They just don't make Christmas specials like they used to ...

December 5, 2012 

“They just don’t make ’em like they used to.”

It’s a common gripe — often met with an eye roll, a solemn nod or a “You’re right, and it’s a damn shame.”

I, for one, am not the biggest fan of this particular complaint. I find its speaker uses it (and I include myself in this) many times out of a reluctance to adapt to the new than as a comment on the quality of the old. It’s an excuse to be negative because if nobody is making ’em like they once did, then what can you really do about it, aside from learning the “’em” trade yourself and creating an “’em” renaissance?

And then the holidays roll around. The songs play, the decorations go up and the television plays its Christmas specials.

Charlie Brown. Rudolph. Frosty. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The first Grinch.

They just don’t make ’em like they used to.

This proclamation is not based in negativity. The wonder of the recorded audio/visual media is that just because “’em” are out of production, it doesn’t mean “’em” are gone forever. I can watch Rudolph, Hermey and the abominable snow monster every year, and they are just as delightful as they always are — unlike beloved machines or food products, which either are no longer for sale or long have spoiled by now. Making ’em like they used to in no way diminishes the prior product.

No, I say what I say out of curiosity. Why don't they make ’em like they used to anymore? Today — in an age where people go in droves to the theaters to see the latest in movie technology, cable channels devote entire months to the holidays and YouTube fuels the creative processes of anyone with a smartphone — the most revered and successful Christmas programming was still all made before 1970.

Recent major contributions have been few and far between — just about one a decade, all feature-length films with an original spin: “A Christmas Story” (’80s), “Home Alone” (’90s) and “Elf” (’00s). While all those are shown often during this time of year (especially “Story,” shown annually on repeat all day Christmas Day on TBS), none of them fits the bill as “Christmas specials,” in the sense of the stop-motion benchmarks of old. Most of the holiday-themed specials of the day are tied in with sitcoms, for which a deeper understanding of Monica and Chandler is required than when you meet Frosty for the first time.

So what happened? Was there some point in the ’80s when producers decided to stop making them? A secret scandal that cooked the claymation empire? Outrageous contract demands from Burl Ives?

Or did everybody collectively decide that they couldn’t do any better? I’d be willing to consider that option. Because, now that I think of it, something’s telling me that if the television Christmas special made a big return, we’d all be inevitably disappointed: They wouldn’t make ’em like they use to.

Andy is a Yukon Cornelius man, himself.

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