Christmas Eve marks 20 years of Turner airing its A Christmas Story marathon, which started on TNT in 1997, shifted to TBS in 2004, and began being simulcast on both in 2014. While the film is the same—kid wants a BB gun and everyone around him, including a nasty department store Santa, is convinced he’ll shoot his eye out—TBS and TNT are jazzing up this year’s marathon with Surprise! Instant Xmas Carol, a seasonal celebrity music/humor special that leads into it.
Instant Xmas Carol features celebrity carolers such as Rashida Jones, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Conan O’Brien singing for unwitting strangers. With a dash of Candid Camera in the mix, one bit sees three Sopranos alumni, Tony Sirico, Vincent Curatola and Joseph Gannascoli, break into “Silent Night” at New York’s Eataly shopping center.
“It’s a ridiculous band of merrymakers surprising people with Christmas carols,” said Michael Bloom, senior VP of unscripted series and specials at TBS/TNT. “It’s huge and unruly and really fun, and I thought it was an amazing opportunity for a real multiplatform play.”
The hour-long special premieres Dec. 21 and reruns on Christmas Eve before the Christmas Story marathon debuts at 8 p.m. Interstitials from Instant Xmas Carol will pop up during the marathon and, like James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, are easily shared via YouTube.
“We were looking for a new way in this year,” said Bloom.
Fully 36 million watched at least part of the Christmas Story marathon last year, says TBS-TNT, and its new lead in may grow the number this time around.
Tom Forman brought the spontaneous-celebs-caroling idea to Turner. Bloom says the inspiration was the 1977 Bing Crosby Christmas special that had him duet with David Bowie on “Little Drummer Boy” and also share some awkward—and perhaps even surreal—conversation; Bloom calls it a “crazy mash-up” that also has a sweetness to it. The oddball coupling is evident in the new caroling special, such as Fred Willard teaming with T-Pain for a duet on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” in an Uber, with shocked and mostly happy riders seated between them.
Bloom hopes Instant Xmas Carol can become, like the Christmas Story marathon, an annual tradition. “We hope to do this every year,” he said, “and maybe expand it out to other holidays.”