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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

THE "OH, FOR FUCK'S SAKE" 2007 CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: CHANNEL 11's THE YULE LOG

One of the most marvelously absurd programs in the history of television is Channel 11's annual airing of THE YULE LOG, a kitschy bit of seasonal programming that takes up four hours of screen time with this:


Yes, it's four solid hours of a fucking fireplace with a log burning in it while the usual assortment of Christmas standards provide the backgorund to so awesome a spectacle. Think I'm bullshitting? Just Google "The Yule Log" and you'll find a number of sites both honoring it for its wholesome evocation of a "family" atmosphere, and appreciating it for the insanity of its continued and venerated existence. Jewish Warrior Princess and myself have cracked up over it for years, and just ten minutes ago I saw an ad for the airing that begins at nine this morning, an ad that elicited a giggling "Oh, for fuck's sake, that lunacy is on again!" from Yer Bunche. I may even throw a tape into the VCR and record the fucker for prosperity (despite the fact that it's available on DVD, something I just can't see spending money on).

Four commercial-free hours of a piece of burning wood, and somehow it's not considered porno for pyromaniacs (maybe the steady stream of Christmas music harshes the boner). Anyway, here's the whole poop on THE YULE LOG as found on Wikipedia (!!!), and not one word of it was made up by Yours Truly. You just can't make this shit up:

THE YULE LOG

"The WPIX Yule Log" is a television program which airs traditionally on either Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning on New York City television station WPIX. A radio simulcast of the musical portion was broadcast on sister station WPIX-FM (now WQCD) until 1988.

The program, which has run anywhere from two to four hours in length, but as of 2007 is officially listed as three hours, has no story and no TV commercial interruptions. It is simply a film loop of a Yule log burning in a fireplace, with a traditional soundtrack of classic Christmas carols and secular music playing in the background.

ORIGINS
The Yule Log was created in 1966 by the station's general manager, Fred M. Thrower. 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 "The Big Apple" who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces.

The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay. $4,000 (US) of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas night for the show's inaugural airing. Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, largely based on the easy listening format the radio station had at that time, with the likes of Percy Faith, Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani and The Ray Conniff Singers to name a few. During the shoot, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen to its best advantage. Unfortunately, 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. [Bunche note: IT'S A FUCKING LOG!!!] However, by 1969 it was already clear that the original 16 mm film was quickly deteriorating from wear and needed to be re-shot. (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 shoot the loop at Gracie Mansion. However the mayor's office, remembering the mishap with the rug, 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, whose loop runs approximately six and one-half minutes, has been the one viewers have seen ever since.

DECLINE AND REVIVAL
From 1974 until 1989, a special message by WPIX-TV vice president and general manager Richard N. Hughes usually preceded the program, which ran every Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and sometimes both. But the high costs of running 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 film Metropolitan . Despite hundreds of protesting letters, the log remained off the air. [Bunche Note: IT'S A FUCKING LOG!!!] Beginning in 1997, however, WPIX offered various versions of The Yule Log on the Internet.

In March of 2000, Log fan Joseph Malzone of Totowa, New Jersey created a web site called "Bring Back The Log" (now called theyulelog.com), and petitioned station management via the internet to put "The Yule Log" back on the air. The site generated little response until Malzone received a letter from a New Yorker living in Australia who remembered the program. Slowly but surely, nostalgic interest in the Log grew. Then came the September 11, 2001 attacks. Three months later, it was formally announced on WPLJ radio that the special would return. Betty Ellen Berlamino, VP/general manager of the station, explained that people wanted "comfort food TV" following the incidents of that fateful day. The digitally restored program was the most-watched TV program in the metropolitan New York area for Christmas Day of that year, and has been winning its time slot annually since.

The original master film of the 1970 fireplace shooting was found in WPIX's film archives in Fort Lee, New Jersey by Julie O'Neil, who served as the program director at that time, in a case marked "Fireplace" and misfiled in a “Honeymooners” film can marked with the episode title “A Dog’s Life” (which led to the title of a 2006 40th anniversary special about the Log, “A Log’s Life”).

THE LOG'S LEGACY
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 air in high def that year as well. The program made its "national" debut in 2004 on Chicago's WGN-TV and its sibling Superstation.

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, a MOJO HD executive was inspired as a youth by WPIX's Log, he produced his own version, which airs every Christmas as well as via On Demand. Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Madison Square Garden Network, and the CHUM Television group in Canada have also borrowed the concept.

In 2005, Tribune began making a version of the Yule Log video recorded in MPEG-4 format available for download, advertising it as a "Portable Yule Log" for those traveling. [1] In December 2006, to commemorate the program's 40th anniversary, WPIX aired 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 following a completely restored three-hour version of the 1970 "Log". Researched and compiled by Malzone and Christmas musicologist Lawrence "Chip" Arcuri, this latest incarnation features a newly re-digitized play list of the original soundtrack, which includes a number of tunes from the 1970 version that are not currently available on compact disc, but only on LPs now out of print.

4 comments:

Scott Koblish said...

This may sound stupid - but I miss the Log. We don't have it in L.A.

Have a happy Roman pagan holiday of winter rebirth converted to the Catholic Church's holiday of a messianic birth that was originally in spring, mixed with all sorts of Germanic, Nordic and British traditions and Coca Cola's color scheme Steve!

Anonymous said...

The log is iPod portable:

http://tv.trb.com/extras/tvshared/yulelog/2005yulelog.mp4

Anonymous said...

"It's LAHHHG! It's LAHHHG! It's big, it's heavy it's wood!
It's LAHHHG! It's LAHHHG! It's better than "bad" - it's good!" :)

Ken Pierce said...

I had no idea that so much went into the television presentation of a burning log but while I found your post very interesting, I must share that while clicking around this New Years Day 2008 that I saw a simple burning log being broadcast and here is the kicker. THERE WAS NO MUSIC PLAYING!!!!! It was just the sounds of the crackling fire and apparently this comes from the boathouse in central park or something. I gave it ten minutes to see if music actually began but it didnt so I went back to my Twisted Sister Christmas album. Then closed out with the pomp and circumstance of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Happy New Year Senor Bunche....