Crooning pop stars, holiday-themed sitcoms, “Wipeout” Jingle Balls, grown-up Bart and Lisa and, of course, Charlie Brown and his tree are among this year’s treats
There's nothing like a little channel surfing to get you in the holiday mood, and our holiday TV guide includes festive primetime viewing options — and a few non-holiday specials — for every night from now through Dec. 25.
"A Michael Buble Christmas," 8/7c, NBC
The Canadian crooner goes retro with this groovy holiday variety show special, including a comedy sketch (complete with ugly Christmas sweaters) with "The Office" star Ed Helms and, of course, holiday music performances with guests Justin Bieber and Kellie Pickler.
"Eureka," "Warehouse 13" and "Haven," 8/7c, Syfy
Syfy's signature dramas get the holiday treatment, including an animated "Eureka" that includes guest stars Chris Parnell, Edward James Olmos and Jim Parsons (as the voice of a Jeep).
"Chopped," 10/9c, Food Network
The holiday-themed challenge is called "Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Lobster!" which should scare contestants about what's in those mystery baskets.
"The Middle," 8/7c, ABC
It's a Christmas miracle! Okay, not so much a miracle, but a really fun episode when the hilarious Paul Hipp returns as singing preacher Rev. TimTom, who Sue recruits to explain the holidays to Brick.
"Up All Night," 8/7c, NBC
Blythe Danner guest stars as Reagan's mom, who comes to the rescue when Reagan wants to whip up a special first Christmas for Amy.
"Modern Family," 9/8c, ABC
The Pritchett fam's plan to celebrate the holidays early leads to some strange pairings: Gloria and Luke are in charge of ornaments, Phil and Manny go shopping for groceries and Jay and Cam are on official gift-wrapping duty.
"Happy Endings," 9:30/8:30c, ABC
A skint (broke) Max agrees to play Santa for cash in the episode titled "Grinches Be Crazy."
"Community," 8/7c, NBC
The study group becomes Greendale's choir in this "Glee"-ful holiday episode, which, yes, of course, finds Dean Pelton in a Christmas sweater.
"Wipeout: Winter Wipeout," 8/7c, ABC
Newbie co-host Vanessa Lachey joins the fun as contestants take on the Nutcracker Sweet, Santa's Workshop and the Jingle Balls.
"Parks and Recreation," 8:30/7:30c, NBC
Which staffer will be the one to come up with the perfect Christmas for Leslie?
"America's Funniest Home Videos: Christmas Spectacular," 9/8c, ABC
Embarrassing holiday-related family videos. Everyone's got 'em, but these families were willing to share theirs.
"The Office," 9/8c, NBC
"The Office" Christmas episodes have been among the show's best, but it may be tough to celebrate the season when boss Robert California just wants to drown his sorrows.
"Whitney," 9:30/8:30c, NBC
Introducing Whitney's 'rents — played by Jane Kaczmarek and Peter Gallagher — who mess up her plans to hang with friends for the holidays.
"Frosty the Snowman," 8/7c, CBS
One of the real holiday 'toon classics, "Frosty," which has spawned four sequels, turns 42 this year.
"Spike TV's Video Game Awards," 8/7c, Spike
Mark Burnett's producing and "Chuck" star Zachary Levi is hosting this annual special that honors the best videogames for every platform.
"Straight No Chaser — Songs of the Decade: Holiday Edition," Check local listings for time and channel, PBS
The a cappella group was filmed during an Atlantic City performance, putting their special spin on everything from "Joy to the World" to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
"Extreme Christmas Trees," 9/8c, TLC
Have you ever seen a Christmas tree fashioned out of lobster traps? Or one decorated with more than $200,000 worth of ornaments? You will in this special.
"Snowmageddon," 9/8c, Syfy
For real: this holiday-themed entry in the list of deliciously cheesy Syfy original movies revolves around a snow globe that can cause naughty things to happen when it's shaken.
"12 Dates of Christmas," 8/7c, ABC Family
It's Christmas with a touch of "Groundhog Day," as a woman with a controlling nature (Amy Smart) has to keep reliving a Christmas Eve blind date (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) until she can learn to stop being so uptight and trust her holiday fate.
"Cupcake Wars," 8/7c, Food Network
Four bakers compete to see whose cupcakes will be featured at the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade.
"The Simpsons," 8/7c, Fox
It's Christmas 2041, and Bart — a divorced dad whose landlord is Skinner — and Lisa — now married to Milhouse — head home for the holidays.
"White House Christmas 2011," 8/7c, HGTV
Former "Trading Spaces" designer Genevieve Gorder gives a tour of the holiday decor in the White House, while dispensing decorating tips and showing off a special touch to this year's decorations, which include a special element from U.S. military men and women.
"Bag of Bones," part 1, 9/8c, A&E
This two-night miniseries — adapted from the 1998 Stephen King bestseller — stars Pierce Brosnan as a novelist who loses his wife and retreats to his lakeside home, where he becomes involved with the dramas of a widow, her young daughter and the ghost of a blues singer. The movie concludes on Dec. 12.
"Luck," 10/9c, HBO
This David Milch-created horse racing drama, starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, doesn't officially premiere until Jan. 29, but HBO's trying to whip up some advance buzz by airing the pilot more than a month early.
"Mike & Molly," 9:30/8:30c, CBS
Can Mike save the day — and the whole holiday season — for Molly, when bad news at work threatens to cast a "bah, humbug" on her Christmas?
"Christmas With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," 8/7c, PBS
The concert includes narration by Michael York and performances by "American Idol" alum David Archuleta — who sings "Los Pastores a Belén" in Spanish.
"Glee," 8/7c, Fox
The glee club's dance card is suddenly too full, when the group is invited to perform at two events, on the same day, at the same time. Series star Matthew Morrison directed the episode, which includes nods to "The Star Wars Holiday Special" and "The Judy Garland Christmas Show," as well as a guest appearance by Chewbacca.
"NCIS," 8/7c, CBS
The "NCIS"-ers try to find a pregnant marine, whose life is being threatened on Christmas Eve.
"New Girl," 9/8c, Fox
Jess, Nick and Winston attend the office Christmas party at Schmidt's workplace, while Jess wigs out when Paul (guest Justin Long) gives her an expensive gift.
"Raising Hope," 9:30/8:30c, Fox
The Chances take on a holiday film classic in "It's a Hopeful Life," in which Jimmy imagines what his life would be like if Hope had never been born.
"Live From Lincoln Center: George Balanchine's The Nutcracker," 8/7c, PBS
The New York City Ballet's entire roster — plus two casts of children from the School of American Ballet — perform the holiday classic.
"Barbara Walters Presents the 10 Most Fascinating People of 2011," 9:31/8:31c, ABC
Our money's still on J.R. Martinez to be the most fascinating person of 2011.
"Funniest Commercials of the Year," 10/9c, TBS
Isaiah Mustafa — he of those Old Spice commercials — hosts this countdown of the best TV ads of the past year.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas," 8/7c, ABC
The original Peanuts animated special — it debuted in 1965 — is still the best, as Charlie Brown continues to give love to that, ahem, underdeveloped little Christmas tree.
"The Year With Katie Couric," 9/8c, ABC
Couric connects with People magazine for this rundown of the year's biggest stories, including the death of Osama bin Laden and the death of Kim Kardashian's marriage (and credibility).
"Christmas in Washington," 8/7c, TNT
The 30th annual celebration benefiting the Children's National Medical Center is hosted by Conan O'Brien, includes performances by Justin Bieber, Cee-Lo Green, Jennifer Hudson and The Band Perry and guests President and Michelle Obama.
"Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis," 8/7c, Encore
Interviews with Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Alec Baldwin, Quentin Tarantino and John Landis pepper this profile of the legendary, and often controversial, comedian and philanthropist.
"Saturday Night Live," 11:29/10:29c, NBC
The final new episode of the year is hosted by "SNL" alum, with musical guest — and, it's a sure bet, sketch guest star — Michael Buble. A cameo by Jon Hamm for a "Hamm and Buble" sequel would be the perfect "SNL" holiday treat for viewers … we're just sayin'.
"Z100's Jingle Ball 2011," 7/6c, Fuse
Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, David Guetta, Foster the People and Demi Lovato are among the performers at this annual Madison Square Garden concert, sponsored by New York radio station Z100.
"Family Ties," 9:30/8:30c, The Hub
Here's a thought for NBC: instead of remaking shows like "The Munsters," how about remaking this Must See TV family sitcom hit? In this Keaton holiday gem, the family's ski trip is postponed because of a snowstorm, so Steven and Elyse tell the kids about their birth days, including Alex's (Michael J. Fox) arrival in Africa.
"Christmas at St. Olaf," 9/8c, PBS
This year's special marks the 100th anniversary of the annual Christmas Festival from St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
"Deck the Halls," 9/8c, TNT
Kathy Najimy stars in this mystery, based on the first in a series of holiday-themed novels by Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol. Najimy plays cleaning woman-turned-private investigator Alvirah, who helps her detective friend track down her kidnapped father right before the holidays.
Also read: How Elvis' White Christmas Turned Blue
"A Home for the Holidays," 8/7c, CBS
The 13th annual special that celebrates child adoption is hosted by country music star Martina McBride, with performances by Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige and Gavin DeGraw, while celebs like Katherine Heigl and Denise Richards share their own experiences of adopting children and introduce families who talk about their own joyful experiences with adoption.
"The X Factor" season 1 finale, 8/7c, Fox
It may not have been quite the ratings success Simon Cowell had hoped for, but can the show turn out a winner who'll be the first real reality show superstar since Chris Daughtry?
"Biography: Santa Claus," 9/8c, Bio Channel
From 15th century Holland to a 2011 shopping mall, it's the real scoop on the guy deciding who gets a lump of coal and who gets a nice, say, iPad 2, under their Christmas tree.
24 Hours of "A Christmas Story," 8/7c, TBS
Ugly leg lamp, Red Ryder BB Gun, Flick's frozen tongue … it just isn't Christmas Eve without 12 consecutive chances to watch "A Christmas Story."
"It's a Wonderful Life," 8/7c, NBC
And at least one viewing of this Oscar nominee and perennial holiday favorite.
"Christmas Day Parade," noon/11c, ABC
Nick Cannon, Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos co-host the annual parades from Disney amusement parks, with floats and character appearances by Mickey and the whole Disney gang, as well as performances from Justin Bieber, Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green, One Republic and Scotty McCreery.
"Doctor Who" Christmas special, 9/8c, BBC America
"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" finds The Doctor (Matt Smith) meeting up with a a widow and her children after they've escaped the German bombing of London in World War II.