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5 Holiday TV Specials We Might Increasingly Tune Out

It's A Wonderful Life
Debut: 1946 (in theaters)
Current network: NBC (CMCSA - Get Report)

Air dates:
2007: Dec. 14 at 8 p.m., Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. Averaged 5.5/4.5 million viewers
2008: Dec. 13 at 8 p.m., Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. Averaged 4.9/5.3 million.
2009: Dec. 12 at 8 p.m.. Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. Averaged 4.5/5.3 million.
2010: Dec. 11 at 8 p.m., Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. Averaged 4.9/4.7 million.
2011: Dec. 3 at 8 p.m., Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. Averaged 4.5/4.8 million.
20012: Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. Averaged 4.2 million

Think 24 hours of A Christmas Story are unbearable? Gen Xers remember this film being shown just about once a day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Director Frank Capra's story about working stiff George Bailey and his nagging need to put others before himself was aired ad infinitum during the late 1970s and 1980s after a clerical error let the film's copyright lapse and slipped it into the public domain. Local stations still paid royalties on it, as it was based on Phillip Van Doren Stern's short story The Greatest Gift, but were given a deep discount as the images themselves were no longer owned by anyone.

Republic Pictures eventually wanted its cut of the proceeds and enforced its copyright in 1993. Five years later, that copyright went to Paramount after its sprawling parent company Viacom (VIA.B) bought Republic in 1998.

Since then, NBC has held the broadcast license on the film and has aired It's A Wonderful Life only twice a year. That would be just fine if the world somehow held itself in stasis since the '90s, but the decreasing dependence on networks and glut of new content from various sources made It's A Wonderful Life a very small part of an enormous holiday television landscape. Still aired in its original black-and-white, It's A Wonderful Life couldn't be more foreign to younger, device-toting audiences if its dialogue was broadcast in Martian.

Its ratings numbers have slacked a bit over the years, but how it fares all depends on when it's being shown. This year's showing on Dec. 1, for example, finished dead last behind college football on ABC and Fox and Made In Jersey, a Criminal Minds rerun and 48 Hours on CBS. Last Christmas Eve, however, George Bailey and company had the highest ratings of any network broadcast, soundly beating Fox's Terra Nova and an ABC showing of The Sound of Music. Eat it, Von Trapps.
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