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Published: Tuesday, 11/19/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

TELEVISION

Thanksgiving marks start of holiday-themed TV

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
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Thanksgiving week means one thing in TV land: a few lingering Thanksgiving episodes of ongoing series and a smattering of specials.

Fox offers turkey-themed episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (8:30 p.m. Tuesday) and New Girl (9 p.m. Tuesday) and on Thanksgiving night Fox airs new episodes of The X Factor and Glee.

ABC airs the 2013 American Music Awards at 8 p.m. Sunday with performances by Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, and One Direction, among others.

RELATED CONTENT: Full list of 2013 holiday programming

And then there’s the special programming:

Traditionally, the TV Christmas season kicks off just after Thanksgiving but Hallmark Channel has found such ratings success with Christmas programming that its executives prefer to begin earlier. The first new Hallmark holiday films debuted at the start of the month and this week sister-network Hallmark Movie Channel premieres its first-ever original holiday movie, "Christmas with Tucker" (9 p.m. Monday).

It’s a prequel to the 2009 Hallmark Hall of Fame film "A Dog Named Christmas." The dad in that film is a little boy in this prequel; both films are based on books by author Greg Kincaid.

In “Christmas with Tucker,” 13-year-old George McCray (Gage Munroe) is still coming to terms with the loss of his father in a Kansas farm accident. George is living with his grandpa (James Brolin) and grandma (Barbara Gordon) on the farm, missing his mother (Josie Bissett, “Secret Life of the American Teenager”), who moved to Minnesota to deal with her grief.

George’s outlook brightens when he makes friends with a girl (Helen Colliander) on his school bus and takes temporary custody of his neighbor’s dog, Tucker.

Written by Dave Alan Johnson (“Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye,” ‘’Doc,” ‘’Against the Grain”), “Christmas with Tucker” is an ideal Christmas flick for viewers who appreciate sentiment, scenes of kids learning Important Lessons and, of course, cute dogs. Cynics will turn the channel in a heartbeat but there’s clearly an audience for this type of predictable but upbeat family-friendly entertainment.

At a July Hallmark press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., Johnson and executive producer Joel Rice acknowledged that not everyone goes for heartwarming TV movies year-round but perhaps this time of year is different.

"Around the holidays, everybody -- even potentially you -- want to feel warm and fuzzy,” Rice joked with a reporter who asked about cynical responses to programming like “Christmas for Tucker.”

"A ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Christmas special just doesn’t, I don’t think, have a ring to it,” Johnson said. “I’ve made a long career now of family stuff, and the key to me is the three Hs: You’ve got to have humor. You’ve got to have honesty. You’ve got to have heart. And the key to that is the humor because, if you have humor and it’s entertaining, these first and foremost must be entertaining. ‘Elf’ is a perfect example. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a perfect example. These are entertaining movies. That doesn’t mean because they’re wholesome, they’re not entertaining. If you just get honesty and heart, it can be schmaltzy and drab. So it’s got to have humor. We have that.”

Brolin said he’s a sucker for dog movies, including any iteration of “Lassie” and especially the tear-jerker “Marley and Me.”

"I think God’s message is that we get to have five-to-seven dogs in our lifetime, and they all die to prepare us for our own death, but that’s a real sad reality, isn’t it?” he said. “And I think that may be because I’ve lost so many good friends. You know, I see ‘Marley,’ and it all comes back.”

-- The third and final installment of “The Yoda Chronicles,” called “Attack of the Jedi,” debuts at 8 p.m. Nov. 27 on Cartoon Network.

Set during the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, this limited series follows Yoda as he teaches a new class of Padawans and teams with Anakin Skywalker to fight against Darth Sidious’ efforts to build a new super-weapon.

-- In her second ABC special timed to Thanksgiving, Lady Gaga teams with The Muppets for the “Lady Gaga & The Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular” (9:30 p.m. Nov. 28).

With the 90-minute program beginning later in the evening - and a description of it as “an avant-garde twist on the classic holiday variety show” -- odds are this will not be like Muppet holiday specials or yore. (With a new movie -- “Muppets Most Wanted” featuring a Lady Gaga cameo -- due in theaters on March 21, there will also be some advance movie promotion.)

The “Holiday Spectacular” will feature an appearance by Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars,” ‘’House of Lies”) and performances by Elton John, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and RuPaul.

Lady Gaga is expected to perform songs from her new album, “ARTPOP,” and she’ll have a duet with Kermit the Frog.

More in keeping with a traditional Muppets special, “Holiday Spectacular” will also offer a showcase for Muppets Swedish Chef, Beaker and Animal to perform “Deck the Halls and “Jingle Bells.”

Follow TV writer Rob Owen on Twitter or Facebook under RobOwenTV. Email him at rowen@post-gazette.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.



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