'Tis the season for made-for-television holiday movies. In addition to the occasional special primetime network presentation, Lifetime, Oxygen, and ABC Family offer practically non-stop holiday movies from Thanksgiving to New Year's day. Maybe the WGA strike means your favorite show is in reruns, or maybe you just need something to turn on on a Saturday afternoon while you wrap presents or bake cookies. Either way, these movies are a guilty pleasure for many of us.
In fact, I think I've seen enough of them that I have broken down the essential elements of the holiday television movie. Just call me the Joseph Campbell of the Lifetime Movie Network. Since I'm such a giver, I'm sharing this precious knowledge with you. Choose from any of the below elements, combine them with some sentimental dialogue and voila! You have your very own made-for-TV holiday movie.
1.) A character with a Christmassy name
Noel, Holly, and Carol are perennial favorites. But you could also go with Mary if you'd like your movie to air on ION (formerly PAX).
2.) Someone who has lost sight of the spirit, true meaning and/or joy of Christmas
This person can be hardened by the over-commercialization of Christmas, or they might be too wrapped up in a busy life to pay attention, or possibly they suffered a traumatic event in a Christmas-past.
3.) An adorable moppet
Ever since the character of Tiny Tim appeared in A Christmas Carol, the adorable moppet has been a Christmas story staple. They are there to remind the protagonist and the audience of the special Christmas magic that only children can see. Often in a way so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.
4.) A wise elder and/or a sassy best friend
If you want your movie to air on Lifetime, both are mandatory.
5.) A cute guy with a rugged and/or slightly festive profession
These could include a lumberjack, a Christmas tree lot attendant, or snowplow driver. Steer clear of department store Santa, though, they really aren't too sexy.
6.) A more well-known Christmas story to borrow from
A Christmas Carol is the most spoofed holiday story. Everyone from Tori Spelling to Vanessa Williams (that doesn't seem like a very broad spectrum, but trust me, it is in the world of TV movies) has been visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. If you'd like to go a slightly less traditional route, It's a Wonderful Life is another spoofable holiday story, as is the original holiday story -- the Nativity. (Again, this would be a good idea to pitch to ION.)
7.) A greedy villain
Now, if you really want to get creative, characters 1, 2, and 6 could all be the same person--and once she learns to renounce her greed, she can remember the spirit of Christmas. Alternatively, your greedy villain could function as a foil and a cautionary tale for the Christmas-spirit-forgetter.
8.) A montage set to a classic Christmas song
Choose from three possible montages:
"Mall Madness" in which the characters go on a shopping frenzy. This could be done with characters 3 and/or 4. The best music to use is "Silver Bells."
"Winter Wonderland" in which the characters engage in traditional winter outdoor activities like ice skating, building a snowman, etc, and ends with cocoa in front of a romantic fire. This one always includes character 5.
"Christmas Past" in which the protagonist remembers happier past Christmases. Suitable songs to use include "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "I'll be Home for Christmas."
8.) A Christmas Miracle
This is almost always the means by which the Christmas-spirit-forgetter remembers the spirit of Christmas. Or sometimes, the Christmas miracle is brought about by that person after they remember the true spirit of Christmas. I don't mean to blow your mind, but sometimes it could be BOTH. This "Christmas Miracle" almost always involves the adorable moppet and the wise elder.
And there you have it!
However, if you'd prefer just to watch the holiday movies, or if you feel like you need to do some more viewing as research, here are a few gems that are airing over the next week or so.
Holiday Switch: Wednesday, December 12 on Lifetime at 9 pm. Nicole Eggert wishes she were rich instead of poor, and poof! But she loses the magic of Christmas (see?!) along the way.
All I Want for Christmas: Wednesday, December 12 on The Hallmark Channel at 9 pm. An adorable moppet wishes to get his mom (Gail O'Grady) a husband for Christmas.
A Mom for Christmas: December 15 at 8 am (it's worth getting up early for this oldie but goodie) on ABC Family. Olivia Newton John is a department store mannequin who comes to life to fulfill a little girl's Christmas wish.
All-day holiday movies: December 15 and 16, 11 am to 11 pm on Lifetime. See B-list celebrities like Malcolm Jamal Warner and burgeoning Lifetime movie queen Charlotte Ross in Mr. St. Nick, A Fare to Remember, Holiday Wishes, Under the Mistletoe, A Dad for Christmas and Christmas in Paradise on Saturday, and Ms Scrooge, Call Me Claus, Deck the Halls, Eve's Christmas, Christmas at Water's Edge and (Christmas Carol spoof alert!) A Diva's Christmas Carol on Sunday.
Holiday in Handcuffs: December 15 at 6 pm on ABC Family. Melissa Joan Hart kidnaps Mario Lopez and takes him home for Christmas.
Snowglobe: December 15 at 8 and 10 pm on ABC Family. Christina Milian escapes the holiday madness into her snow globe.
A Season for Miracles: December 16 at 9 pm on The Hallmark Channel. Patty Duke takes in foster kids in a town named Bethlehem. Obviously, there wasn't room for them at the inn.
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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.