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.
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:
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.