Tuned In: A taste of the holidays

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Thanksgiving week means one thing in TV land: a few lingering Thanksgiving episodes of ongoing series and a smattering of specials.

Fox offers turkey-themed episodes of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (8:30 p.m. Tuesday, WPGH) and "New Girl" (9 p.m. Tuesday, WPGH) and on Thanksgiving night Fox airs new episodes of "The X Factor" and "Glee."

Tonight at 8 ABC airs the "2013 American Music Awards" with performances by Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and One Direction among others.

NBC broadcasts a Steelers game against the Ravens Thanksgiving night (8:30 p.m., WPXI).

And then there's the special programming:

'Christmas with Tucker'

Traditionally the TV Christmas season kicks off just after Thanksgiving and the Post-Gazette once again publishes the annual holiday TV preview on Friday.

But Hallmark Channel has found such ratings success with Christmas programming that its executives prefer to begin earlier. The first new Hallmark holiday films debuted at the start of the month and this week sister-network Hallmark Movie Channel premieres its first original holiday movie, "Christmas with Tucker" (9 p.m. Monday).

It's a prequel to the 2009 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" film "A Dog Named Christmas." The dad in that film is a little boy in this prequel; both films are based on books by author Greg Kincaid.

In "Christmas with Tucker," 13-year-old George McCray (Gage Munroe) is still coming to terms with the loss of his father in a Kansas farm accident. George is living with his grandpa (James Brolin) and grandma (Barbara Gordon) on the farm, missing his mother (Josie Bissett, "Secret Life of the American Teenager"), who moved to Minnesota to deal with her grief.

George's outlook brightens when he makes friends with a girl (Helen Colliander) on his school bus and takes temporary custody of his neighbor's dog, Tucker.

Written by Dave Alan Johnson ("Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye," "Doc," "Against the Grain"), "Christmas with Tucker" is ideal for viewers who appreciate sentiment, scenes of kids learning Important Lessons and, of course, cute dogs. Cynics will turn the channel in a heartbeat.

At a July Hallmark press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., Mr. Johnson and executive producer Joel Rice acknowledged that not everyone goes for heartwarming TV movies year-round but perhaps this time of year is different.

"Around the holidays, everybody -- even potentially you -- wants to feel warm and fuzzy," Mr. Rice joked with a reporter who asked about cynical responses to programming like "Christmas for Tucker."

"A 'Sons of Anarchy' Christmas special just doesn't have a ring to it," Mr. Johnson said. "I've made a long career now of family stuff, and the key to me is the three H's: You've got to have humor. You've got to have honesty. You've got to have heart. ... 'Elf' is a perfect example. 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a perfect example. These are entertaining movies. That doesn't mean because they're wholesome, they're not entertaining. If you just get honesty and heart, it can be schmaltzy and drab. So it's got to have humor."

Mr. Brolin said he's a sucker for dog movies, including any iteration of "Lassie" and especially the tearjerker "Marley and Me."

"I think God's message is that we get to have five-to-seven dogs in our lifetime, and they all die to prepare us for our own death, but that's a real sad reality, isn't it?" he said. "And I think that may be because I've lost so many good friends. You know, I see 'Marley,' and it all comes back."

Then Mr. Brolin told a joke: "There's an old test. They say you take your dog on a hot day and your wife, and you put them in the trunk and you wait an hour. Then you open the trunk and see who is glad to see you."

The critic next to me asked, "Did he just suggest putting Barbra Streisand in a car trunk?" Because, you know, we're cynics.

Locally, Hallmark Movie Channel is available on Comcast (Channel 171 or 236/894 HD), FiOS TV (Channel 239/739 HD), Armstrong (Channel 495), DirecTV (Channel 565) and DISH Network (Channel 187).

'LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles'

The third and final installment of "The Yoda Chronicles," "Attack of the Jedi," debuts at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Cartoon Network.

Set during the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, this limited series follows Yoda (right) as he teaches a new class of Padawans and teams with Anakin Skywalker to fight Darth Sidious' efforts to build a new superweapon.

'Lady Gaga and The Muppets'

In her second ABC special timed to Thanksgiving, Lady Gaga teams with The Muppets for the "Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular" (9:30 p.m. Thursday, WTAE).

With the 90-minute program beginning later in the evening -- and a description of it as "an avant-garde twist on the classic holiday variety show" -- odds are this will not be like Muppet holiday specials of yore. (With a new movie -- "Muppets Most Wanted" featuring a Lady Gaga cameo -- due in theaters on March 21, there will also be some advance movie promotion.)

The "Holiday Spectacular" will feature an appearance by Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars," "House of Lies") and performances by Elton John, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and RuPaul.

Lady Gaga is expected to perform songs from her new album, "ARTPOP," and she'll have a duet with Kermit the Frog.

More in keeping with a traditional Muppets special, "Holiday Spectacular" also will offer a showcase for Muppets Swedish Chef, Beaker and Animal to perform "Deck the Halls and "Jingle Bells."

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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