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A television special is a television program which mporarily interrupts programming normally scheduled for a given time slot. Sometimes, however, the term is given to a telecast of a theatrical film, such as The Wizard of Oz, which is not part of a regular television anthology series such as NBC Saturday Night at the Movies (1961–1978).
The term originally applied especially to major dramatized presentations of an hour or two which were broadcast during times normally occupied by episodes of one or more weekly television series, thus replacing the series for that specific week. In the 1960s, multi-part specials, over several days in a week, or on the same day for several weeks, evolved from this format, though these were more commonly called miniseries. The term "TV special" formerly applied more to dramas or musicals presented live or on videotape (such as Peter Pan) than to filmed presentations especially made for television, which were (and still are) designated as made-for-TV movies.
Other forms of TV specials are one-time comedy or musical events, one-shot seasonal programs (e.g. Christmas television specials), irregular sports events (e.g. the Olympic Games or the Super Bowl), live coverage of a popular cultural event (such as the Academy Awards or Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade), fundraising campaigns (telethon) or spontaneous interruptions of active programming to cover an important news event (election coverage, however, is generally scheduled).
Today, with the rise of cable, online streaming, and home video, it is virtually impossible for an annual telecast of a program to have the same impact on television as before. In pre-cable and pre-home video days, television audiences often had to wait an entire year or more to see a special program or film that had a great impact on first viewing. Online streaming makes it possible for viewers to watch a television show again almost immediately after it is aired, and home video, digital downloads as well as internet television and video on demand, make it possible for the general public to own copies of television shows and films.
Most TV specials can be filmed in one country but broadcast in another. For example, a 1998 TV special The Wiggles Live at Disneyland was filmed in Disneyland in Anaheim, California, USA but broadcast on the Disney Channel in Australia.
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