Tim here. December means two things: one of these is frantically trying to keep up with year-end awardage and last-minute qualifying releases, and we have that well-covered this month at the Film Experience. But it also means forcible nostalgia and hankering back to the traditions of childhood, and in this mode, we come to a very important anniversary this weekend. It was 50 years ago, on December 6, 1964, that NBC first aired the hourlong Rank/Bass special Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, and thus created one of the most durable pop culture artifacts of the Christmas season.
Rudolph wasn't the first TV Christmas special, nor even the first one that was animated: Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol had beaten to the latter punch by two years. Its enormous success meant that follow-ups were inevitable, so Rudolph was merely at the forefront of quite a large number of animated tales of finding the true meaning of the holiday and this and the other thing. And yet out of that wave of productions, virtually nothing, including Quincy Magoo’s turn in Ebenezer Scrooge’s shoes, has had the lasting cultural currency of Rudolph, which has been aired somewhere on American television for every single one of the 50 years of its existence. The fledgling Rankin/Bass (then working under the name Videocraft) made a cottage industry out of Christmas specials in the years following, but none of its follow-ups have become institutions in the same way as their first attempt.