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An admittedly quirky list of favorite holiday TV shows

The Baltimore Sun

Don't come looking for good tidings, joy and phony holiday sentiment in this list. It is a weird group, but these are my favorites, for better or worse - and all are available on DVD.

1. Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. Set in the Great Depression and narrated by the author himself, this touching and classy 1966 production for ABC tells the story of an outcast boy and his eccentric aunt as they set out to bake fruitcakes for the holiday - even for people who are mean to them.

2. Thirtysomething - "Mike Van Dyke." Christmas with the Steadmans (Jewish Michael and Gentile Hope) made for some of the snappiest writing and most astute cultural observation on holiday customs ever done on TV. Creators Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz are at the top of their game in their annual Christmas/Hanukkah marital-spat story lines. In this episode, Michael (Ken Olin) imagines himself back in the world of the landmark 1960s CBS sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show. The episode aired in 1987.

3. The Judy Garland Show - The Christmas Show. Taped and shown in 1963 while Garland was struggling with a disastrous (but occasionally brilliant) weekly variety show for CBS, she tries to be the perfect TV mom welcoming viewers into her "home." Alas, the troubled performer is just a little off the mark. She sings "The Christmas Song" with her musical director, Mel Torme, who penned the classic, but she forgets the lyrics - and Torme makes sure everyone watching takes note. The program only makes true fans love her more.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas - This 1965 special still sets the bar for what can be accomplished in the medium when a great artist like Charles Schulz is given room to experiment.

5. Alf's Christmas Special - I might have a slight bias toward this alien because he reminds me of a beloved dog who brought great joy to my life with his knack for mischief and subversion. That said, Alf doing It's a Wonderful Life deserves a spot on anyone's list of bests. The two-parter aired in 1987.

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