Churning Them Out

How does the Hallmark channel do it? Along about this time every December, I’m convinced they will never, ever come up with another idea for a Christmas movie. Ditto for Lifetime and ABC Family channels.

And every year, they prove me wrong.

In 2013 alone, those three channels broadcast almost two dozen brand new made-for-TV Christmas movies. Amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that millions of people sit down every evening and watch them. Me included.

I started the season with “A Country Christmas Story” starring Dolly Parton, which—despite the fact that I adore Dolly–turned out to be disappointing. Then I happened upon “The Christmas Ornament” and “The Christmas Spirit,” both of which, though not literary masterpieces, were pretty good.

Things went downhill from there.

Though I didn’t keep a list of titles and plot summaries of every movie, I did take
notes while I watched them. Until I got so bored I had to leave the room and find something more interesting to do. Like fold laundry or scrub out the crock pot.

What I’ve re-discovered about Christmas movies is that, with a few exceptions, they’re all pretty much the same. Many of them even use the same actors. The handsome Christmas tree salesman who fell in love with the pretty widow in last night’s movie just might be a two-timing playboy dallying with the affections of a high-powered but lonely female business executive in tonight’s offering.

I’m guessing that a scriptwriting session for a made-for-TV Christmas movie
probably goes something like this. These words are written on slips of paper
and tossed into a bowl: single mom, precocious seven-year-old, nerdy teenager,
kindly cop, concerned pastor, wise grandparent, greedy businessman, small-town mayor, wisecracking waitress, brave soldier, exhausted schoolteacher, miserly banker, generous banker, adorable dog, stray cat.

Into another bowl go these words: bustling big city, charming small town, cozy
coffee shop, tastefully-decorated Victorian house with wrap-around porch, seedy
motel, windswept winter shoreline, police station, white clapboard church, school playground, Christmas tree farm, toy store, glitzy shopping mall,
hospital waiting room, airport terminal.

The scriptwriters draw pieces of paper at random out of the bowls. Once they have the characters and settings they need, they go to work on the plot. Which
doesn’t take long. No surprises or unexpected twists and turns required. In fact, the more predictable the plot, the better. As far as I can tell, there are only three plot requirements for made-for-TV Christmas movies:

  • Nice woman must end up with nice man
  • David must beat Goliath
  • Children must get presents, even if they were sure they wouldn’t

Oh, yeah. Every made-for-TV Christmas movie, without exception, must have a snow globe in it.

So there you have it. Though I haven’t checked the listings, I have a sneaking
suspicion that all this wonderful holiday entertainment is about to come to an
end. So enjoy while you can. It’ll be a long wait to see what Hallmark/Lifetime/
ABC Family has in store for us next Christmas.

(December 22, 2013)

 

 

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