Some traditions are sacred, even in the cutthroat television industry, and so, for the 30th time, CBS is airing A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the season demands fresh material as well, and the network is also offering a new hour that promises to be just as much of a classic need we say more than The Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas Special? Here's a roundup of the upcoming holiday fare.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (NBC, Dec. 10) Frank Capra's 1946 movie about James Stewart's spiritual crisis and Christmas Eve redemption continues to be a , holiday touchstone, one that NBC has exclusive rights to air this year. Donna Reed's comforting mother and wife presaged her ultimate-TV-homemaker role in The Donna Reed Show, but it is Stewart's harrowing yet sentimental crack-up, complete with visitation from an angel, that gives the film its power as a celebratory tearjerker. In its combination of idealism, realism, and irony, Wonderful Life has taken on a new life as an old-fashioned popcorn movie with a postmodern self-consciousness.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS: A TNT Special Edition (TNT, premieres Nov. 19) One of the few adaptations of a good kids' book that works as a TV tale, this 1966 version of the Dr. Seuss classic about mean old Mr. Grinch a watershed of Christmas-can-be-creepy thinking benefits enormously from Boris Karloff's menacing yet cozy narration. This year, Phil Hartman hosts the show, including a supplementary half hour about the making of Grinch.
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (CBS, Nov. 30) and FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (CBS, December) Paragons of a time of lost innocence in Christmas programming (Rudolph premiered in 1964, Frosty in 1969). Both were made in low-tech animation styles that now look quaint and comfy, and Rudolph benefits from the voice-over work of folksinger Burl Ives, who always brought a furry warmth to his efforts.
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (CBS, December) This 1965 animated perennial took cartoonist-creator Charles M. Schulz's deadpan comic strip, added lifeless cool-jazz styling to the soundtrack, and ended up with the Final Exit of holiday shows: Charlie Brown shuffles through the snow pondering the meaning of it all, and finds it ... slightly meaningful.
THE KATHIE LEE GIFFORD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (CBS, December) A new musical hour featuring Regis' perky cohost, with guest stars as various as Billy Graham and Take 6 and Tony Randall and Miss America Heather Whitestone. All this, plus Kathie Lee takes you on a visit to the FAO Schwarz toy store and her own Connecticut home!
TELEVISION'S CHRISTMAS CLASSICS (CBS, December) This new special is hosted by Marie Osmond and gathers clips from TV shows. Highlights include Danny Kaye and Nat King Cole taking a ''Jingle Journey,'' Andy Williams warbling ''Silent Night,'' Bing Crosby and David Bowie duetting on ''The Little Drummer Boy,'' and holiday scenes from shows ranging from The Honeymooners to St. Elsewhere.
EEK! THE CAT CHRISTMAS (Fox, December) Fox's screechy, annoying cartoon cat character has his own special; parents would not be denying the kiddies anything by forbidding them to watch this outmodedly cynical 'toon.