Whenever people call me frantic for a plot line because they’ve been offered millions of dollars by a network for a Christmas screenplay, I tell them not to worry.
There is but one, I confide. You take a grumpy character, point them at the holiday and teach them the meaning of Christmas.
This has worked since Dickens with the “Christmas Carol.” There’s a whole network constructed from the concept called the Hallmark Channel. Shrek, the “Ice Age” gang and the Peanuts kids all got rich with follow-the-theme specials. Best ever was the Seuss tale of the Grinch.
Never fails. People eat it up.
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Which is why I’m recommending you take a look at “How Murray Saved Christmas” (8 p.m. Dec. 5, NBC). It’s a new animated special written by Mike Reiss, who usually expends his droll imagination on “The Simpsons.”
Our grump is Murray the deli guy, voiced by Ben Stiller, who has to save Christmas by filling in for Santa. (Yes, this is derivative of the giant genre of filling-in-for-Santa shows like “The Santa Clause.”)
Santa gets sidelined when an inventive elf builds a jack-in-the-box toy but makes it so a boxing glove pops out. Santa gets KO’d by the gizmo, and the elf, voiced by Sean Hayes, teams up with Murray to do the annual chimney thing.
Do you think Murray learns the meaning of the holiday in the end?
Also discovering warm holiday feelings in a new offering this year are the “Toy Story” players in “Toy Story That Time Forgot” (8 p.m. Dec. 2, ABC), sort of a “Jurassic Park” meets the Island of Misfit Toys.
Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, and his menagerie go on a play date and wind up getting kidnapped by a brood of dinosaur toys. Plastic thugs, complete reptiles. It falls to poor little Trixie the triceratops, voiced by Kristen Schaal, to tromp up, rescue everyone and spread the happy message.
Finally on our list of new holiday shows is one that’s not original (nothing is), but it is different. “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” (8 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime) stars a feline whose sour expression made it an Internet meme and brought it merchandising deals and a job with Friskies as its “Spokescat.” This is all true.
Grumpy Cat lives in the mall pet shop because nobody wants to buy a dour cat. A little girl comes in one day and finds she can hear the cat’s thoughts. They team up and next thing you know, they’re thwarting a kidnapping. Christmas kidnappings are big this year.
Does Grumpy Cat learn the meaning of the holiday in the end?
Oh, please! Is it a Christmas special?
Here’s the rest of the holiday TV lineup so you can set your DVR.
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (8 p.m., CW) – Grandma vanishes on Christmas Eve.
“Disney Prep & Landing” (8 p.m., ABC Family) – Elves must step up to guide Santa through a blizzard.
“Prep & Landing 2: Naughty vs. Nice” (8:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Naughty kid hacks Santa’s system.
“Frosty the Snowman” (9 p.m., CBS) – Jimmy Durante tells the story of the jolly snowman.
“Kung Fu Panda Holiday” (9 p.m., CW) – Panda has a scheduling conflict, with the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman.
“Merry Madagascar” (9:30 p.m., CW) – Santa crashes on Madagascar with voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer.
“Yes, Virginia” (9:30 p.m., CBS) – Animated story of a little girl’s question about Santa with the voices of Beatrice Miller, Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Alfred Molina.
“Flight Before Christmas” (8 p.m., CBS) – Niko the little reindeer joins with a squirrel and a weasel to battle dark forces aligned against Santa.
“Christmas Under Wraps” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel) – Candace Cameron-Bure stars as an up-and-coming surgeon suddenly marooned in a small Alaska town.
“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” (9 p.m., Lifetime) – Aubrey Plaza supplies the voice of dour Grumpy Cat, who lives in a mall pet shop where a little girl finds they can communicate.
“Story of Santa Claus” (9 p.m., CBS) – With the voices of Edward Asner, Betty White and Tim Curry, a story of a kid-friendly toymaker.
“One Christmas Eve” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel) – Anne Heche plays a beleaguered mom whose Christmas Eve goes wrong, starting when someone abandons a pooch on the porch.
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” – (5 p.m., ABC Family) – Fred Astaire narrates the tale of toymaker Kris Kringle, voiced by Mickey Rooney.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (6 p.m., ABC Family) – Griswold dad Chevy Chase tries to create “the most fun-filled old-fashioned family Christmas ever.”
“CMA Country Christmas” (8 p.m., ABC) – Country carols hosted by Jennifer Nettles with Brett Eldredge, Sara Evans, Hunter Hayes, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood.
“Elf” (8 p.m., ABC Family) – Will Ferrell as an elf who goes looking for his roots in New York.
“The Santa Clause” (10 p.m., ABC Family) – Tim Allen as a divorced dad drafted to be Santa.
“Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (4 p.m., ABC Family) Rudolph’s nose saves a struggling circus.
“Toy Story That Time Forgot” (8 p.m., ABC; also 8 p.m. Dec. 7, ABC Family) – Trixie the triceratops battles delusional action figures.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (8:30 p.m., ABC) – Tree decorator Charlie Brown leads the Christmas pageant.
“Santa Clause 3” (10 p.m., ABC Family) – Martin Short as Jack Frost moves in on Santa’s gig.
“Prancer” (5 p.m., ABC Family) – A girl believes a wounded reindeer is Santa’s.
“Christmas in Rockefeller Center” (8 p.m., NBC) – Lighting of the tree, with Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Cyndi Lauper, Seth MacFarlane, Sara Bareilles, Idina Menzel, Pentatonix, LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood.
“Polar Express” (9 p.m., ABC Family) – Tom Hanks tells the story of the magic train.
“SNL Christmas” (9 p.m., NBC) – Christmas sketches from 40 years of “Saturday Night Live.”
“A Very Brady Christmas” (Midnight, ABC Family) – An accident upsets a Brady family reunion.
“Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” (5 p.m., ABC Family) – Rudolph must find a runaway Baby New Year.
“Year Without a Santa Claus” (6 p.m., ABC Family) – Mrs. Claus must step in when Santa falters.
“Disney’s Christmas Carol” (9 p.m., ABC Family) – Disney characters in the story of Scrooge.
“Snow” (Midnight, ABC Family) – Tom Cavanagh plays a son taking over North Pole duties and finding love.
“How Murray Saved Christmas” (8 p.m., NBC) – Cranky deli owner played by Ben Stiller must fill in for Santa in musical featuring Sean Hayes, Jason Alexander, Kevin Michael Richardson and John Ratzenberger.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (8 p.m., ABC Family) – Jim Carrey’s live-action interpretation of the Whos in Whoville tale.
“A Very Grammy Christmas” (9 p.m., CBS) – Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Tim McGraw and Pharrell Williams perform.
“Fred Claus” (11:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Family rift threatens Santa’s mission.
“All I Want for Christmas” (7 a.m., ABC Family) – Kids scheme to get their parents back together.
“A Dennis the Menace Christmas” (9 a.m., ABC Family) – Three angels help Dennis bring cheer to Mr. Wilson.
“Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” (1:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Jack Frost tries to ruin Frosty’s wedding.
“Toy Story 3” (6:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Woody and gang get shipped off to daycare duty.
“Pioneer Woman Cowboy Christmas” (8 p.m., Food Channel) – Frontier-style potluck dinner and dance party.
“Debbie Macomber’s Mr. Miracle” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel) – Rob Morrow plays a bumbling angel sent to teach a Christmas lesson.
“Second Chance Christmas” (8 p.m., TV One) – McKinley Freeman and Robinne Lee star in the story of a boy’s struggle to accept his stepfather after his mother’s death.
“Outrageous Christmas” (9 p.m., Food Channel) – Too much means a thousand-pound chocolate Santa sculpture and a life-size Christmas tree cake.
“Arthur’s Christmas” (9 p.m., ABC Family) – Arthur and an elf must deliver a lost gift.
“Little Drummer Boy” (9 a.m., ABC Family) – A poor boy plays a song baby Jesus.
“Giada at Home” (10:30 a.m., Food Channel) – Giada De Laurentiis makes tangerine and herb branzino, New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp and crispy oysters Rockefeller for a holiday feast.
“I Love Lucy Christmas Special” (8 p.m., CBS) – Two classic, colorized Christmas episodes of the 1950s series.
“Christmas At Cartwright’s” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel) – Alicia Witt and Wally Shawn star in a Hallmark original about an angel who gets a poor mom a job as a store Santa.
“Toy Story That Time Forgot” (8 p.m., ABC Family) – Action figures turn on the Toy Story gang.
“Christmas Secret” (9 p.m., Hallmark) – A struggling single mom in a small town gets help from neighbors and a magical heirloom.
“The Great Christmas Light Fight” (8 p.m., ABC) – Dueling decorating neighbors.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (8 p.m., CBS) – It’s the 50th anniversary of the story of the shy reindeer narrated by Burl Ives.
“Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” (10 p.m., CBS) – Top models hit the catwalk in London.
“Chopped” (10 p.m., Food Network) – Stars of “The Kitchen!” vie in holiday cook-off.
“Scrooged” (9 p.m., ABC Family) – Bill Murray as a TV exec in a new take on the “Christmas Carol.”
“Miracle on 34th Street” (9:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Classic tale of the Macy’s Santa who claims to be the real thing.
“Unlikely Angel” (7 a.m., ABC Family) – A nasty singer played by Dolly Parton can become an angel if she completes her assignment.
“Home Alone 3” (11 a.m., ABC Family) – Alex battles burglars.
“Best Christmas Party Ever” (8 p.m. Hallmark Channel) – Rivals must cooperate to throw a holiday bash.
“Frosty Returns” (9:30 p.m., CBS) – Dancing snowman comes back with Jonathan Winters narrating and John Goodman as the voice of Frosty.
“The Christmas Parade,” (8 p.m. Hallmark Channel) – Stuck-up TV personality learns the meaning of the holiday.
“Gingerbread Worlds” (9 p.m., Food Channel) – Bobby Deen hosts as three bakers must create gingerbread worlds.
“Prep & Landing” (7 p.m., ABC Family) – Elite unit of elves prepares homes for Santa.
“Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” (7:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Someone threatens to put everyone on the Naughty List.
“Santa Baby” (Midnight, ABC Family) – Jenny McCarthy as a business exec who is also Santa’s daughter.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (8 p.m., ABC) – After the classic Peanuts tale, there will be a series of Christmas-themed animated stories titled “Charlie Brown Christmas Tales.”
“Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas” (8 p.m., NBC) – A stop-motion animated musical with Jim Parsons as Buddy, the elf who goes to New York to find his father. Voice cast includes Mark Hamill, Ed Asner, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, Kate Micucci and Rachael MacFarlane.
“Home Alone” (8:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Macaulay Culkin plays a stranded boy outwitting burglars.
“Santa Baby 2” (Midnight, ABC Family) – Jenny McCarthy must decide whether to take over the family business.
“Holidaze” (7 a.m., ABC Family) – Jennie Garth as a disgruntled worker sent to her hometown to win over the residents and start a new store.
“12 Dates of Christmas” (11 a.m., ABC Family) – Amy Smart as a woman caught in a “Groundhog Day”-like Christmas date.
“Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” (5 p.m., ABC Family) – Kelsey Grammer narrates Christmas tales starring Mickey Mouse.
“Michael Bublé’s Christmas in New York” (8 p.m., NBC) – From Radio City Music Hall.
“iHeartradio Jingle Ball 2014” (8 p.m., CW) – Performers include Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Maroon 5, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes and Nick Jonas.
“The Sing-Off” (9 p.m., NBC) – Holiday songs from six new groups.
“Desperately Seeking Santa” (7 a.m., ABC Family) – An exec runs a “sexy Santa” contest and gets more than she bargained for.
“Unaccompanied Minors” (9 a.m., ABC Family) – Stranded kids are held at the airport at Christmas.
“ Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (8 p.m., CW) – Animated musical version from 1962 of the classic with the voices of Jim Backus, Paul Frees, Morey Amsterdam, Joan Gardner and Jack Cassidy.
“Home for the Holidays” (9 p.m., CBS) – Stories of adoption and foster care.
“Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation” (7 a.m., ABC Family) – A misguided guard dog causes chaos when adopted at Christmas.
“Santa Buddies: Legend of Santa Paws” (9 a.m., ABC Family) – Dog’s pals teach him the meaning of the holiday.
“Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish” (11 a.m., ABC Family) – A wishing machine teleports Richie to a land where nasty cousin Reggie Van Dough rules.
“Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” (1:30 p.m., ABC Family) – Story of the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.
“Snowglobe” (1 p.m., ABC Family) – A magical snow globe transports a girl to an idyllic Christmas world.
“I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown!” (8 p.m., ABC) – Rerun, Linus’ brother, helps Snoopy reunite with his brother.
“Shrek the Halls” (8 p.m., ABC) – Everyone nags Shrek to get in the spirit.
“A Christmas Story” (12:01 a.m., Turner Classic Movies) – Jean Shepherd’s story of Ralphie and the BB gun will air in rotation every two hours through 8 p.m. on Christmas Day.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (8 p.m., NBC) – Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film with Jimmy Stewart as a man contemplating suicide.
“ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” (8:30 a.m., ABC Family) – Joel Grey narrates the Clement Moore poem.
“Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration” (10 a.m., ABC) – Christmas parade at Disney.
“12 Dogs of Christmas” (8 p.m., CW) – Dogs teach people the meaning of the holiday in the Depression.
“Happy New Year, Charlie Brown” (8 p.m., ABC) – Marcie and Peppermint Patty throw a party.