TV Legends Revealed | Viewer Protests Led to Change in ‘Rudolph’ Special


TV URBAN LEGEND: The Misfit Toys were never saved in the original airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Holiday specials hold a unique place in television history in that they tend to be the only classic programming to still be aired every year. Other non-holiday programs like The Wizard of Oz or the Mary Martin Peter Pan special were annual traditions that gradually faded away. However, films like It’s a Wonderful Life and animated specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer continue to air decades into their existence.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will mark its 50th anniversary next year, airing every year since it debuted in 1964 on NBC. A problem with broadcasting specials from decades ago, though, is that there are many more commercials per televised hour these days. Classic shows have to be edited to make room for these commercials, and because Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally an hour-long special, it doesn’t have the freedom that A Charlie Brown Christmas has to avoid edits by simply airing the original half-hour cartoon in a one-hour time slot with some additional filler material to make it work (even then, A Charlie Brown Christmas has had other notable edits, which I’ve spotlighted in the past here). So Rudolph has seen a number of edits over the years, with songs being trimmed, songs being cut and whole scenes being eliminated.

rudolph1However, interestingly enough, one of the biggest changes in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an added scene. You see, the first time around, the Misfit Toys were never actually saved!

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (based on a poem written for the department store Montgomery Ward; the strange history of the ownership of the poem is featured here), the show revolves around a young reindeer named Rudolph, who’s the son of one of Santa’s famed flying reindeer. Born with a shiny red nose, Rudolph is bullied for being different, and eventually he runs away, along with a fellow “misfit,” an elf named Hermey who wants to be a dentist rather than make toys. Eventually, Rudolph and Hermey end up on the Island of Misfit Toys, where they meet the titular inhabitants (some examples of Misfit Toys are a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels on his caboose and a water pistol that squirts jelly). The toys and their ruler King Moonracer (a winged lion) agree to let Rudolph and Hermey stay with them, but only if Rudolph promises to let Santa Claus know about their plight.

After a series of adventures, Rudolph is reunited with his family, and Santa Claus promises to help the Misfit Toys. Then, following a blizzard that threatens Christmas, Rudolph’s shiny red nose saves the day and all is well.

That’s how the original broadcast ended, with Rudolph saving Santa Claus’ Christmas delivery with his shiny red nose. However, the Misfit Toys were never actually saved. I presume the filmmakers figured that Santa promising to do so was good enough, as Santa isn’t one to make empty promises. However, viewers were not so trusting, and they complained as viewers were wont to do in the pre-Internet era by sending messages to NBC.

So for the first re-airing of the special in 1965, the network added a new scene in which Santa’s first stop on Christmas Eve is to the Island of Misfit Toys, where he picks up the toys and delivers them to children. That has been the official version of the special ever since (a scene with the prospector character Yukon Jack discovering a peppermint mine was omitted to make room for the addition).

Here’s the “new” ending that has been shown since 1965:

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is

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  • Rebecca Martin

    Would it be wrong, dread Lord Cronin, to point out that the prospector is Yukon Cornelius, not Yukon Jack?

  • ericinhb

    Yukon Jack……….. LOL good eye..

  • Sylv Taylor

    They also changed Yukon’s obsession from gold to peppermint, as I recall.

  • demoncat_4

    interesting for always just figured that the misfits toy scene was always part of the show . along with Yukon’s obsessing for peppermint. though i always though Yukon is also with Hermie and Rudolph on the island too.

  • Happily LS

    It’s sad that we can’t air this on TV anymore because there are twice as many ads nowadays. Yay more money for the people who own the companies that buy the ads.

  • thesnappysneezer

    I don’t get any antenna reception here but I it still airs every year. It aired on CBS on the 26th of November this year. Frosty is coming on December 6th and they are going to have an I Love Lucy Christmas Special on December 20th.

  • Kirk Langstrom

    Something I noticed when I was about six — The elf is pulling misfit toys out of the bag and as he tosses them overboard he gives them umbrellas so they’ll float safely to their new homes below. When he takes the bird out, the elf looks him over, realizes that he doesn’t have to waste an umbrella, and out he goes. A cute clever bit. Except… the bird is a misfit toy because he can’t fly, so the elf just pushed him to his death. Merry Christmas!

  • vangpo

    I remember Santa being a first rate d-bag in that special. His treatment of Rudolph is absolutely inexcusable.

  • cb

    Nobody believes me about the swimming bird being pushed to his death. until they watch it again.
    Any one want to discus Nazi Santa?
    “I’m sorry Rudolph is too different to fit in”.

  • coalminds

    It’s certainly sad to see a special based on a department store poem turned into something so corporate.

  • BrotherMatthias

    This was also one of the sweetest scenes that accentuated the compassion of Rudolph and Santa.

  • anion

    Santa’s pretty awful in a lot of those specials. My favorite is Frosty the Snowman, where Santa (without even hearing both sides of the story) forces the magician to let Frosty & the kids keep the hat they stole by threatening to never bring him presents again. So Frosty takes both the hat and his sub-moron IQ to a frozen wasteland, and the magician is left without any way to earn a living.

  • jloder24

    I wonder if Professor X could pick up the mutant Rudolph with Cerebro? Rudolph, leading other reindeers (and a d-bag fat man) who fear and hate him..

  • The One and Only

    I’ve heard that they’ve altered Rudolph’s nose with CGI. In order to replace the reindeer’s trademark nose with an energy efficient curly fry ,energy efficient lightbulb to be more environmentally sensitive.

  • Craig Peters

    The best part of this special is that it resulted in this MAD TV classic:

  • VBartilucci

    The gag was that after all his kvelling about gold and silver (with a song my Burl Ives and all), he struck peppermint. That’s the scene Brian alluded to.

  • lewis4510

    My thing was the Abominable Snowman starving to death with all his teeth being yanked out.

  • tom

    Why was the doll a misfit?

  • Jimmy B. Catlett

    “However, viewers were not so trusting, and they complained as viewers were wont to do in the pre-Internet era by sending messages to NBC.”

    What exactly does “were wont to do” mean?

  • Ferpme

    Wont-as they had a TENDENCY to do. Real word, read definition. Still in usage.

  • GeorgFTJungl

    No one has ever figured that out. I belonged to some ardent (obsessive?) Rudolph fan groups over the years, and it was always the source of MUCH speculation. Perhaps the reveal about her “misfit-edness” was in yet another edit that never made it to air…

  • AngelsandDemons1

    I always remember him changing his tune when he needs Rudolph’s nose to light his path across the sky. As a child, I felt that he was a real selfish bastard…LOL…and I couldn’t understand why Rudolph was so nice to him. I was curious to know where Santa’s power came from. He was an old white man, sure!…But, he was not the POTUS.