls


Size and spectacle are key parts of many Christmas celebrations. It takes flair to decorate a mega-tree or to soar onto rooftops with eight or nine reindeer. And few events match the joyous spectacle of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual PBS and cable concert. Here's the story I sent to papers, looking at this year's event through the eyes of performers Sutton Foster and Hugh Bonneville ... known to TV viewers via "Younger" and "Downton Abbey.:

By Mike Hughes

Sutton Foster and
Hugh Bonneville are used to ruling big occasions.

She stars on
Broadway and in symphony halls; he runs Downton Abbey. They know
pomp, circumstance and spectacle ... but hadn't seen anything like
their Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert.

“I had that
feeling when I got out on stage,” Bonneville said. “The audience
adds to the emotion.”

And that's a lot of
people. “It's very overwhelming,” Foster said. “There are
20,000 people there.”

It's 21,000,
actually. That's more than 10 times the size of her Broadway theaters
... more than 200 times the size of his “Downton Abbey” dinner
parties. The concet also had a 300-voice choir, an orchestra ... and
a 7,667-piece pipe organ.

Foster sang
Christmas songs – from “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World”
to the tune from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” her avorite holiday
show. Those will be in the PBS version, Dec. 17; for a longer version
(Dec. 20 on the BYUtv cable channel), she adds a “Willy Wonka”
song, plus “Jingle Bells” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” by
John Denver. “He always represented goodness,” she said.

Bonneville avoided
singing. “I'm not a musical person,” he said, despite having sung
quite regally as the pirate king in “Galavant,” for ABC. “I sat
in awe of the performances.”

His skill is
speaking in a precise, lord-of-the-manor voice; you might imagine him
delivering a sermon. Bonneville did study theology at Cambridge ...
but upper-crust Englishmen do that with no intention of being vicars.
“I always say I entered it as an atheist and came out as more of an
agnostic.”

The son of a surgeon
and a nurse, he was more interested in acting than studying. Before
Cambridge, he did the National Youth Theatre; afterward, he studied
acting in London and ranged from movies and TV to the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

Back then,
Bonneville was doing comedy and even playing villains. It would take
a while to age into being the earl in “Downton Abbey,” in six
seasons on PBS and in a movie that recently finished filming. “We
had a lot of fun getting back together.”

At 55, he has the
age and the voice to stand before the Tabernacle crowd, reading Luke
2 and the story of Horatio Spafford, a Chicago lawyer who faced
devastating tragedies, before writing the hymn that says: “Whatever
my lot, Thou hast taught me to know/It is well, it is well with my
soul.”

What Foster shares
with Bonneville is the passion for performing. That peaked when –
after having roots in Georgia and North Carolina – she moved with
her family to a Detroit suburb. “It was an interesting move for me;
I was 13, in 7th grade; that's a tough time in your life.”

Her solution was
theater; “I found a place to fit in.”

She did school shows
and more. She competed in “Star Search,” auditioned for “The
Mickey Mouse Club” and left school early, to do “The Will Rogers
Follies” on tour. “I have absolutely no regrets. I was safe and I
was taken care of .... I was a very young 17; it taught me a lot.”

She graduated via
correspondence, even got to her prom -- the tour happened to be in
Detroit that week -- and beat all the odds against a theater career.
“I just plowed forward and kept going.”

After losing for
“Star Search” and such, she would become a winner – six Tony
nominations (winning for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Anything
Goes”), a Gracie Allen Award (for TV's “Bunheads”) and several
nominations for “Younger,” which starts its sixth season next
spring.

Now she lives in New
York with her husband Ted Griffin, the writer of “Ocean's 11,”
“Tower Heist” and the “Terriers” cable series. Last
Christmas, their adopted daughter was 9 months old and very approving
of the Rockefeller Center tree; this year, Emily can watch her mom
sing on TV.

-- “Christmas With
the Mormon Tabernacle Choir”

-- 9 p.m. Dec. 17 on
most PBS stations; some (check local listings) will rerun it at 9
p.m. Christmas Eve and 10:30 p.m. Christmas Day

-- That's a
60-minute version; a 90-minute one debuts at 8 p.m. Dec. 20 on BYUtv,
which is on cable, Dish, DirecTV and apps

-- Each telecast is
from the concert the previous year. This year's concert – Dec.
13-15, with Kristin Chenoweth as both singer and narrator – will
air in December of 2019

Her world had sleek beauty ... and a sociopath


I'd like to live in Debra Newell's world ... or, at least, in the re-creation of it for the new "Dirty John" mini-series. She seems to have great taste in design, but maybe not in romance. The show starts Sunday (Nov. 25), with a glamorous look and great work from Connie Britton as Newell; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Step into Debra
Newell's world and you're surrounded by beauty that is sleek and
slick ... and maybe a tad impersonal.

“There are no
antiques, no pictures of family,” production designer Ruth Ammon
said, on the set of the new “Dirty John” mini-series.

But there's a sense
that Newell, a designer, knew beauty and knew quality. For her new
boyfriend, John Meehan, this was dazzling. He soon marvelled at how
comfortable her mattress was.

“It turns out that
he had only been out of prison for two days,” said Jeffrey Reiner,
the “Dirty John” director. “He'd been laying on basically a
concrete slab before this.”

Or, at least, he was
fresh out of jail. A former nurse anesthetist in Dayton, Ohio, and
other places, Meehan had been caught stealing drugs; he lost his
nursing license and his freedom.

He spent 17 months
in a Michigan prison, then moved to California. Handsome and
barrel-chested, he began romances with wealthy women. Three had
restraining orders against him and he was jailed briefly. When he met
Newell on an online dating site, she was 59, attractive and
successful.

“She's really a
self-made woman,” said Connie Britton, who plays her in the
mini-series. “She was married four times prior to this (and) ended
up as a single mom. So started this business on her own that
flourished and actually started hiring single-mom employees.”

Newell wanted to
meet a successful man. Meehan, 55, said he was an anesthesiologist
and a part of “Doctors Without Borders.” He even showed up for a
fancy charity event wearing scrubs and saying he was just out of
surgery. “We find out that he was just at Taco Bell, eating a
burrito,” Reiner said.

Her daughters were
skeptical. What kind of doctor, they asked, doesn't have a car and
never seems to have money? But Newell wanted to be in love; they
moved to a gorgeous, Newport Beach home, which she again designed
beautifully. “She's creating almost a romantic scene,” Ammon
said.

When it fell apart,
the story was told in a Los Angeles Times podcast and stories,
drawing strong reactions. “One of he things that pains me the most
is when people talk about, 'How could Debra be so stupid?'” said
Alexandra Cunningham, the “Dirty John” writer and showrunner.

It can happen
easily, Britton said, amid a search for love. “I've been amazed
(at) the people in my life who have come out o the woodwork (and
said), 'I was in a relationship with a sociopath' ....

“One thing that
they say is, 'They will say anything, to get you to stay.'”

-- “Dirty John,”
10 p.m. for eight Sundays beginning Nov. 25, Bravo

-- Connie Britton
stars as Debra Newell, with Eric Bana as John Meehan. Juno Tempo
plays Newell's older daughter, with Jean Smart as Newell's mother

 

Agatha is back ... and village life is lethal again


Acorn is a dandy screening service that's stuffed with shows from England, Australia and beyond. And now it has rescued Agatha Raisin, a fun character who is sort of like Lucy Ricardo turned blonde crimesolver. Her next movie arrives Monday (Nov. 19); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Two versions of
Great Britain seem to co-exist.

There's the real
world for most people, in crowded cities. And there's the other world
– villages, vicars, knitting clubs, tea parties -- where TV's
murder mysteries take place.

“Agatha Raisin,”
now returning with monthly movies, acknowledges both. Agatha, an
overwrought public relations person in London, inherited a house in a
folksy village; murder mysteries ensued.

The result gives
Ashley Jensen – the “Ugly Betty” and “Extras” co-star –
room to play. “There's this daft and eccentric quality” to
Agatha, she said. “I kind of push the envelope.”

And yes, cozy
villages do still exist. There are the places where “Agatha Raisin”
is filmed, including Biddestone, population 498. “It's beautiful
countryside,” Jensen said. “The sun shines a lot more.”

And there's her home
town. Annon is a Scottish coastal town of 8,900, complete with a
castle and a 19h-century town hall. Robert Burns worked there, Thomas
Carlyle studied there, Jensen played there.

“I grew up in
lovely country,” she said. “I loved school; I did everything.”
That included sports, Girl Guides, winning a Duke of Edinburgh Award
and, especially, the National Youth Theatre.

After college, she
did TV supporting roles, then got a big break in “Extras,” as
Ricky Gervais' socially inept friend. “It was a platonic
friendship,” she said, “which there haven't been many of on TV.”

Jensen got a British
Comedy Award, an Emmy nomination and a fresh following. Then came the
four seasons of “Ugly Betty” and more British shows.

Producers suggested
she play Agatha Raisin, who's been in 29 novels by M.C. Heaton. “I
thought, 'This is just a delight of a character.'”

There was a movie
and eight one-hour episodes. Then “Agatha” was cancelled ... and
uncancelled.

Acorn, an American
streaming service specializing in shows from England and beyond, took
over. “No one was more surprised than I was,” Jensen said, “when
Acorn stepped in and said this was going to be on America first and
was going to be 90-minute movies.”

The new movie offers
lots of room for big, visual moments. That's Jensen in a garbage can
... and stuck in a window ... and having a VERY bad hair day ... and
then in a fundraising burlesque show.

“When I saw the
film of the burlesque scene, I thought, 'That's not bad for a lady
who's not 25 any more,'” said Jensen, 49. “It was actually very
liberating and fun to do.”

-- “Agatha Raisin
and the Wizard of Evesham,” available starting Monday on
www.acorn.tv

-- Acorn is a
streaming service, $4.99 a month (after a trial period) and $49.99 a
year. It focused on British shows, with a library that includes “Doc
Martin,” “Foyle's War,” etc. With the competition from Britbox,
it has put more emphasis on Australia and beyond, and on directly
funding British shows.

-- “Agatha” is
Acorn's first turn as the lead producer. The monthly movies will
reach the U.S. first.

 

A nuts-but-true prison-escape story becomes a compelling mini-series


There are lots of good TV shows and a few truly great ones. The latest (and, almost, greatest) is "Escape at Dannemora," a superb, seven-week mini-series (debuting Nov. 18), with director Ben Stiller getting amazing work from Patricia Arquette, Eric Lange, Bonnie Hunt and more. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In the summer of
2015, a New York prison escape seized national attention.

“I just thought it
was nuts,” Eric Lange, a co-star of the “Escape at Dannemora”
mini-series, recalled. “It was mind-blowing -- sex in prison,
cutting through steel.It was all like this big soap opera.”

For 170 years, the
prison held everyone from Lucky Luciano to Tupac Shakur, without
escapes. Now two murderers were free; three weeks later, they were
shot (one fatally) within 35 miles of the prison.

Fresh details kept
emerging in the news, recalled producer Brett Johnson. “When you're
watching it in real time: 'Holy (crap), this guy's a painter .... His
paintings are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.' And then you find
out she was having sex with both” men, prior to their escape.

“She” is Joyce
“Tilly” Mitchell, a worker convicted of aiding them. In “Escape,”
Patricia Arquette creates Tilly's unusual sound (“we had a great
dialect coach”) and look.

This was a chance,
Arquette said, “to show a woman who enjoys sex, who doesn't have
this type of body that Hollywood people are supposed to have.”

Arquette didn't
arrive with a Tilly body, but she built it. “We became buddies,
trying to gain weight,” said Lange, who plays Lyle Mitchell, her
husband. “We'd sit at the table, eating pasta.”

In two months, Lange
put on 40 pounds. “It totally affected how I walked, how I did
everything.”

It helped him adjust
to the heaviness of the world these people inhabited.

Dannemora is a town
of 3,900 people – almost 3,000 of them prisoners – just 25 miles
from Canada. “They call it 'Little Siberia,'” Lange said. “They
say there are two seasons – winter and July.”

The mini-series
people – who did some filming outside the prison and in the town –
recall the mood. Arquette calls it “desolate.” Ben Stiller, who
directed, talks of “the heaviness they were living with.” Paul
Dano, who plays one of the escapees, recalls “the smell, the
temperature in the air, the sound.”

The town has “a
lot of really lovely people,” Lange said. Some had adjusted to a
no-frill life. “The most exciting part of Lyle's day is, 'Where are
we going to eat today?' And for him, that's enough.”

His wife is
different, Arquette said. She “is kind of bored and wants to feel
alive. I'd hear these stories of all these people who were having
affairs .... I think we as a species want to feel alive.”

Tilly “would play
the top-40 music station in the tailor shop all the time,” Stiller
said. “Here's 40 convicted felons and one civilian worker and one
corrections officer in a room.”

The Mitchells had a
working-class, Americana life -- something Lange, 45, can relate to.
He grew up near Cincinnati, in Hamilton, with a dad who worked with
software and a stay-at-home mom.

“I was alway in
choir,” he said. “I would drum, I would play the piano, I would
sing.” When there was no choir available to high school freshmen,
he tried the drama club. “The curtain went down, then went up again
and everyone clapped. That was it; I was sold.”

He did lots of
theater at Miami (Ohio) University, then found jobs in California.
Many were in heavy dramas – the villain in the first year of “The
Bridge,” the station chief in “Narcos,” the coroner in “Wind
River,” Mitch in a stage “Streetcar Named Desire.” But he also
played the theater teacher in “Victorious,” a broad teen comedy
that propelled Ariana Grande, Elizabeth Gillies and more.

A casting director
asked him to audition for “Escape” and sent a tape of Lyle being
interviewed. “He seemed befuddled and confused,” Lange said. “It
was really quite moving.”

Lange added a wig
and fake teeth and auditioned. Forty pounds later, he entered a
“nuts” world.

-- “Escape at
Dannemora,” 10 p.m. Sundays for seven weeks starting Nov. 18,
Showtime

-- Opener reruns
daily – 11:05 p.m. Sunday, 9 p.m. Monday, 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, 10
p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday, 10:30 p.m. Saturday
(Nov. 24), 1:55 and 6:55 p.m. Nov. 25.

It's time to map out your Christmas-show viewing plans


The Christmas TV list seems to keep growing, even untended. Earlier, I sent a mega-list to papers and put it here. Since then, however, there have been several additions; here's the current version:

By Mike Hughes

Old-timers might
recall when Christmas was a day, or maybe 12 days. Now it's a
marathon..

Back in 1996, the
Family Channel created “25 Days of Christmas.” Since then, the
channel has changed its name three times and has decided 25 days
aren't nearly enough. Now it's called Freeform and started it
“Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas” on Sunday (Nov. 18).

By then, the
Hallmark Channel has already shown two new Christmas movies. It has
20 more this season ... plus another 15 on Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries.

Still, the real rush
starts with the parades on Thanksgiving morning. Here's a list of the
key things – new TV movies, specials and cartoons, plus reruns of a
few of the key cartoons and movies.

Everything is
subject to change and to extra details. A few networks have said when
their new shows will rerun, but many haven't; two (Fox and NBC) –
have been slow with any specifics. Still, here's a guide to what's
set so far, for a busy (and long) Christmas TV season.

Parades

-- Macy's parade, 9
a.m. to noon Thursday, Nov. 22, NBC. It's the 92nd year
for the parade, which has 12 bands, 26 floats, 59 balloons and 1,200
dancers and cheerleaders. NBC, with the “Today” people, also
plans music by John Legend, Martina McBride, Diana Ross, Leona Lewis,
Pentatonix and more.

-- Same parade, 9
a.m. to noon Thursday, CBS. This network has Kevin Frazier and Keltie
Knight hosting, with the casts of the Tony-winning “Dear Evan
Hansen” and the new “King Kong” musical.

-- Hollywood
Christmas Parade, 8-10 p.m. Dec. 14, CW. Nancy O'Dell is grand
marshal. Erik Estrada, Laura McKenzie, Dean Cain and Montel Williams
host, with music on two stages.

-- Christmas Day
Parade, 10 a.m. to noon ET Dec. 25, 9-11 a.m. in other time zones,
ABC. Jordan Fischer, Sarah Hyland and Jesse Palmer host in the Disney
parks. There's music by Fisher, Gwen Stefani, Andrea Bocelli (alone
and with his son Matteo), Brett Eldredge, Aloe Blacc, Maddie Poppe,
Olivia Holt, Dcappella and Why Don't We.

Cartoon classics

-- “How the Grinch
Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, NBC. Also, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 (originally scheduled for Dec. 6) and 7 and 9:45
p.m. Dec. 21 on TBS. Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones created one of TV's all-time
greats.

-- “Frosty the
Snowman,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, CBS, with its sequel, “Frosty
Returns,” at 8:30. They're also at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 8.

-- “Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, CBS; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 8.

-- “A Charlie
Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m. Dec. 6; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 20. Like
“Grinch,” this is one of the all-time best. Rounding out the hour
are short bits adapted from the “Peanuts” comic strip.

“A Christmas
Carol”

-- “Disney's
Christmas Carol” (2009), 8:50 p.m. Nov. 28, Freeform; alsom 6:40
p.m. Nov. 29; 9:50 p.m. Dec. 7; 2:20 p.m. Dec. 8; 9 p.m. Dec. 12;
9:15 p.m. D

-- “A Christmas
Carol” (1938), 8:30 a.m. Dec. 2, Turner Classic Movies; also, 8
p.m. Dec. 16 and 6 p.m. Dec. 24. Reginald Owen stars.

-- “A Christmas
Carol” (1999), 9 p.m. ET Dec, 2, 4 p.m. ET Dec, 23, 9 p.m. ET Dec, 24, GetTV (available on Dish Channel 373 and, in many areas, on a digital channel. Also, 10:15 p.m. Dec. 21 and 6 p.m. Dec. 22, TNT. Patrick
Stewart is a blisteringly good Scrooge,

 

-- “Mickey's
Christmas Carol,” 9 a.m. Dec. 5, Freeform; also, 7 a.m. Dec. 6 and
Dec. 15; 7:30 a.m. Dec. 18; 11 a.m. Dec. 21. It's a gorgeous
half-hour.

Comedy

-- “I Love Lucy
Christmas Special,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 14, CBS. Here are two classic
episodes, with color added by computer. There's a Christmas one
that's included each year, followed by a newly colorized one, with
the men and women trying to prove they could have survived in the
pioneer days.

-- “The Dick Van
Dyke Show – Now In Living Color,” 9-10 p.m. Dec. 14, CBS. This
isn't really about Christmas, but makes a cozy companion to Lucy,
with two colorized episodes.

-- “Greatest
Holiday Commercials,” 8 p.m. Dec. 18, CW. At 9 is “Greatest
Holiday Video Countdown.”

Mostly music

-- “The Soul &
Spirit of Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, GetTV (via digital
and cable) , rerunning at 10 p.m. and midnight; many more reruns,
starting with 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, rerunning at 1 a.m. CeCe and
BeBe Winans lead a gospel-star line-up singing holiday classics;
others are Anthony Hamilton, Take 6, Karyn Hawthorne and Kyla Jade.
Except for this new special, GetTV sticks to old shows – including
the Christmas specials of decades past.

-- “Christmas in
Rockefeller Center,” 8-10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, NBC. Expanded
from the usual one-hour special, it has Martina McBride, Diana Ross,
Brett Eldrege, Kelli Pickle, Pentatonix, Darci Lynn Farmer and Tony
Bennett singing with Diana Kall.

-- “A Legendary
Christmas,” 10 pm. Wednesday, Nov. 28, NBC. John Legend hosts with
his wife Chrissy Teigen. There's music by Legend, Stevie Wonder and
Esperanza Spalding.

-- “Magical
Holiday Celebration,” 9-11 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC. Jordan Fisher and
Sarah Hyland host from Disney World, with Jesse Palmer in Disneyland.
Performers include Fisher, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor (joined by
Brett Eldredge for one song), Aloe Blacc, Maddie Poppe, Why Don't We
and a duet with Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo.

-- “Christmas
Holiday Party,” 8 p.m. Dec. 1, Disney (but Nov. 23 on the DisneyNOW
app). Fisher hosts with the “Coop & Cami” kids, with music by
Stefani, Elderdge, Asher Angel and Meg Donnelly.

-- “CMA Country
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m. Dec. 10, ABC; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 22. Reba
McEntire hosts, with people from Nashville (Brad Paisley, Martina
McBride, Brett Eldredge, Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion) and beyond –
Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Lindsey
Stirling.

-- “Amy Grant's
Tennessee Christmas,” 8 p.m. Dec. 3 (originally scheduled for Dec. 10), Hallmark. Grant is joined by
her husband Vince Gill, plus Kellie Pickler and Michael W. Smith.

-- “iHeartRadio
Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m. Dec. 16, CW; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 25.
Performers include Shawn Mendes, Cardi B, Camilla Cabello, many
more.

-- Christmas at the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” 9 p.m. Dec. 17, PBS; also, 9 p.m. Dec. 24
and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 25 (check local listings). Sutton Foster, a
two-time Tony-winner, sings; Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”)
does a reading.

-- “A Home For the
Holidays,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 21, CBS. It's the 20th year for this
special, which mixes top singers (still pending) with warm stories
about adoption.

More specials

-- “A Happy &
Friends Yule Log,” concludes at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries. The 24-hour marathon has adoptable kittens
and puppies. plus ducks, bunnies and a piglet.

-- National
Christmas Tree lighting, with music, 10 p.m. Dec. 2, Ovation and
Reelz. It's a living tree, a Colorado blue spruce, surrounded by 56
smaller trees representing each state and territory.

-- “Pop Up Santa
Holiday Special,” 9:30-11 p.m. Dec. 3, Freeform; also, 8 a.m. Dec.
4; 11 a.m. Dec. 11; 7 a.m. Dec. 20. Feel-good surprises range from a
military base to a children's hospital to an epic family reunion.
Ballerina Misty Copeland and former football star DeMarco Murray
help.

-- “Disney's Fairy
Tale Weddings: Holiday Magic,” 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Freeform; also, 11
a.m. Dec. 10; 1 p.m. Dec. 19. One wedding at Disney World has a Mary
Poppins theme; another has a performance by Martina McBride. Allison
Holker and Stephen “tWitch” Boss host this one and “Pop Up
Santa.”

-- “Masters of
Illusion: Christmas Magic,” 8 p.m. Dec. 23, CW. Guests include
magicians (Jonathan Pendragon, Murray SawChuck, etc.) and Christmas
Choir.

More cartoons

-- “Santa Claus is
Comin' to Town,” 8-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, ABC. Young Kris Kringle
(Mickey Rooney) finds his goal in life. It's also on Freeform at 4:05
p.m. Dec. 5; 4:25 p.m. Dec. 8; 9:30 a.m. Dec. 9; 11 a.m. Dec. 16;
11:30 a.m. Dec. 21; 12:40 p.m. Dec. 25.

-- “Grandma Got
Run Over By a Reindeer,” 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, CW; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 19.

-- “Trolls
Holiday,” 8:30 p.m., Nov. 23, NBC. Anna Kendrick and Justin
Timberlake star.

-- “Robbie the
Reindeer: Hooves of Fire,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, CBS; with its
sequel at 8:30. These are drolly clever British shows, re-dubbed by
American actors.

-- “The Story of
Santa Claus,” 9-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, CBS. Ed Asner is Santa.

-- “Olaf's Frozen
Adventure,” 8 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 19. This debuted
last year, with songs from the “Frozen” stars -- Josh Gad,
Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel.

-- “Toy Story That
Time Forgot,” 8:30 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC; also, 11:45 a.m. Dec. 23,
Freeform. During a play date, the toys are stranded with some
delusional action figures.

-- “Mickey's Once
Upon a Christmas, 1:05 p.m. Dec. 2, Freeform; also, 7 a.m. Dec. 3;
1:30 p.m. Dec. 12; 7:30 a.m. Dec. 15; 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20; 7 a.m. Dec.
21.

-- “Winnie the
Pooh and Christmas Too,” 8:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Freeform; also, 7:30
a.m. Dec. 8; 7 a.m. Dec. 9; 7 a.m. Dec. 11; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 21.

-- “Mickey's Twice
Upon a Christmas,” 3 p.m. Dec. 12; also, 9 a.m. Dec. 15; 10 a.m.
Dec. 20; 8:30 a.m. Dec. 21; 11 a.m. Dec. 24; 8 a.m. Dec. 24.

-- “Disney Prep &
Landing,” 8 p.m. Dec. 13, ABC, with its sequel at 8:30; also, 8 and
8:30 p.m. Dec. 23. On Freeform, they're at 2:25 and 2:55 p.m. Dec. 22
and 7 and 7:30 a.m. Dec. 25. These look at the high-tech crew that
prepares each of Santa's stops.

-- “Shrek the
Halls,” 8:30 p.m. Dec. 19, ABC. The good-hearted ogre tries to
understand the holiday.

-- “I Want a Dog
for Christmas, Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 21, ABC.

 

Home and food shows

-- “Holiday Baking
Championship” and “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” 9 and 10 p.m.
Mondays, Food Network.

-- “Holiday Wars”
and “Holiday Gingerbread Showdown,” 8 and 9 p.m. Sunday (Nov.
25), Food Network.

-- “Living by
Design Holiday Special,” 7 p.m. T Dec. 9, TV One, rerunning at 8;
also, 11 p.m. ET Dec. 25, rerunning at 2 a.m. Jake and Jazz Smollett
offer tips in this sibling special, with Lidisi as guest.

-- “The Great
Christmas Lights Fight,” 8-10 p.m. Mondays, ABC, Nov. 26, Dec. 3
and Dec. 17, plus an “all-stars” special at 10 p.m. Dec. 10 and 9
p.m. Dec. 21. In each hour, four homes compete with mega-displays; a
judge (Taniya Nayak or Carter Oosterhouse) chooses a winner.

-- Holiday cooking
specials with country stars, noon Dec. 1 (Trisha Yearwood) and Dec. 2
(Martina McBride), Food Network.

-- “The Great
American Baking Show: Holiday Edition,” 8-10 p.m. Thursdays, ABC,
starting Dec. 6; opener reruns at 8 p.m. Dec. 8. Judges include a
Spice Girl (Emma Bunton) and “Spice” Adams.

-- “A Hearty
Holiday Feast,” 9 p.m., Dec. 18, PBS. Lidia Bastianich tries
Midwestern traditions.

-- “Gingerbread
Giants,” 9 p.m. Dec. 23, Food Network

Movies

A few films that
originally showed in theaters have now become big at Christmas time.
Some have Christmas themes, some don't, but all make popular holiday
viewing:

-- “The Wizard of
Oz” (1939), 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, TBS; also, 5:45
p.m. Nov. 23.

-- “Love,
Actually” (2003), 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, TBS; also, 5 p.m Dec. 1
and 9; 8 p.m. Dec. 21; 10 a.m. Dec. 22. And on TNT at 8 p.m. Nov. 25
and 5 p.m. Dec. 23.

-- “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, USA; 8 p.m. Dec.
24, NBC.

-- “A Christmas
Story” (1983), 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, TNT; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 24, TBS and TNT; then 10 p.m., midnight, etc., for 24 hours.

-- “Holiday Inn”
(1942), 10 p.m. ET Sunday, Nov. 25, and 8 p.m. ET Dec. 8, Turner
Classic Movies. It's the black-and-white film in which Bing Crosby
introduced “White Christmas.” He later did “White Christmas”
(1954), which AMC airs Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 a.m. (late Monday
night) and noon.

-- “Meet Me in St.
Louis” (1944), noon Dec. 1, Turner Classic Movies; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 16; 6 p.m. Dec. 24. Judy Garland stars in this one (singing
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and “Oz.”

-- “The Sound of
Music” (1965), 7-11 p.m. Dec. 16, ABC.

-- “Beauty and the
Beast” (1991), 8-10 p.m. Dec. 24, ABC.

New TV movies (the
top prospects)

-- “Christmas
Everlasting,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Hallmark. Lucy returns to
her home town, harboring guilt. From the prestigious “Hallmark Hall
of Fame,” this stars Tatyana Ali, Dondre Whitfield, Dennis Haysbert
and Patti LaBelle.

-- “The Truth
About Christmas,” 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Freeform; also noon Dec.
3; 11 a.m. Dec. 13; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 21. Can truth and politics
co-exist? A political consultant is running her boyfriend's mayoral
campaign. A confrontation with a toy-store Santa leaves her unable to
resist spilling the truth.

-- “Life-Size 2,”
9 p.m. Dec. 2, Freeform; also, 12:40 p.m. Dec. 9; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 15;
1:30 and 11:25 p.m. Dec. 20; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 23. Back in 2000,
“Life-Size” had a sweet kid (Lindsay Lohan, then 13) bring her
doll (Tyra Banks) to life. Now the sequel has Lohan in support, Banks
as the doll and Francia Raisa as a young toy-company CEO who needs
some guidance.

-- “No Sleep Til
Christmas,” 9 p.m. Dec. 10, Freeform; also, 11 a.m. Dec. 13. The
husband-and-wife Annables (Dave and Odette) play insomniac strangers.

-- “'Call the
Midwife' Holiday Special,” 9-10:0 p.m. Dec. 25, PBS (check local
listings). On Christmas Day, British TV has special versions of top
shows. In this one, a new nun brings four Chinese orphans.

More new TV movies
(November)

-- “Christmas at
the Palace,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, Hallmark. A skating
choreographer bumps into Alexander, unaware he's royalty – dubbed
by some “The Grinch King.”

-- “Pride,
Prejudice and Mistletoe,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, Hallmark.
Returning home fo Christmas, Darcy (Lacey Chabert) must plan a
charity event with her former rival.

-- “Poinsettias
for Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, Lifetime. Ellie's father
(John Schneider) asks her to rush home for an emergency: The family
business has a contract to provide thousands of poinsettias for the
annual parade ... but so far, the flowers haven't turned red. Doesn't
anyone have spray paint?

-- “Every Day is
Christmas,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Lifetime. Toni Braxton plays
a workaholic who ignores love – then gets a Christmas visit. Gloria
Reuben and Michael Jai White co-star.

-- “Christmas on
Honeysuckle Lane,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries. Returning home to sell their late parents' home, siblings
sift the belongings and find a surprise.

-- “Christmas
Harmony,” 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Lifetime. Kelly Jakle plays
(yes) Harmony.

-- “A Shoe
Addict's Christmas,” 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Hallmark. On Christmas
Eve, Noelle (Candace Cameron Bure) is accidentally locked inside the
department store where she works. Soon, she's visited by the spirits
of Christmases past, present and future.

-- “Jingle Belle,”
8 p.m. Nov. 25, Lifetime. Returning home to write music for the
Christmas pageant, Isabelle (Tatyana Ali) is startled to find that
the show is directed by her old duet partner.

-- “Christmas
Cupid's Arrow,” 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Ion. It's a variation on
“Cyrano de Bergerac.”

-- “Christmas
Perfection,” 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Lifetime. An American woman
wakes up in an Irish village.

-- “A Christmas
Prince: The Royal Wedding,” Nov. 30, Netflix. This is a sequel to
last year's success.

-- “A Very Nutty
Christmas,” 8 p.m. Nov. 30, Lifetime. There's a guy in Melissa Joan
Hart's house who may be the Nutcracker Prince.

And more new ones
(December)

There are a lot
here, so we'll bunch them by date:

-- Dec. 1:
“Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “A
Twist of Christmas,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Welcome to Christmas,”
9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

-- Dec. 2:
“Christmas Catch,” 7 p.m., UP; “Merry Wish-mas,” 7 p.m.,
TVOne (rerunning at 9 and 11 p.m., then often on Dec. 23-25); “A
Majestic Christmas,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “The Christmas Pact,” 8
p.m., Lifetime; “Northern Lights of Christmas,” 9 p.m., Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries; “A Wedding for Christmas,” 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 7:
“Christmas Lost and Found,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

-- Dec. 8: “Santa's
Boots,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Homegrown Christmas,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark; “Memories of Christmas,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries; “Rent-an-Elf,” 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 9:
“Christmas With a Prince” (there are lots of princes during
holidays), 7 p.m., UP; “Christmas Wonderland,” 8 p.m., Hallmark;
“A Christmas in Tennessee,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Once Upon a
Christmas Miracle,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries; “A
Snow White Christmas,” 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 14:
“Christmas Around the Corner,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

-- Dec. 15: Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas,” 7 p.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (with Josh Henderson as a country
star, based on Blake Shelton's song); “Entertaining Christmas," Hallmark; “Christmas Pen Pals,” 8
p.m., Lifetime; "Northern Lights of Christmas," 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries"; “Country Christmas Album,”
9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 16: “Coins
for Christmas,” 7 p.m., TV One (rerunning 9 and 11 p.m. and often
Dec. 23-25); “Christmas on Holly Lane,” 7 p.m., UP; “Hometown
Christmas,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; "A Gingerbread Christmas,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark; "Small Town Christmas," 9 p.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries; “A Christmas in Royal Fashion” (yes, there's another
prince), 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 22: “Jingle
Around the Clock,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “Small Town Christmas,” 9
p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

-- Dec. 23:
“Hometown Holiday,” 7 p.m., UP; “Christmas Made to Order,” 8
p.m., Hallmark; “Christmas Bells are Ringing,” 9 p.m., Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries.