Since 1966 Westporters have celebrated Christmas by gathering together, drinking egg nog, and watching a film loop of a fire burning in a fireplace.
The “Yule Log” has been a staple of holiday television for over 4 decades. You’d think such a traditional ceremony would be impervious to change, but over time progress has touched even the fake, flickering log.
It moved from black-and-white to color. It was offered on DVD. 2002 saw the introduction of an HD version. (The New York Times pronounced those HD flames “frighteningly fierce and fast…less like ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and more like ‘Fahrenheit 451.'”)
Now — a little drummer boy drum roll, please! — America welcomes a 3-D version.
And we owe it all to a Westporter of yore: Fred Thrower.
According to Wikipedia — which is usually pretty right, most of the time — Fred was president and CEO of WPIX, Inc.
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. This also provided time for employees of the TV station to stay home with their families, instead of working for the usual morning news program.
The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay. An estimated US $4,000 of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas Eve 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 (whose rendition of “Joy to the World” is played at the beginning and the end of the telecast), 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.
Which brings us to 2010, and — ta da! — “Yule Log 3-D.”
It’s not, the Times warns, ready for prime time: “This season it’s probably easier to commandeer a real fireplace — or light a sidewalk bonfire — than to find a friend or neighbor with a working 3-D TV set.”
Plus you need those dorky glasses.
But hey, it’s Christmas. Look at the egg nog glass as half-full, not half-empty. Back in 1966, who would have envisioned a 3-D anything — let alone a 3-D log with (I’m quoting the Times again) “cheerful young women in short shorts and big hair exercising vigorously with ribbons and balls.”
Well, maybe Fred Thrower envisioned it. He was a true Westporter, ahead of his time.
(Traditionalists, take note: WPIX Channel 11 broadcasts the classic yule log tomorrow, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Futurists: The 3-D version is available on iN Demand Networks. But for Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers only!)