BYUtv has built its “strongest Christmas lineup ever” this year, according to Andra Duke, director of content.
“We figure it’s just such a great time for families and friends to watch together and find new ways to connect and grow closer, be inspired, be uplifted,” Duke told Provo’s Daily Herald in a recent phone interview.
This year’s BYUtv holiday programming, titled “Together For Christmas,” will include a “Christmas Under the Stars” concert with award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend, a recording of last year’s “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” featuring Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker,” the feel-good movie “Christmas Jars,” and holiday episodes of BYUtv favorites “Random Acts,” “Studio C,” “Show Offs,” “Making Good” and “Battle of the Ages.”
“This is a spirit that we’re trying to continue all year long,” Duke said. “Trying to bring families together around purposeful and meaningful programming, that’s an all-year strategy, not just a Christmas strategy.”
The Legend concert, set to kick off the holiday programming at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, was filmed in Provo and created specifically for television and exclusively for BYUtv, Duke said.
“What we’ve tried to do is capture some of those personal moments with the talent where we get to hear what that music means to them, so it’s intermixed with those moments where we get to hear from John about what that music is and really see him pour his heart into that,” Duke said.
Chenoweth’s performance with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, set to air at 5 p.m. Dec. 19, fits in perfectly with BYUtv’s co-viewing strategy to air content that parents and children can watch together, according to Duke.
“I think Kristin is that performer who has this way of connecting humor and heart, and she is so good at reaching audiences of all ages,” Duke said. “She always finds a way to make you laugh and then make you cry, and it’s just a great adventure, and I think she brings that to the ‘Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir’ show.”
Duke said BYUtv worked closely with Ballet West to make the network’s presentation of “The Nutcracker,” set to air at 4 p.m. Dec. 8, an experience “specifically developed and framed for a television audience” that will mark the 75th anniversary of Willam Christensen bringing the ballet to the U.S.
“Some of the segments were filmed on beautiful locations throughout Utah, and so you’ll see dancers in places like the Bonneville Salt Flats doing their performance,” Duke said. “It goes back and forth between this cinematic stage experience to cinematic real-life experience, and so I’m really excited. I think it’s just a beautiful production. It brings an all-new look at ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”
The network will host a TV premiere at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 of “Christmas Jars,” a movie based on Jason F. Wright’s New York Times bestselling book about an aspiring reporter who finds the story behind money-filled glass jars left anonymously for people in need.
The film was No. 6 in the nation and had the highest per-screen average of any movie in the Top 10 after a special Fathom Events presentation this month in more than 800 U.S. theaters, according to BYUtv.
“Our goal was to really differentiate this from a lot of the other Christmas movies where, yes, in this one, sure, there’s a light romance, but really, the overwhelming principle is this ‘Christmas Jars,’ this spirit of giving, that spirit of Christmas,” Duke said.
In the spirit of “Christmas Jars,” the holiday episode of “Random Acts,” titled “Jars of Joy” and set to air at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, features a holiday surprise for Emily, a passionate teacher, from her elementary school.
“To bring that theme into ‘Random Acts,’ which is such a long-running series for us, we felt like that was a way to really help hone that message of giving in the Christmas season,” Duke said.
The holiday episode of “Studio C,” set to air at 6 p.m. Dec. 9, will feature a variety of Christmas-themed sketches and parodies, including one in which the Grinch goes on a diet due to excess heart growth.
“His heart grew three sizes, and that wasn’t a good thing,” Duke said with a laugh. “It all comes back to that idea of ‘Together For Christmas.’ What do we enjoy doing? We enjoy laughing together. We enjoy feeling that spirit of giving together. So it’s all meant to enhance that experience of being together for Christmas.”
The special hourlong Christmas episode of comedy series “Show Offs,” set to air at 5 p.m. Dec. 9, will feature improvised holiday plays and musicals from special guest Will Forte, known for his work on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Last Man on Earth,” as well as Hailey Smith, Lisa Valentine Clark, Jake Van Wagoner, Maclain Nelson, Matt Cook, Jake Suazo, Tom Quinn, Lauren Pritchard, Shaun Johnson, Kelly Lohman, host Casey Jost, the show’s band and a guest saxophone player.
“To get to work with (Forte) was actually a dream come true. He could not have been more humble and nice and easy to work with. He was just a complete joy throughout the whole process, so it was great. And he did a fabulous job,” Smith told the Daily Herald in a recent phone interview. “There’s lots of really funny parts, but there’s also lots of heart as well. … It’s a lot of fun surprises.”
BYUtv will air holiday episodes of “Making Good,” with host Kirby Heyborne bringing Christmas cheer to the Utah State Prison by teaching the inmates a song, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and “Battle of the Ages” at 6 p.m. Dec. 3.
“It’s just going to be a really great season of programming, and I hope that BYUtv just continues to do that every year because I think it’s so great for families to have, to get together during the holiday season and enjoy those shows,” Smith said.