Friday, December 24, 2010

The Yule Log


The first Christmas mornings after television arrived usually featured a series of seasonal slides accompanied by a Bing Crosby or Percy Faith Christmas album. Station owners figured that if people had their TVs on at all, it was only going to be background to the more important activities taking place in living rooms across the nation.

Then somebody decided to interact a little more. Early screenings of "A Christmas Carol" were offered to accompany the gift opening, cartoon festivals kept the kids occupied so harried parents could get started on the myriad chores of the day.

When I was a kid in Regina, the TV weatherman would troop his family down to the Christmas treed living room set that used to be de rigueur in any local station where, dressed in their PJs, dressing gowns and slippers, they'd open their real presents and send out immediate thanks to Grandma and Uncle Bill.

Then in 1966, Fred Thrower, the owner of WPIX in New York, hit on the idea of televising a roaring fire place for all the families within range of his Channel 11 who didn't have access to a traditional fireplace. And the "Yule Log" was born.

The original Yule Log was a 17 second loop of 16mm film that ran for two hours on Christmas Eve so Thrower's staff could spend time with their own families.

The response was overwhelming. WPIX received thousands of letters and thank you cards. Maybe it was because the station had been able to bring a symbol of warmth and holiday cheer into tenements and high rise apartments.

Or maybe it was because television had, for the first time, felt interactive -- an active participant in the viewer's activities rather than requiring the viewer to participate in theirs.

don't touch

The Yule Log was honed and perfected over the next 23 years of regular broadcast. More logs and a fancier mantle were found. Hands would later drop a new log on the flames. The crackle of the fire was augmented by more recent versions of Christmas carols, although there still always seemed to be room for Bing Crosby and Percy Faith.

In 1990, the Log disappeared. WPIX could no longer do without the advertising money they lost by showing the uninterrupted conflagration of a hunk of wood.

But a viewer campaign finally succeeded in bringing it back seven years later and helped it spread across the country. With rights to the log purchased by the Tribune Network, a crisp new 35 mm version was shot with even better logs, then a video version, then one in Hi-Def.

By 2004, it had become a staple on the network's WGN (Chicago) Superstation. A year later it began being marketed on VHS to those who didn't have a local station running it -- or who wanted to bask in its warmth year round.

That was followed by a DVD, and a downloadable "portable version" as well as copy cats from dozens of other television outlets.

Today, you can buy a version from iTunes for all your portable devices, heating up your phone lines, bringing a little cheer to that boardroom presentation or completely freaking out an airport screener. The log is now officially everywhere.

In fact, it is so pervasive that WGN won't be broadcasting it this year.According to WGN, it's simply that once again times are tough for broadcasters and they can't forego the ad revenue.

Which brings us to CTV, which has programmed the log across the entire length and breadth of its National network on Christmas morning.

Yes, the same guys who whined all year about having no money for local programming and new Canadian shows can apparently get by quite nicely without a few hours of ad revenue.

Keep that in mind when they're back in front of the CRTC after their upcoming Spring buying spree in LA to make the same "but we're broke" arguments.

But let's not allow those annoyances to intrude on our own enjoyment of the season.

For those who don't spend much time in front of a TV anymore and for those regular readers of the Legion who are spending Christmas in the Caribbean or Australia or Kandahar, we're going CTV one better and making the Yule Log available wherever and whenever you want it.

So settle in, be that on a couch, next to the surf or in a fox hole. Pour some egg nog, twist the cap off a cold one or take a welcome sip from your canteen. And let the flickering fire remind you of the joys of Christmas past and your dreams for those to come.

Have yourself a very Merry Christmas -- and God Bless us Every One.


Allan E said...

Christmas morning in Bangkok - looking at your Yule Log Thanks, Jim

Blazing Cat Fur said...

Merry Christmas!

been around the block said...

Hey, how didja know my husband was looking for a yule log on our telly?

We'll check out CTV ... thanks for the tip.

BTW, Merry Christmas!

been around the block in toronto