As it has for the past 15 holiday seasons, “Christmas in Washington” will air on TNT Friday night. After that, the 33-year-old special will be without a home, at least for the moment: This is the final year that TNT is broadcasting the annual event.
The network said Monday that its parent company Time Warner will no longer sponsor the special, helmed by veteran producer George Stevens Jr. and his son, Michael. Traditionally a swanky affair featuring the first family and celebrity musical guests, “Christmas in Washington” has been a staple of the holiday season since 1982 when it first aired on NBC. The event, which benefits the Children’s National Health System, moved to TNT in 1999.
“We’ve enjoyed our association with the Stevens organization and the longstanding Christmas in Washington tradition, and wish everyone involved continued success,” a TNT representative said in a statement.
This is second high-profile blow to the Stevens Company in a week. Last Sunday, Stevens created an uncomfortable moment on stage at the Kennedy Center Honors when he announced that he had been forced out of his role producing the ceremony after 37 years.
Amid talk of Stevens’ deteriorating relationship with Kennedy Center officials over the direction of the ceremony, there were whispers that “Christmas in Washington” also might not be long for Time Warner. The special, airing in late December when television viewing is already low, has averaged just more than a million viewers the past couple years.
When contacted for comment about the end of “Christmas in Washington” on TNT, Stevens said in an e-mail that he is currently in discussions with a new broadcast partner about airing the special in 2015. He expects the deal to be settled and announced early next year.
“Time Warner and TNT were wonderful partners for 15 years and we enjoyed and appreciate our collaboration with them,” Stevens said.
Since its inception, the special has featured a mix of musical styles and genres, from country stars to boy bands. Past hosts include Dr. Phil, Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres, Hugh Jackman, and as of last night, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. There’s generally some good-natured humor but a heavy emphasis on the children’s hospital and charity, along with lighter fare. (During the 1999 broadcast, Hillary Clinton showed off the White House Christmas decorations.)
This year’s “Christmas in Washington,” taped Sunday evening at the National Building Museum, was a dignified and fairly typical night. As custom, President Obama, the first lady and daughters Malia and Sasha all took the stage for a group carol sing-a-long after holiday-themed performances by Rita Ora, Darius Rucker, Hunter Hayes, Christina Perri and Aloe Blacc.