With Halloween just over a month ago, Thanksgiving having just been and gone, and Christmas around the corner, American TV has found itself in the end of year glut of holidays that means only one thing. Holiday specials.
While we’ve already had a look at the best Halloween specials from American TV, this seems as appropriate a time as any to ask the question of why America loves the holiday special so much.
Each year its weekly shows dedicate an episode to each of the big three holidays, often coming back from breaks in order to do so.
The real reason behind it all though is the struggle American writing staffs have to deal with. With such huge episode orders every year and a limitless amount of seasons if the show is a success, the amount of episodes that need to be made is astonishing.
So, with this huge amount of episodes demanded, it’s naturally going to get tricky coming up with new storylines that don’t all simply begin to sound the same, without ‘jumping the shark’.
By giving themselves all three holidays to make specials out of, it gives the creative staff the welcome break of three weeks with boundaries and culturally known norms giving the episodes an easy platform.
On the opposite side, it gives those shows with more odd, creative outlooks, the chance to really have an attempt to do something really different with the traditional holiday themes, which can lead to a show going from funny to inspired.
A non-traditional holiday special can serve as the embodiment of a show’s voice. South Park’s Helen Keller: The Musical special for Thanksgiving, and Community’s clay-mated Christmas special say absolutely everything they need to about their respective shows. The former distils all of its controversy courting nature into one episode, while Community’s habit of embracing the odd and peculiar for all it’s worth is demonstrated perfectly here.
Writers love to put their own stamp onto a familiar framework, and American TV’s series of special episodes provides that opportunity not once, but three times in as many months.
On a business side it makes sense for the channels to keep scheduling these specials, as it gives them the chance to flaunt something new and interesting at the newspapers, magazines and internet to drum up interest from the audience. That everyone else is trying the exact same thing doesn’t seem to have any impact.
Giving the combination of a safe starting point and a real opportunity for creativity for their under pressure writers, the series of holiday specials looks set to remain a network mainstay in the US.