British television has a tradition of airing "Christmas specials" that are episodes of regularly scheduled series. For instance, this year there's a "Call the Midwife" Christmas-themed episode airing Christmas day on BBC One (PBS will air the episode at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 30) and a "Downton Abbey" special airing Tuesday night on ITV1 (it will air as the third season finale on PBS's "Masterpiece" on Feb. 17).
In America, we have no such tradition. If anything, American television regards Christmas day as a throw-away day. Aside from sports, there's typically nothing new to watch.
Give thanks to PBS for the gift of something new: WQED producer Rick Sebak's latest national special, "Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets" (8 p.m. Tuesday, WQED-TV; repeating at 8 p.m. Thursday on WQED). It's a sequel to his first "Breakfast Special" program, which debuted nationally in July 2010. At that time he said he'd hoped to do a sequel because he'd visited more restaurants than he was able to fit into the first program.
There is some downside to the two-year delay between the taping of the two "Breakfast Special" programs. The follow-up includes a segment on Carman's Country Kitchen in South Philadelphia, which Mr. Sebak acknowledges recently closed.
Whether breakfast places really need a second hour of Sebak-style treatment is debatable, but the program does offer Mr. Sebak a chance to shine a light on additional favorites in the breakfast genre, something he hasn't been able to do before and for which he sometimes catches grief. (I'm still disappointed he didn't visit Ted's Hot Dogs in Buffalo, N.Y., for 1999's "A Hot Dog Program").
Even with the addition of a second "Breakfast Special," Mr. Sebak is wise to include the caveat, "We're not claiming to have found the best, just some really good places hoping to convince you to go out for breakfast tomorrow morning."
He's also quick to assure those who don't like eggs (my hand is raised) that this program has no particular emphasis on egg dishes.
"It's a gimmick," he says of the title. "We don't concentrate on omelets, although they get mentioned a lot. We just wanted a goofy title."
"Breakfast Special 2" works well as a travel guide, too. It's easy to look up restaurant names on the show's website (www.wqed.org/tv/sebak/index.php) or to follow along on the show's Facebook page (I could only get to it by doing a search within Facebook for "Breakfast Special").
These programs begin with a love of quirky characters and that's on display during a visit to West Mifflin's Hot Metal Diner, one of two local breakfast spots featured (Square Cafe in Regent Square is the other).
At Hot Metal Diner, viewers meet a 7-year-old bus boy and some outspoken waitresses.
It's said of one of them, "She's never been nice. She can be abusive sometimes." Another waitress says, "I'm known as the nice one. I'm not as outspoken as the others."
It's these characters Mr. Sebak clearly loves and fans of his work no doubt look forward to meeting them, too.
Mr. Sebak lets viewers in on his process more than usual, mentioning proprietors from past food programs who made suggestions for this show and traveling to restaurants with local food bloggers.
While Mr. Sebak's programs are always imbued with his cheerful, inquisitive personality, they're usually not overly personal in nature. He allows himself a brief moment of personal remembrance by including a photo of his mother, Peggy Kent Sebak, who passed away in April 2011, for a segment on Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa on the coast of New Hampshire.
Mother and son once visited the Wentworth together and "Breakfast Special 2" is all the better for including that small detail. It invites the audience into Mr. Sebak's world and reminds viewers of their own connections that bring food and family together around a restaurant table.tvradio
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published December 23, 2012 5:00 AM