The Luminous Story Behind TV's Yule Log

iStock
iStock

The Yule Log, a looped video of a wood-burning fireplace set to classic Christmas songs, has been a holiday staple for more than 50 years. But in a TV landscape dominated by angry pundits and Real Housewives, how did the sleepy footage become such cherished Christmastime viewing? 

In 1966, Fred Thrower, the manager of WPIX-TV Channel 11 in New York City, wanted the station to do “something a little different and special” that Christmas Eve. On November 2, he circulated a memo to his station’s staff, proposing that the station cancel all programs and commercials in order to air a WPIX Christmas Card, consisting of a video loop of a holiday-inspired fireplace. Thrower also suggested asking WPIX’s affiliated radio station, WPIX-FM, to provide an accompanying festive soundtrack.

Thrower’s concept came to life on December 24, 1966, when WPIX first aired three hours of a continuous 17-second film loop of an ornate fireplace. WPIX had filmed the fireplace at Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City’s mayor, and paired the film loop with Christmas hits from singers like Percy Faith and Nat King Cole. The Yule Log was a huge ratings success, and turning viewers’ TVs into makeshift fireplaces also turned out to be a win-win: New Yorkers in apartments without fireplaces could feel cozy and warm, and more WPIX employees could spend Christmas at home with their families instead of working at the station.

A few years later, in 1970, realizing the original 16mm film of the Gracie Mansion fireplace was deteriorating, WPIX filmed a similar-looking fireplace in Palo Alto, California. Shot on 35mm film, the new video was seven minutes long, making the fireplace loop footage less jerky than the original. For the next two decades, WPIX aired the Yule Log every Christmas—and won its time slot year after year.

Fred’s son, Mitch Thrower, told Mental Floss that his dad “was the most creative man I have ever known.” Explaining the log's appeal, Mitch says the program came to have “sentimental value for millions of people … The Yule Log allowed us all to gather around the same fireplace, and listen to the same music. There has always been something uniquely comforting in that shared moment.”

FANNING THE FLAMES

In 1990, the Yule Log's fire finally went out after network executives deemed the commercial-free program too expensive to air. But folks who grew up beside the log's glow just couldn't let go. Fast-forward a decade, and fans of the Yule Log created an online petition, appropriately titled “Bring Back The Log.” In December 2001, nostalgia won out, and WPIX resumed airing the Yule Log. Since 2003, WPIX’s parent company, Tribune Broadcasting, has aired the show not just in New York City, but on stations across the country.

In 2009, the Yule Log expanded from a three-hour program to four hours, after Lawrence “Chip” Arcuri produced a new fourth hour of classic Christmas music for the WPIX show.

Over the years, the Yule Log has taken on a life all its own. Besides ambient fireplace copycat videos on YouTube, Netflix, and iOS/Android apps, the Yule Log now has a strong social media presence. Whatever device you watch your Yule Log on, the flames are an annual opportunity to pause and reflect, to be together with family, and to feel the (figurative) warmth of the holiday season.

The 8 Best Horror Movies to Stream on Hulu Right Now

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Looking for a good scare this Halloween season? If you’re a Hulu subscriber, you’ll be able to get your fill of creepy content. Check out eight of the best horror movies currently streaming on the service.

1. Hellraiser (1987)

Horror author Clive Barker made the move to feature directing with this tale of a man (Sean Chapman) who makes the grievous error of opening a portal to hell and proceeds to make his brother’s family targets of the sadistic Cenobites, led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Don’t bother with the endless sequels; the original is the best (and goriest) of the lot.

2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Paranoia runs deep in this remake of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). In the ‘70s iteration, Donald Sutherland plays a health inspector who can’t shake the feeling that people around him seem a little off. He soon grows wise to the reality that aliens are walking among us as virtual human replicas. Naturally, they’re not keen on being discovered.

3. A Quiet Place (2018)

John Krasinski and Emily Blunt star as a couple living in a world terrorized by creatures that hunt by sound. Their largely-silent existence means every stray creak, cry, or noise threatens to expose them to the monsters—a danger that's only compounded when Blunt discovers she’s pregnant.

4. The Orphanage (2007)

A sense of dread looms over The Orphanage, a Spanish-language thriller with Belén Rueda as Laura, who returns to the child care facility that raised her so she can make a difference for a new generation of children. Strange things begin as soon as she arrives, with her son going missing and hints of unwelcome guests unraveling her nerves. It’s a film best not watched alone.

5. Event Horizon (1997)

If 1979’s Alien stirred your interest in space scares, Event Horizon might make for a worthwhile watch. After a spaceship presumed lost suddenly reappears, a crew of investigators (Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne) board to find answers.

6. Children of the Corn (1984)

A couple (Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton) passing through a small rural town find a lack of adult supervision curious—until the kids reveal themselves to be homicidal cult members. Based on a Stephen King short story.

7. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi perfected “splatstick” horror in this cult classic about hapless boob Ash (Campbell) who escapes to a remote cabin retreat with girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) and unwittingly unleashes a cascade of evil. Though it’s more amusing than scary, Raimi’s inventive imagery is morbidly fascinating.

8. Child’s Play (1988)

Good mom Catherine Hicks buys a Good Guys doll for her son, Andy. Unfortunately, the doll—dubbed Chucky—has been possessed by the spirit of a serial killer (Brad Dourif) and proceeds to make young Andy’s life miserable, particularly after he discovers the kitchen cutlery.

El Camino, the Breaking Bad Movie, Almost Had a Much Darker Ending

Netflix
Netflix

Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for El Camino, the Breaking Bad follow-up movie that premiered on Netflix October 11.

After years of speculation, one secret New Mexico production (filmed under the title Greenbrier), and actors sworn to confidentiality, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie landed on Netflix last Friday. In the two-hour film, viewers learned the ultimate fate of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the meth-cooking sidekick to chemistry teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Fleeing from captivity imposed by white supremacists forcing him to make illicit substances, Pinkman gathers enough funds to trade in blue ice for stark white Alaskan territory, driving toward a presumably happier future.

It was an ending in line with what Paul had envisioned for the character, even mentioning Alaska as a possible endpoint in a Reddit AMA back in 2016. But Breaking Bad creator and El Camino writer/director Vince Gillian originally intended on putting the screws to the beleaguered Pinkman one last time.

Speaking with Vulture, Gilligan said that his vision for Pinkman involved a scenario where he would be forced to sacrifice his freedom in order to save someone else. “Once I had set about coming up with this movie, for the longest time I had it in my mind that the thing we wanted most to see was for Jesse to escape [his old life],” he said. “And the thing he wanted most was to escape. So I was trying to concoct a plot in which, hero that he is, he saves somebody else—somebody I would have introduced as a new character into the movie. Because he’s such an innately heroic character in my mind, he saves someone at the end of the movie and he willfully gets himself caught knowing that it’ll save this other person. At the end of the movie, he’d be locked in a jail cell somewhere in Montana or someplace. And he would be at peace with it.”

Labeling his notion as “emo-type” interior storytelling intended to subvert expectations, Gilligan said he received mostly negative responses when discussing the idea with confidantes, including Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould. The consensus was that Pinkman deserved some kind of optimistic closure. Given that he has witnessed several homicides, committed a few murders of his own, lost his girlfriend to a drug overdose, saw his new girlfriend’s son poisoned, and was eventually locked in a hole in the ground, it might have made little sense to bring the character back from a six-year hiatus just to torture him some more.

Gilligan relented, and Pinkman now seems to have more of a fighting chance moving forward. “Sometimes,” the writer said, “you just got to give folks what they want.”

[h/t Vulture]

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