The WPIX Yule Log is a television program which airs traditionally on Christmas Eve (from 1966 through 1989) and/or Christmas morning (since 2001) on New York City television station WPIX. The program, which has run anywhere from two to four hours in length (currently set as of 2009 as four 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.
How New York's Christmas Tradition Started
The Yule Log was created in 1966 by the station's General Manager at that time, Fred Thrower, and was inspired by a Coca-Cola ad the year before. Thrower thought of an idea to give a gift to New York residents who had no fireplaces in their apartments, and decided to cancel programs and advertising valued at an estimated US $4,000 that Christmas Eve night. 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 (whose version of Joy to the World opens and closes the program), Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani and The Ray Conniff Singers to name a few. The original film, a seventeen second loop, was shot at Gracie Mansion, which served at that time as the official residence of the Mayor of New York City. A wayward spark in the midst of filming (on 16 mm film) destroyed an antique rug as the grate was removed. In 1970 the fire was re-shot on 35mm film in California with andirons akin to the ones at Gracie Mansion. This version, whose loop runs approximately six and one-half minutes, has been the one viewers have seen ever since.
Cancellation and Re-Lighting
The program was canceled (or for this case, burned out) in 1990, because it wasn't worth the money to run it ad-free. Beginning in 1997, WPIX offered various versions of The Yule Log via the Internet. That was not enough for Joe Malzone, who had grown up viewing this cherished holiday tradition, and started a website to bring it back called "Bring Back The Log". Shortly after the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, demand was greater than ever. Finally, on December 4th of that year, WPIX general manager Betty Ellen Berlino announced on WPLJ FM radio that the special would return to channel 11 for the holiday, citing the need for what she called "comfort food television". The digitally restored program was the most-watched TV program in the metropolitan New York area for Christmas Day of that year, and has either been winning or finishing second its time slot annually ever since. Other Tribune Broadcasting stations (as WPIX is owned by the Chicago-based media company) were given the chance to air the special starting on 2004, including their flagship station, WGN-TV and it's superstation sibling WGN America. However, the stations raised eyebrows in 2008 when they did their own version, complete with holiday themed old-time radio programs in the background instead of music, and was scrapped after one year. Starting in 2011, Tribune-owned digital subchannel Antenna TV began to carry the show annually in addition to the Tribune owned stations.
In 2006, to commemorate the program's 40th anniversary, WPIX produced a one-hour television special about its history of the program entitled "A Log's Life." The title comes from a container where the original 1970 film was in from a box of the vintage TV series The Honeymooners marked with the episode title "A Dog's Life" found by then-program manager Julie O'Neill at the station's archives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Also that year, a restored three-hour version debuted, with a restored soundtrack researched by Malzone and Christmas musicologist Lawrence F. "Chip" Arcuri that came from a listing of the 1970's version. On December 16, 2009, Arcuri and WPIX announced that a new fourth hour would be added to the WPIX broadcast with seven performers and 23 new songs that have never been heard on the program before.
Tributes and imitations
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, Jason Patton, an executive at INHD (now known as MOJO HD) was inspired as a youth by WPIX's Log, he produced his own version, which airs every Christmas as well as via On Demand.
- Broadcasters as diverse as Oregon Public Broadcasting, the MSG Network (as well as its former competitor, the Empire Sports Network) and the CHUM Television group in Canada have also borrowed the concept.
- WKBW-TV in Buffalo (not owned by Tribune), in a cost-cutting measure, introduced the Yule Log as a replacement for its Christmas morning newscast in 2008.
- KSTC-TV, owned by Hubbard Broadcasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, also produces a local version of the Yule Log.
- The Hub Network aired an animated four-hour version themed around My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on Christmas Day of 2013, set in Pinkie Pie's house and featuring cameos by characters from that and other Hub Network series.
- In 2014, Disney XD used a Yule Log as their holiday theme. Also, on ESPN's SEC Network, they did a log mixing christmas carols with fight songs of the fourteen colleges that make up the Southeastern Conference.
Home video productions with a similar format have also been marketed in recent years.
- The 2010 DVD release of Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! contained a virtual Yule Log, set in the Flynn-Fletcher family's fireplace, as one of its bonus features.
- Similarly, the 2011 DVD release of Prep & Landing also contained a virtual Yule Log.
- The DVD and Blu-ray releases of It's a SpongeBob Christmas! both contain a one-hour Yule Log set in SpongeBob SquarePants's fireplace.
In 2008, Outback Steakhouse paid an homage to this holiday tradition by having the first 20 seconds of a 30-second ad feature a CGI version of the log then focusing up on some steaks. That same year, animation director PES released a free screensaver that reimagined the Yule Log in food, with pretzels for the log and candy corn for the flames.
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