It's A Wonderful Life
For generations of Americans, A Christmas Story wasn't the holiday movie that seemed to be on every day leading up to Christmas.

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life and its tale of 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.

All things considered, it really wasn't so bad. An entire generation grew up knowing how to give a housewarming gift after George and his wife Mary gave poor bar owner Giuseppe Martini bread, salt and wine to go with his new Building and Loan-financed home. It learned to always double-check your pockets during trips to the bank after Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 deposit. Most importantly, it learned that some holiday traditions are worth sharing as often as possible.

Until they aren't.

Republic Pictures heard just about enough of America singing Auld Lang Syne and weeping every year without anyone getting a cut of it and enforced its claim on the film's copyright in 1993. That copyright went to Paramount and after sprawling parent company Viacom ( VIA.B) bought Republic in 1998.

Since the copyright clampdown, former GE ( GE) holding and recent Comcast ( CMCSA) subsidiary NBC has held the broadcast license on the film and been particularly stingy about it. It's A Wonderful Life now airs only twice a year: Once on Christmas Eve and, this year, on Saturday, Dec. 3.

For Gen Xers, there'll always be the memory of ever-present Jimmy Stewart and his sentimental, schmaltzy moral victory over evil bank manager Henry Potter. For the generations that have come since, there's this: George never gets to travel, doesn't kill himself after the angel shows him his life story, goes running like a madman through Bedford Falls, is greeted by anyone who's ever meant something to him in the film, given loads of money, toasted by his war hero brother as "the richest man in town" and told by the most gratingly precocious child actress in history that her teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.

Oops, spoiler alert. Merry Christmas, Viacom and NBC!

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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