It wouldn't be Christmas Eve without NBC's annual airing of It's a Wonderful Life. Though the 1946 classic became infamous for round-the-clock holiday broadcasts after the film's copyright lapsed in 1974, the tale of George Bailey's Christmas Eve miracle has had an exclusive home on NBC since 1996, when ownership disputes were finally resolved and the film's TV airings shifted from a punchline to a special event.
Also today: Pope Francis leads Christmas mass from St. Peter's Basilica, TNT and TBS run simultaneous Christmas Story marathons, and Freeform is airing all your favorite holiday specials. Here's what's new and noteworthy on TV this Thursday:
HOLIDAY MOVIE: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchel, and Henry Travers star in the Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life, about a struggling family man who learns what the world would be like if he had never been born. 8:00 PM ET on NBC
BROADCAST PREMIERE: Inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya star in The Greatest Showman. The musical favorite puts a fanciful spin on the days before the traveling big top. Watch trailer. 8:00 PM ET on ABC
CHRISTMAS MASS: With the logistics of midnight mass trickier than ever this year, NBC has a solution for worshippers choosing to stay home, airing Pope Francis lead Christmas Eve Mass from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. 11:30 PM ET on NBC
MOVIE MARATHON: All Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun, but before he get a chance to shoot his eye out, he'll have to endure schoolyard bullies, terrifying encounters with Santa, a fragile "Italian" lamp, and a well-deserved run-in with a bar of soap. Simultaneous A Christmas Story marathons will run for 24 hours, every hour on the hour, starting at 8:00 PM ET on TBS and 9:00 PM ET on TNT
ENCORE PRESENTATION: The original Yuletide pop extravaganza goes virtual this year as the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2020 presents at-home performances from Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, Lewis Capaldi, Sam Smith, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd. 8:00 PM ET on The CW
HOLIDAY SPECIAL: It was 51 years ago that Frosty the Snowman first came to life in this holiday classic, all these years later he's still going strong. 8:15 PM ET on Freeform
HOLIDAY MOVIE: After making his family "disappear," young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is Home Alone, forced to do battle with the Wet Bandits while holding down the homestead in this holiday favorite. 12:30 PM ET on Freeform
HOLIDAY SPECIAL: First broadcast in 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer follows the famous misfit and his friends as they search for their place in the world and wind up saving Christmas in the process. 8:50 PM ET on Freeform
HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Fred Astaire narrates the classic 1970 Rankin/Bass stop motion holiday special Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, in which Santa is young, buff, dating the future Mrs. Claus, and squaring off against Burgermeister Meisterburger. 9:55 PM ET on Freeform
Mike Attebery is Senior Editor at Primetimer and the author of seven mystery thrillers. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeattebery.