In 2016, not so much - take ITV, for instance, which, faced with BBC1’s Christmas Day prime time line-up of Doctor Who, Strictly, Call the Midwife, EastEnders and Mrs Brown’s Boys offers You’ve Been Framed, Emmerdale, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs at Christmas, Coronation Street and Maigret’s Dead Man. OK, that last one, with Roman Atkinson back as Georges’ Simenon’s detective, is leisurely fun in a Christie mode but the rest, while likely to deliver decent ratings, don’t feel special.
Still, there are a few gems across the schedule. Here are a few...
Timeshift: Booze, Beans and Bhajis
(19 December, BBC4, 10pm)
Newsreader Babita Sharma hosts this look at the history of the British corner shop, an institution since Victorian housebuilders cleverly opted to build every end-terrace property with a bigger-than-average window. Sharma grew up above a grocers, so is perfectly placed to look at why so many Asian immigrant families entered the trade, ready to rescue communities when the milk runs out. Booze, Beans and Bhajis is the perfect complement to Boxing Day’s festive Still Open All Hours.
Paul O’Grady’s Favourite Fairy Tales
(Tuesday 20 December, STV, 9pm)
Once Upon a Time there was an evil queen... but Paul O’Grady doesn’t do Lily Savage these days. The hound-happy presenter heads to Germany to discover what inspired the Brothers Grimm to come up with Rapunzel, Snow White and other well-loved tales.
(Friday 23 December, BBC1, 1:45pm)
Forget Mrs Brown’s Boys, the only Brown we want this Christmas is GK Chesterton’s crimebusting cleric, as incarnated in the daytime hit by Mark Williams. There’s a festive ball, a kidnapped baby, a tramp in the Confessional - it’s holy endearing detective drama.
(Friday 23 December, BBC1, 8:30pm)
With the title It’s a Khanderful Life, there are no prizes for guessing we’re in Frank Capra territory - but how will Adil Ray’s chaotic ‘community leader’ cope when a mysterious stranger, Clarenza (Lynda Baron), shows him how his life could have turned out... And of course, It’s a Wonderful Life will be screened, on Christmas Day, Channel 4, 2.20pm)
(Christmas Day, BBC1, 5.45pm)
The good news: festive Doctor Who tends not to be knee-deep in backstory requiring a degree in all things Gallifreyan. This sounds like a fun rom as Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord teams up with a superhero in modern day New York to fend off aliens. The bad news: Little Britain’s Matt Lucas is back as Nardole, the hugely irritating character he played last year - and writer Stephen Moffat promises he’ll be back when the series proper returns from its long hiatus.
Call the Midwife
(Christmas Day, BBC1, 8pm)
Remember when TV spin-offs would hit the big screen? The staff of Grace Brothers headed for the Costa Plonka, the On the Buses crew decamped to a holiday camp, Mr Bean went to Cannes... none of which seems as far out as the Call the Midwife regulars popping across to South Africa to tackle polio. But how will their injection of warmth stand up against apartheid?
West Side Stories: The Making of a Classic
(Boxing Day, BBC2, 5.20pm - watch live or later on iPlayer as BBC Scotland prefer rugby)
Strictly’s Bruno Tonioli and arts writer Suzy Klein mark the upcoming 60th anniversary of West Side Story’s Broadway opening with a look back at its origins. Greatest living musicals master Stephen Sondheim - who wrote the lyrics - reveals the backstage battles of composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbin that resulted in the brilliant Romeo and Juliet update. Helpfully/weirdly Channel 5 happen to be showing the movie version at 2.20pm, with it ending just in time to switch over. I Feel Pretty delighted.
The Witness for the Prosecution
(Boxing Day/Tuesday 27 December, BBC1, 9pm)
If you caught last year’s terrific adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None you won’t be missing this one. Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall stars as Emily French, a woman apparently murdered by younger lover Leonard Vole (Billy Howie). And yes, the BBC have sexed the tale up a tad, but at base it’s a cracking courtroom drama. And did we mention Toby Jones plays Vole’s barrister?
(Boxing Day, BBC1, 10pm)
The Brockmans are back after three years and all the publicity focuses on the fact that kid stars Tiger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche and Ramona Marquez are all gwown up. There’s interest in seeing what Jake, Ben and Karen are up to, but let’s not forget long-suffering parents Sue and Pete (Claire Skinner and Hugh Dennis) as they all head off on a mission for grandad...
Inside No 9: the Devil of Christmas
(27 December, BBC2, 10pm)
The BBC doesn’t seem to be giving us the traditional Ghost Story for Christmas but they are giving us this. It’s a seasonally sinister bauble from League of Gentlemen stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith homaging such Seventies fare as ITV’s Thriller and Tales of the Unexpected - melodramatic twist-in-the-tales that really could tingle the spine. And while this is more comedy than drama, has anything been more disturbing than the LoG’s Papa Lazarou? Rula Lenska and Jessica Raine star in a Seventies-set story in which a demon haunts Austria - have a stiff brandy snap handy.
Pop Quiz: The Comeback
(28 December, BBC4, 9:30pm)
DJ Mike Read (‘Mike Read, 275 and 285, Mike Read, Mike Read, National Radio 1’) revives the Eighties teen show in which pop stars answered questions on pop. How will the likes of Toyah, a Thompson Twin and one of ‘the Spands’ fare in this two-part treat?
To Walk Invisible
(Thursday 29 December, BBC1, 9pm)
Writer Sally Wainwright leaves Happy Valley for the beautifully bleak moors of Yorkshire where, in the 19th century, Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë live with their ailing clergymen father and drunken brother - can their poetry and novels provide a way out? Jonathan Pryce, as father Patrick, is the only star name here but with Wainwright providing the words, we’re guaranteed passion worthy of a Brontë.
Feel free to tell us what you’re looking forward to. We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Viewing