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Oh, Joy! A "Commercial-Free" Infomercial

Christopher Lisotta
November 12, 2008

The holidays has long been an animaniac's best friend, what with the umpteenth airing of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer warming up the airwaves.

This year cable network ABC Family is getting into the animated holiday half-hour mix. That makes sense, considering the cable channel is once again rolling out its "25 Days of Christmas" programming platform next month. But its approach has all the charm of a plastic star on an aluminum tree.

ABC Family is airing a Cranberry Christmas on December 8, an animated adaptation of the popular 1976 children's book of the same title, according to online newsletter Cynopsis.

That sounds promising. The story takes place in the town of Cranberryport, where mean old Cyrus Grape won't let young Maggie and her friends skate on his frozen-over cranberry bog until some hilarious hi-jinks and tender holiday moments ensue.

So far, so good. Songwriter Barry Manilow and his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman are collaborating on two songs that will air during the special. A little cheesy, but syrupy songs are what animated Christmas specials are all about. (The jazzy soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas being the glorious notable exception.)

The problems begin with a press release touting the Cranberry Christmas from none other than the folks at canned and bottled juice producer Ocean Spray. It turns out Cranberry Christmas was created "as a special gift to consumers, commercial free," the release reads.

Ken Romanzi, Ocean Spray's C.E.O., quickly gets into the act.

"We have taken a story that is near and dear to Ocean Spray's heart and brought it to life to share with other families," Romanzi says, "and we hope that Cranberry Christmas will take its place as a perennial holiday favorite."

Apparently at Christmastime "infomercial" gets translated into a "special gift." Why this particular story is chosen goes beyond the cranberry in the title and Ocean Spray's interest in the lovely holiday treat.

The book is also famous for a recipe for cranberry cookies that is included among its pages. The press release features the recipe, along with the ingredient "1 six-ounce package Ocean Spray Craisins Original Sweetened Dried Cranberries."

Even during animated holiday specials, there is no such thing as a free gift. "Special gift," apparently, but not free.





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