Rudolph. Charlie Brown. Frosty. The Grinch. They’re age-old favorites who always grab top billing when the networks roll out their holiday programs.
But you have to wonder if they would have become iconic TV stars if not for the extraordinary contributions of their supporting players. After all, to achieve lasting pop-cultural shelf life, it takes teamwork.
With that in mind, we salute some of the top holiday scene-stealers — great sidekicks who make us laugh, cry and sometimes wince, year after year. Here they are, listed with the upcoming air times for their respective programs:
• Max the dog in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
We adore Cindy Lou Who, the sweet little tot who always melts our hearts. But no one tops the pitiful pooch who is essentially a slave to the abusive Grinch yet loves him unconditionally. The wild trek that has Max _ with makeshift reindeer headgear _ pulling an overloaded sleigh over treacherous mountain passes is pure slapstick brilliance. Dr. Seuss said it best when he described the cartoon canine as an “Everydog _ all love and limpness and loyalty.” Interestingly, Max was just a minor character in the Seuss book, but animator Chuck Jones wisely expanded his role for TV. (Airing at 8 p.m. Dec. 3, NBC; re-airs 8 p.m. Dec. 25).
• Linus van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
The levelheaded Linus (Christopher Shea) is the show’s voice of reason, helping to keep anxiety-ridden Charlie Brown from going completely bonkers. His quietly eloquent reading from the Gospel of Luke packs an emotional wallop and remains one of the most memorable moments in any holiday program. Network executives argued against having Linus read from the Bible, but Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was adamant that the scene remain. Shea was only 7 years old when he performed the part. (8 p.m. Dec. 5, ABC).
• Yukon Cornelius in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Yes, the blustery prospector (voiced by Larry D. Mann) is certainly full of himself, but he provides a jolt of comic relief. Not only does Yukon utter some of the show’s funniest lines, he is pivotal to its final resolution _ outwitting the “Bumble” and paving the way for Rudolph’s heroics. Hermey the Elf would have been a good choice, as well, although he has a much less-flashy role. (8 p.m. Dec. 2, CBS).
• Clarence, Angel Second Class, in “It’s a Wonderful Life”
He might seem cheerfully incompetent, but Clarence (Henry Travers) gets the job done _ saving George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from suicide and finally earning his wings (listen for the bell). With the perfect blend of facial expressions, childlike wonder, voice and delivery, Clarence never fails to make us smile. (8 p.m. Nov. 30, NBC; re-airs 8 p.m. Dec. 24; Will also air at 8 p.m. Dec. 14 on USA Network).
• The leg lamp in “A Christmas Story”: Ah, the power of fishnet. Rarely has a single, simple prop gained so much attention. (24-hour marathon begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 24, TBS).