Christmas TV has become the staple activity for families on the big day, with shows such as EastEnders boasting their biggest storylines and adverts that are beginning to take over the festive season ratings.  Impact Film & TV take a look at how the different aspects of Christmas TV have developed through the years.

Predominantly in the 1970’s there was one major force that could not be beaten for entertainment value and audience ratings; The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. The 1977 special is probably the most famous of these and featured a huge array of stars such as Elton John, Richard Briers and Angela Rippon, it also averaged at around 28 million viewers. Shows like these were full of festive fun and were so popular that they consequently attracted big celebrity names. It is rare in the present day to get a good variety show that can attract huge audiences mainly due to the amount of choice of programmes to watch.

“Advertisements for top companies are now becoming… more popular than the actual shows themselves”

From the 2000’s to the present day the style of Christmas TV is very much special extended editions of popular shows such as Downton Abbey. Most of these shows use the same format each year; a large-scale plot with Christmas only being a background theme. The Office UK, for example, stages the finale of the ‘Will-they? Won’t-they?’ storyline during a Christmas party for the staff. Doctor Who used Christmas-themed monsters, for instance, Robotic Santa Claus’ and Killer Christmas Trees, for the majority of the David Tennant specials. Whilst the Matt Smith episodes used popular Christmas tales e.g. A Christmas Carol as their backdrops.

If you look at the top 10 most watched UK television shows, you will find that EastEnders appears five times and all of the episodes were broadcast over the Christmas period. Soaps have always built up their stories throughout the year and concluded them around Christmas/New Year. It’s a formula that has a track record of getting large audiences and is the reason behind it not evolving much else.

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One element of Christmas TV which has evolved more than any other are the adverts, advertisements for top companies are now becoming, in some cases, more popular than the actual shows themselves. Companies such as John Lewis and Sainsbury’s have produced two minute, almost movie-like, adverts that have gone viral on YouTube and produced songs that have reached the top of the charts. Other businesses such as Coca Cola which uses its world-famous The Holidays Are Coming adverts each year now uses that same idea and takes it to people’s doorsteps, bringing the advert to you.

Christmas Television will always stay a key part of the festive season and specials of TV programmes will continuously bring in high ratings. However, adverts are slowly becoming the most popular aspects and this is probably due to the increase in the number of adverts between shows, and the increased budgets given to them compared to the shows themselves. In order to combat this, channels need to bring good old-fashioned variety back to our screens that have a proven history of attracting large audiences due to being something that all of the family can enjoy.

Luke Norman

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