Yule Log (TV program)
|The Yule Log|
|Genre||Christmas television special|
|Created by||Fred M. Thrower|
|Original airing||December 25, 1966|
The Yule Log is a television program which is broadcast traditionally on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning (except for the 1990s and the year 2000 when the program was not broadcast), originally by New York City television station WPIX but now by many other Tribune Company-owned television stations, including WGN America, and by Antenna TV starting in 2011. A radio simulcast of the musical portion was broadcast by associated station WPIX-FM (now WFAN-FM) until 1988.
The program, which has been 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.
The Yule Log was created in 1966 by Fred M. Thrower, President and CEO of WPIX, Inc. Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned this television 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 the radio station had at that time, 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 to name a few. 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 seventeen 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.
Canceling and revival
From 1974 until 1989, a special message by then WPIX-TV vice president and general manager Richard N. Hughes 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 a new WPIX general manager, Michael Eigner, to cancel it in 1990 — the same year that director Whit Stillman included a scene of a New Yorker viewing the Log in his movie Metropolitan. Despite hundreds of protesting letters, the program was not broadcast. Beginning in 1997, WPIX offered various versions of The Yule Log on the Internet.
In March 2000, Yule Log fan Joseph Malzone of Totowa, New Jersey created a web site named "Bring Back The Log" (now named TheYuleLog.com, and administered by Lawrence F. "Chip" Arcuri), and petitioned station management to broadcast The Yule Log again. In December 2001, WPIX VP/General Manager Betty Ellen Berlamino announced on WPLJ radio that the special would return after eleven years of not being broadcast. Berlamino explained that people wanted "comfort food TV" as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The digitally restored program was the most-watched television program in the metropolitan New York area for Christmas Day of that year and has been broadcast annually since.
Program Director Julie O'Neil found the original master film of the 1970 fireplace in WPIX's film archives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The master film was misfiled in a Honeymooners film can marked with the episode title “A Dog’s Life,” which resulted in a 2006 40th anniversary special about the Log being named A Log’s Life. In 2009, a fourth hour featuring 22 new songs and seven new artists was added to the program.
In 2003, Tribune Broadcasting, parent company of WPIX, announced that in addition to being broadcast in New York City, The Yule Log would be broadcast in additional U.S. television markets on other Tribune-owned television stations, and would also be broadcast by high definition television that year as well. The program made its "national" debut in 2004 on Chicago's WGN-TV and its sibling station, now known as WGN America. However, in 2008 the stations did their own version, with holiday themed old-time radio programs in the background instead of music. This was abandoned after one year, and the original WPIX version was used in 2009. WGN America did not 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 locally by WGN-TV Chicago, and by the other Tribune-owned local stations. WGN-TV and the other Tribune stations didn't air The Yule Log in 2011, choosing to air other holiday programming instead. There are also plans to broadcast The Yule Log on Tribune's new digital subchannel network, Antenna TV, beginning in 2011, bringing the concept to many more additional markets without dependence on WGN America. In 2010, The Yule Log was broadcast on the Gospel Music Channel (GMC), for 24 hours starting at 8:00 P.M. Christmas Eve until 8:00 P.M. Christmas night. WPIX and KTLA had The Yule Log on Christmas Morning for 4 hours. WGNO-TV also airs a Yule Log as lead-in to Good Morning America on Christmas Day (the station's only non-news day, as its network, ABC airs NBA Christmas Classic basketball games on that day.)
Other stations (and cable channels) have spawned imitations. Fellow Tribune station WDCW (then known as WBDC) in Washington, DC has done their own version, filming a log burning at Colonial Williamsburg. Beginning in 2003, Jason Patton, an executive at INHD (the now-defunct MOJO HD) was inspired as a youth by WPIX's Yule Log, he produced his own version, which broadcasts every Christmas 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 (not owned by Tribune), 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, owned by Hubbard Broadcasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, also produces a local version of the Yule Log. In its early years, the Home Shopping Network also aired a Yule Log for the network's only non-broadcasting day before moving to a loop of Tampa Bay Area choirs singing Christmas carols and host wishes in subsequent years. PBS Kids Sprout offers a twelve hour loop called 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 (the network's only non-broadcasting day).
Some of the 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 their sister FM station, WPIX-FM (101.9), for those unable view the Yule Log on television.
A great many video fireplace productions with a similar format have also been marketed on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, some of which are entitled "Yule Log"  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.
In 2005, Tribune began making a version of the Yule Log video recorded in AVI format available for download, advertising it as a "Portable Yule Log" for those traveling.
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. 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 play list of the original soundtrack, which includes a number of tunes of the 1970 version that are not currently available on compact disc, but only on LPs now out of print.
In 2008, the company Outback Steakhouse used this holiday tradition by having the first 20 seconds of a 30-second advertisement feature a CGI version of the log, then focusing on some steaks. Also in 2008, animation director PES released a free screensaver that reimagined the Yule Log in food, with pretzels for the log and candy corn for the flames.
In 2013, Charmin used this holiday tradition by having a yule log appear in a 30-second commercial featuring hands placing logs into the fireplace.
- Inline citations
- Yule Log
- Twenty-Three Songs Added to The Yule Log's Fourth Hour, WPIX-TV Press Release, 16 December 2009
- Arcuri, Lawrence F. (11/04/2010 02:08). "Conversation with Sean Compton regarding national coverage". The Yule Log.com Message Board. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
- The Yule Log HD at the Internet Movie Database
- The Yule Log: Christmas by the Fireplace at AllMovie
- Christmas Yule Log at AllMovie
- 'Puppy Bowl III' Supersizes Against the Super Bowl
- A Log's Life at the Internet Movie Database
- Frauenfelder, Mark (2008-12-03). "Funny yule log screensaver from PES films". Boing Boing. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
- Vinciguerra, Thomas (December 9, 2001). "TV Rekindles an Old Flame". The New York Times.
- The Yule Log Website
- WPIX website
- Joe Malzone's TV Party article on The Yule Log
- Slate.com video on history of The Yule Log
- The Yule Log at the Internet Movie Database
- Yule Log Online Video