Christmas comes early to TV

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Christmas is upon us " at least on television. A full 12 days before Thanksgiving, the Hallmark Channel unspools "Christmas with Tony Bennett: Behind the Scenes" (7 p.m. today), the first holiday special of the year. As the title implies, the show is really a documentary about the making of a new CD, Bennett's first Christmas album since 1968.

Grammer plays Crown Prince Nick St. Nicholas, the son and heir to Santa Claus (Charles Durning). He's due to inherit the family business and extensive Christmas Eve obligations, but he'd rather hang out in Miami Beach soaking up the sun and ogling bikini-clad girls.

Nick falls for a scheming TV meteorologist (Elaine Hendrix) who bamboozles him into participating in a dot-com fraud. Nick also hires a feisty Latina chef (Ana Ortiz), who seems to see through his weathergirl's fraudulent plans.

With so much going on, "Mr. St. Nick" may be the most convoluted and far-fetched Christmas movie since "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

While early television characters refrained from sex and profanity, they smoked like fiends and frequently got tipsy. "Taboo" includes vintage clips from "The Dick Van Dyke Show," in which Rob and Laura praise the virtues of Kent cigarettes. On "Bewitched," Larry Tate's wife fortifies herself with martinis before telling her husband that she is expecting his baby.

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