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Turkey Day Television

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It’s officially that time of year again.

No, not Christmas time – yet. No matter what retail giants, overzealous kiddies and that one girl down the hall who hasn’t stopped playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” may tell you, it isn’t Christmas time just yet. It’s close, precariously and delightfully close, but not yet.

No, children, the time has come for this nation’s annual dose of tryptophan, that day set aside for giving thanks to the Lord and stuffing yourself as silly as possible. It is the day of tasty turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, creamy pumpkin pie and good, old-fashioned backyard football games. It’s even the day when popsters like “American Idol” contestant David Archuleta and Hannah Montana herself, Miley Cyrus, are scheduled to ride through New York City on a giant float and stop in front of that old, beloved Macy’s on your television.

That day is Thanksgiving, and it is finally here.

One of the great things about Thanksgiving is how quintessentially American it is. It’s unlikely that most other nations would legally set aside a day for giving thanks (our neighbors to the north aside). We hold tightly to the belief that the first Thanksgiving was a moment of community and understanding between two disparate peoples, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans, a New England melting pot of cuisine and culture cemented, we think, over a mutual love for really dry poultry.

Scholars and historians may tell us that the real cuisine of the first Thanksgiving probably included eel, venison and swan, but no matter. We’ll have our cranberry sauce and eat it too.

One of Thanksgiving’s heartier offerings won’t show up on your Grandma’s dining room table. Instead, you’ll find it in the den or the living room, on your television. Thanksgiving TV is another, albeit more recent, tradition. Like your typical array of holiday side dishes, there’s a little something for everyone when it comes to Turkey Day TV. Sitcoms will often have Thanksgiving specials which range from zany to heartwarming, football games will abound, and a certain cartoon blockhead and his gang may also appear.

To prepare you for the choices you’ll face on Thursday, Scene has compiled a slew of options for you to sample. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”

In this 1973 holiday special, Charlie Brown is facing a tricky predicament. Due to a few bumbling mishaps, he finds himself stuck preparing for two simultaneous Thanksgiving dinners. He and Sally are already spending the day with their grandmother, but Peppermint Patty has invited Marcie, Franklin and herself to dinner at “Chuck’s” house.

Linus, with his trademark wisdom and blanket in tow, suggests that Charlie Brown host both dinners, cooking for all of his friends. The pair, along with Snoopy and Woodstock, put together a feast of jellybeans, popcorn, buttered toast and pretzel sticks. Eventually, the group winds their way to his grandmother’s house for a traditional Turkey Day meal with all the trimmings.

The special won an Emmy in 1974 after it aired on CBS. Since 2000, ABC has aired “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” along with the other Peanuts television specials. From 2005 to 2007, the network moved the special to the Monday before Thanksgiving to compete with its Thursday programming during the November ratings sweeps. This year, however, the special is due to return to its traditional spot on Thanksgiving night. Tucked between the saga of Linus and the Great Pumpkin on Halloween and the beauty that is “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” this Peanuts special is sure to please.

Thanksgiving Day Football

A longstanding tradition that you won’t find on the dining room table this Thanksgiving is backyard football. Get your uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings and friends outside in that crisp November air while the turkey’s still roasting. Who knows? Maybe you’ll catch that Hail Mary pass for the winning touch down; anything’s possible on your home turf.

Hometown high schools nationwide will play in Turkey Bowls on Thursday morning, often in the cold or even the snow. Football rivalries will heat up on gridirons across the country, from high school and college football to the NFL.

Three different NFL games are airing on Thanksgiving this year. The Detroit Lions will host the Tennessee Titans at 12:30 pm on CBS, the Dallas Cowboys will take on the Seattle Seahawks at home at 4:15 on Fox, and the Arizona Cardinals will face the Philadelphia Eagles at 8 p.m. on the NFL Network and NFL.com. For any tween football viewers looking to catch some NFL action, pop star Jesse McCartney is slated to perform during the halftime show of the Detroit-Tennessee game. For the rest of us, the games themselves should prove entertaining enough.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

From the Broadway performances, to the floats with smiling kids and famous musicians, to the train of larger-than-life balloons hovering over New York City, to the final arrival of Santa Claus: Few things say Thanksgiving TV more than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Hosted by the crew from NBC’s “The Today Show” and usually featuring the ever-spirited Willard Scott, the televised parade has been a hallmark of the holiday for decades. Here’s a little history for you: The parade as it is now actually began in 1924, when Macy’s transferred the Bramberger’s parade, based in Newark, N.J., to New York. The first balloon to march in the parade was Felix the Cat in 1927, later followed by Mickey Mouse in 1934. The parade was actually suspended during World War II, resuming in 1945. It earned its place in Americana after it was featured in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street,” and a telecast followed in 1952.

One of the highlights of the parade is the variety of balloons featured. Past parade marchers have included Rich Uncle Pennybags from the game “Monopoly,” Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer and a balloon version of late artist Keith Haring’s “Figure with Heart.”

Year after Year, the parade also features high school marching bands, live music and snippets from Broadway shows. This year, Miley Cyrus, David Archuleta and Miranda Cosgrove are among the scheduled performers.

Thanksgiving Sitcom Episodes

One of the Thanksgiving season’s unexpected traditions is the “special Thanksgiving episode” of your favorite network television shows. While most of these episodes haven’t aired on the actual holiday, they’ll often address different aspects of this most American of holidays.

NBC’s “Friends” was famous for its series of Thanksgiving episodes and the lasting images they left in the cultural lexicon. There’s the episode when Chandler describes his worst Thanksgiving, the day his parents divorced, and Monica tries to cheer him up by dancing with a turkey over her head (complete with a hat and sunglasses). There’s also the classic episode when Brad Pitt, married at the time to Jennifer Aniston, guest-starred as Will, a formerly overweight high school classmate of Ross, Rachel and Monica. And you can’t forget the episode when Chandler, as punishment for kissing Joey’s girlfriend, Kathy, spends the day trapped in a box.

Other sitcoms have had their own Thanksgiving episodes. The “Gilmore Girls” hopped to four different dinners in “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” with entrees ranging from tofurkey to a crisply fried fowl. CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” celebrated “Slapsgiving” when Marshall gave Barney the second of five slaps he had earned as the loser of their “Slap Bet.” And in a classic episode of “Cheers,” Diane’s attempts to bring decorum to the Cheers gang’s version of the holiday results in a slapstick food fight, complete with a flying bowl of mashed potatoes.