This year marks the 26th anniversary of one of TV’s unsung holiday heroes: the Shaw Fire Log, the piece of flaming wood that has become an enduring — and surprisngly entertaining — Christmastime tradition.
There’s something almost hypnotic about watching the log as it crackles and burns; I can almost feel the warm, cozy glow of the fire emanating from my 42-inch flat screen. The log has been a TV staple for so long, however, it’s easy to forget that the idea of televising a log burning in a fireplace was once a radical idea.
Born in the U.S.A.
The original concept dates back to the Mad Men era in 1966, originated by a guy named Fred M. Thrower, president and CEO of New York City TV station WPIX. After seeing a TV commercial for Coca-Cola that featured Santa Claus sitting in front of a crackling fireplace, Thrower came up with the idea of a Christmas Eve broadcast of a fireplace, with the intention of giving apartment-dwelling NYC residents the feel of a cozy Christmas fire in their living rooms.
The first Yule Log broadcast was filmed at New York’s Gracie Mansion (official residence of the mayor), with easy-listening holiday music added in the background. Thrower’s decision to air the log in place of the scheduled programming — a roller derby show — cost him $4,000 in lost advertising revenue.
The Yule Log was a hit with viewers, and was aired again the following year, but there were some technical bugs that needed to be worked out. For one thing, the original Yule Log was a 17-second shot on 16mm film that was repeated on a loop, giving the fire a jerky, fake appearance. By 1969, the film loop had been played so much that it had visibly deteriorated and it needed to be refilmed; this time around, more than six minutes of fire was shot, using 35mm film for better quality.
Off the air
This annual TV tradition aired on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (sometimes both) for decades until a new general manager at the station decided to cancel it in 1990. New Yorkers were outraged, but despite hundreds of letters begging for its return, The Yule Log was off the air for the remainder of the decade (although WPIX did launch an online version in 1997).
In 2001, station management felt that New Yorkers could use some TV “comfort food” after the horror of 9/11, and decided to bring back the Yule Log broadcast, and it’s aired ever since — there’s even been a documentary made about it, the 2006 WPIX-produced special A Log’s Life, produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the telecast.
Meanwhile, other stations throughout the U.S. and Canada began airing their own versions, including Shaw’s enduringly popular Fire Log broadcasts.
The Shaw Fire Log
How popular has Shaw’s Fire Log been? Popular enough that it’s spawned its own spin-off, the Thanksgiving-themed Turkey TV that debuted in 2006, described as “continuous coverage of a beautiful, roasted turkey, surrounded by fresh greens, carrots and tomatoes in an open flame forno oven,” including “bastings, fire stokings and authentic ‘snap, crackle and pop’ sounds that will be sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats throughout this thrilling program.”
Although the roasting turkey never quite achieved the same level of popularity, there’s no stopping the log. Check your onscreen listings and you’ll see that Shaw’s Fire Log is back this year to continue a Canadian TV tradition. Not only is the log now broadcast in high-def, it’s taking over the world of social media with its own Facebook page — and even a Twitter account!
Check your onscreen listings to find the Shaw Fire Log channel