Once the Thanksgiving turkey makes its transition from main course to sandwich topping and the Black Friday mad dashes are in the past, many viewers will start checking schedules to see when they can watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and other shows that are essential holiday viewing.
And they will likely check Netflix and Amazon Prime at least a few times to see if their childhood favorites have made it to the streaming services. Bad news, kids of all ages: Streaming Santa's A-list is painfully short, and watching these classics still requires some planning or some family downloading sessions.
It's the same reason why Led Zeppelin and The Beatles are still not on Spotify — their individual values are too great for the unlimited streaming market. ABC is running “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at 7 p.m. Monday, and CBS already rushed “Rudolph” into prime time last week.
Similarly, ABC showed Chuck Jones' original animated version of “Grinch” on Thanksgiving weekend, but will pair it up with the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey live action version on Christmas Eve. Simply put, these specials are nearing their golden anniversaries and their value for broadcast television is just as golden.
Now, this is the part where I get into some old-man talk. I first watched these shows when the only way to see them was to plant myself in my footie pajamas in front of the family's Admiral console television on the night they were broadcast. If I missed it, there was no going back — no VCR to catch it.
Yes, I miss the collective viewing experience a little bit, but I was always transformed into a little stress ball as I fought to ensure that my family didn't go somewhere that night or my dad didn't hijack the TV to watch “Columbo” or something.
Flash forward 40 years, and my son knows almost nothing about live television schedules — he grew up in a TiVo world. A few years ago, I bought a box set of the stone-cold trinity of classic “Peanuts” holiday specials on Blu-ray, so “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” are available whenever he wants to watch them, totally free of the minefield of candy and toy commercials that accompany them on broadcast. Similarly, we own a box set of the Rankin-Bass specials that includes “Rudolph,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Frosty the Snowman,” along with an admittedly dodgy transfer of “The Little Drummer Boy” that is in dire need of restoration, but that one was always second-tier viewing.
As for the original “Grinch,” we bought it a few years ago as a download on Amazon, and all of these shows are available for purchase through both Amazon and iTunes. Rentals are not an option — online providers want you to buy these classics for the full price, not rent them for $3.99.
So between the networks and the retailers, there is little chance that the major Christmas specials will arrive at Netflix or Prime in the near future. But for new “Peanuts” fans who want more of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy after “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs, Netflix offers several of the lesser-known specials, including holiday-themed collections like “I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown” and “Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales.” They are no replacements for the original, but they make for good extras after the main feature, which, yes Virginia, you still have to buy or watch on the networks.