overthinking the idiot box

December 19, 2005

So You Want to Write a Christmas Special

by D. Roberts Keenan

When your day job is at a newspaper, you see a lot of mail. There's a lot of cool stuff in there: press kits and screening passes to the hottest movies, review copies of CDs for awesome unknown indie bands, bizarre products you've never heard of. Sometimes the distribution lists get crossed, and you get things you don't think you should. Like press releases obviously aimed at automotive magazines (your paper doesn't have an auto section) or 2-by-2 squares of industrial insulation (uh ?). Yeah, working at a newspaper is awesome, because you have access to a lot of information the public never sees. Like why all the TV shows in December are interchangeable.

Dear teleplay writer:

Congratulations on having your fine program make it to midseason! We here at the network are very proud of you. Now it's time to talk turkey. Literally: The November-December holiday corridor is a big time for all the consumers out there. Market research has shown that people pay little attention to the actual content of the shows from the period starting during the last week of November and continuing to the last week of December. Apparently, consumers will turn their televisions on as "background noise" for wrapping presents or carry on conversations until the commercials, which they then will watch attentively for gift-giving ideas. While we like to show encore performances of holiday favorites, the number of such programs is limited.

With that in mind, we'd like to offer a few suggestions for holiday-themed episodes. Market research has shown us these themes and elements place the target consumer audience into a more spend-friendly mood. In addition, your show's primary sponsor has offered a compound 1 percent increase for each of the following elements you can work in:

  1. Long-lost relative: Consider having one of your supporting characters get a visit from a family member he or she didn't know about. While some shows have opted for the main character to have the relative, this might conflict with existing backstory. Tread carefully. This missing family member should help the cast learn the true meaning of Christmas (7).

  2. Attractive children: Even adult-centered workplace dramas have had success with adding children for holiday-themed episodes. Some of the more popular uses:
    1. Orphans: Children without parents, especially if they are suffering from incurable diseases, increase sympathy in the average viewer by 8 percent, making the consumer more likely to purchase advertised products.
    2. Homeless orphans: Children without homes or parents, with or without incurable diseases, offer an excellent opportunity to cater to our viewers of faith, who will have the opportunity to see acts of charity when one of the cast welcomes the young mendicant or mendicants into his or her home.
    3. Child performers: If someone in the cast is a parent or an uncle or aunt, school holiday pageants have proven very successful with past audiences.
    4. Newborns: Nothing says Christmas like an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. A main or supporting character may give birth, or a main or supporting character can help a guest star deliver the baby. Infants used for this role should be wrapped in blue, to suggest the infant Jesus.
    5. Child who doesn't believe in Santa: This offers an opportunity for holiday humor, as our cast tries everything to convince the child in question that Santa does, indeed, exist. This can be doubly or triply effective when used with 6a and 7.

  3. Pianos: A group of characters gathered around a piano singing Christmas carols has proven effective among consumers. Avoid songs with overt religious messages within the first few lines or copyrighted songs. "O Christmas Tree" is excellent for this purpose.

  4. Christmas trees: A Christmas tree should completely fill the space it is given. A proper tree should not be less than 14 feet tall, and should contain some combination of lights (avoid the twinkling variety), balls, tinsel, garlands and a star on top. Presents under the tree are optional, but stockings should be hung over the mantel.

  5. A ghostly visitor: While this can be used in combination with 1, it's usually used alone. One of your characters should receive a visit from a character known to be dead. This ghost should help your protagonist uncover the true meaning of Christmas (7). If you have time, consider updating Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with a total of four ghosts.

  6. A visit from St. Nicholas: You have two options here.
    1. Santa's real! At least, that's what your cast will discover. Because of the high resonance among younger viewers, any show that airs during family hour and uses this theme will receive a 1.5 percent compound bonus from the advertiser.
    2. Drunken or suicidal Santa: One of your cast confronts a down-on-his-luck man dressed in a Santa suit and teaches him the true meaning of Christmas (7). This man may or may not turn out to be the real Santa (see 6a), but he will invariably perform some act of kindness for our cast out of gratitude.

  7. The true meaning of Christmas: The theme of giving and togetherness can be explored, either by having a character volunteer for a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or by the purchasing of large gifts. Advertisers prefer the latter.

  8. Alternative holidays: If you have a Jewish character, you may use a menorah or similar set decoration as a plot point. However, even non-Christian characters should discover the true meaning of Christmas (7).

  9. Snow: Consumers associate snow with Christmas. This "Christmas miracle" may be used in conjunction with 2d or 6a for added impact.

  10. Christmas parties: Bring a large group together to celebrate the holidays. This is especially effective when used with 3, 4, 6a and/or 9.

We hope we've given you enough ideas to get started! We look forward to seeing your themed episode and we hope you'll be able to find these ideas useful again next year!

Your network executives

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Return to Season 2, Episode 7.