Yule Log (TV program)

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The Yule Log
A fire burns in a fireplace.
A Christmas tradition in New York City is WPIX's yearly yule log program
Created by Fred M. Thrower
Composer(s) Various
(music sourced from the public domain and commercial sources)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Production
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 30 minutes
Release
Original channel Various
Picture format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Original release December 25, 1966 (1966-12-25) – present

The Yule Log is a television program originated in the United States, which is broadcast traditionally on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. It originally aired from 1966 to 1989 on New York City television station WPIX (channel 11), which revived the broadcast in 2001; the program has since spread to other television properties owned by WPIX parent Tribune Media, including WGN America and (since 2011) Antenna TV. A radio simulcast of the musical portion was broadcast by WPIX(-TV)'s former sister station, WPIX-FM (101.9 FM, now WFAN-FM), until 1988.

The program, which has run between two to four hours in duration, is a film loop of a yule log burning in a fireplace, with a traditional soundtrack of classic Christmas music playing in the background; it is broadcast without commercial interruption.

Origins[edit]

The Yule Log was created in 1966 by Fred M. Thrower, president and chief executive officer of WPIX, Inc. Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial from a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned the program as a televised Christmas gift to those residents of New York who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces. This also provided time for employees of the television station to stay home with their families, instead of working for the usual morning news program.

The original program was filmed at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, at the time. An estimated US $4,000 of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas Eve for the show's inaugural airing. Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, based largely on the easy listening format that the radio station had then, with the likes of Percy Faith (whose rendition of "Joy to the World" is played at the beginning and the end of the telecast), Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston "Pops" Popular Orchestra, Mantovani and the Ray Conniff Singers, among others. During the filming, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen better; a stray spark damaged a nearby antique rug valued at $4,000.

The program was both a critical and ratings success, and by popular demand, it was rebroadcast for 23 consecutive years, beginning in 1967. However by 1969, it was already apparent that the original 16 mm film was quickly deteriorating from wear and needed to be re-filmed (in addition, the original loop was only 17 seconds long, resulting in a visibly jerky and artificial appearance). Station producer William Cooper, a future recipient of a Peabody Award, again asked to film the loop at Gracie Mansion; however, the mayor's office refused permission. So in 1970, WPIX found a fireplace with similar andirons at a residence in California and filmed a burning log on 35 mm film there on a hot August day. This version's loop is approximately six minutes and three seconds.[1]

Cancellation and revival[edit]

From 1974 to 1989, a special message by Richard N. Hughes, then the vice president and general manager of WPIX-TV, usually preceded the program – which was broadcast every Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and sometimes both. The cost of broadcasting the program without commercial interruption prompted Michael Eigner, who had been appointed as the station's new general manager upon Hughes' retirement, to cancel it in 1990; incidentally that year, director Whit Stillman included a scene of a New Yorker viewing the Log in his movie Metropolitan. Despite being flooded with hundreds of letters protesting the move, WPIX did not broadcast the program. Beginning in 1997, WPIX offered various versions of The Yule Log on the Internet.

In March 2000, Totowa, New Jersey resident Joseph Malzone, a longtime fan of The Yule Log, created a website named "Bring Back The Log" (now named TheYuleLog.com, and administered by Lawrence F. "Chip" Arcuri), petitioning station management to bring back The Yule Log broadcast. In December 2001, WPIX vice president/general manager Betty Ellen Berlamino announced during an appearance on local radio station WPLJ that the special would return to the television station after an eleven-year absence. Berlamino explained that people wanted "comfort food TV" in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The digitally restored program was the most-watched television program in the New York metropolitan area on Christmas Day that year and it has continued to be broadcast annually ever since as a result.

Program director Julie O'Neil found the original master film of the 1970 fireplace at WPIX's film archives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The master film was misfiled in a Honeymooners film canister marked with the episode title "A Dog's Life," which resulted in a 2006 40th anniversary special about the Log being titled A Log's Life. In 2009, a fourth hour of the program was added, featuring 22 new songs and seven new artists.[2]

Legacy[edit]

In 2003, Tribune Broadcasting – whose corporate parent has owned WPIX since its founding in 1948 – announced that in addition to being broadcast in New York City, The Yule Log would air on television stations that the company owns in other U.S. television markets, and would be remastered for broadcast in high definition. The program made its "national" debut in 2004 on Tribune flagship station WGN-TV in Chicago and its companion cable channel, Superstation WGN (now WGN America, at the time serving as WGN-TV's superstation feed).

However in 2008, the Tribune stations aired their own version, with holiday themed old-time radio programs being played in the background instead of music. This was reverted to the original WPIX version for the 2009 broadcast. WGN America chose not to broadcast The Yule Log in 2010 and 2011, citing the economic infeasibility of devoting several hours to commercial-free programming on a national channel; however, the program was broadcast in the Chicago market by WGN-TV, and by Tribune Broadcasting's other television stations. For the 2010 edition, WPIX and Los Angeles sister station KTLA (channel 5) aired a four-hour broadcast of The Yule Log on Christmas morning.[3] Most of the Tribune television station properties outside of WPIX did not air The Yule Log in 2011, choosing to air other holiday programming. At the same time, Antenna TV, a digital multicast network that Tribune had launched that January, aired The Yule Log for the first time, making the concept available nationwide once again.

In 2010, Gospel Music Channel (GMC) (now Up) aired a 24-hour broadcast of The Yule Log from 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Eve until 8:00 p.m. Christmas night. In 2013, WPIX streamed The Yule Log on its website during Christmas Eve, in addition to televising it on Christmas Day.[4] In recent years, Tribune's New Orleans ABC affiliate WGNO-TV (channel 26) has also aired the Yule Log on Christmas Day (the only time in which the station does not air most of its regular newscasts, as ABC airs NBA games on that day), in place of network news programs World News Now and America This Morning, and WGNO's local weekday morning newscast.

Similar programs[edit]

Other stations (and cable channels) have spawned imitations. Fellow Tribune station WDCW (then WBDC) in Washington, D.C. has produced its own version, filming a log burning at Colonial Williamsburg. In 2003, Jason Patton – an executive at INHD (later MOJO HD, now defunct), who was inspired as a youth by WPIX's Yule Log – produced his own version, which has been broadcast every Christmas beginning that year via Movies On Demand. Broadcasters as diverse as Oregon Public Broadcasting, the MSG Network (as well as its former competitor, the Empire Sports Network) and the CHUM Television group in Canada have also borrowed the concept.

WKBW-TV in Buffalo, New York (owned at the time by Granite Broadcasting Corporation, now by the E. W. Scripps Company), as a replacement for that day's morning newscast, introduced the Yule Log as a replacement in 2008; it did not return in 2009. KSTC-TV in MinneapolisSt. Paul, Minnesota (owned by Hubbard Broadcasting) also produces a local version of the Yule Log. In its early years, the Home Shopping Network also aired a Yule Log in place of regular programming (the network traditionally does not air live shopping programming on Christmas Day) before moving to a loop of Tampa Bay Area choirs singing Christmas carols and host wishes in subsequent years. Sprout offers a 12-hour loop called The Sprout Snooze-A-Thon (previously called A Goodnight of Sweet Dreams) on Christmas Eve evening, which features scenes of sleeping characters from the network's programming set to soft music to soothe children to sleep before the arrival of Santa Claus. QVC also airs a Yule Log every year on December 25 (as like HSN, the network does not air live programming on Christmas).

Some television stations and cable channels that have broadcast imitations of the Yule Log simulcast the Christmas music from a radio station that is playing it, and before 1989, the WPIX version also secondarily promoted the playing of the same Christmas music in a simulcast over its sister FM station, WPIX-FM (101.9), for those unable view the Yule Log on television (or for those who wanted to listen to the broadcast in stereo, as stereophonic sound was not standard in television, nor were most television sets equipped with high quality sound systems, until the 1990s).

In 2014, two ESPN networks aired college sports-themed variations of the concept: SEC Network aired a yule log that featured fight songs of Southeastern Conference schools among its soundtrack, while Longhorn Network aired a similar special featuring footage of Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo roaming a ranch, set to holiday music.[5][6]

A great many "video fireplace" productions with a similar format have also been marketed on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, some of which are entitled "Yule Log".[7][8][9] The Yule Log program also helped influence the "Puppy Bowl", an annual special broadcast by cable network Animal Planet on the day of the Super Bowl.[10]

In December 2006, to commemorate the program's 40th anniversary, WPIX broadcast a one-hour special about its history. Titled A Log's Life, the documentary included commentary by Fred Thrower's son Mitch, Bill Cooper's widow Kay, and Malzone.[11] The program was broadcast four times, including once on Christmas Day, directly after a completely restored three-hour version of the 1970 "Log". Researched and compiled by Malzone and Arcuri, a Christmas musicologist, this latest incarnation features a newly re-digitized playlist of the original soundtrack, which includes a number of music pieces featured in the 1970 version that are not currently available on compact disc, but only on LPs that are now out of print.

In 2008, Outback Steakhouse paid homage to The Yule Log by having the first 20 seconds of a 30-second advertisement feature a CGI version of the log, before shifting focus to some steaks. Also in 2008, animation director PES released a free screensaver that reimagined the Yule Log in the form of food, with pretzels used for the log and candy corn for the flames.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Inline citations
Bibliography
  • Vinciguerra, Thomas (December 9, 2001). "TV Rekindles an Old Flame". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]