NBC ups stake in Yuletide spex

Rockefeller tree to light Peacock sked

NBC is upping the stakes in what’s shaping up to be a raging battle of the Yuletide specs.

Perhaps hoping to put a dent in CBS’ status as the holiday special leader, the Peacock has decided to take WNBC’s annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting spec wide this year, sprucing up the show with a host of celebrity ornaments. Country crooner Garth Brooks has signed on as headline talent for the hourlong broadcast.

Spec will air Dec. 2 at 8 p.m., directly opposite the Eye’s annual showing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which has been pulling solid Nielsens for CBS in recent years.

As for “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” it’s the first time in decades the annual ceremony will be seen live by a national audience. David Letterman and Conan O’Brien have in the past featured same-night highlights of the lighting on “Late Night,” but the ceremony — which takes place in the backyard of NBC’s 30 Rock headquarters — has been mostly a local event in recent decades.

Getting in their kicks

In addition to Brooks, Jewel, Babyface, Cyndi Lauper and skater Kristi Yamaguchi have been inked as performers for the Peacock special. The Radio City Rockettes will also put in an appearance, natch.

NBC News talent Jane Pauley (“Dateline”) and Matt Lauer and Al Roker (“Today”) will host the hour, which will culminate with the lighting of the giant Rockefeller Center tree.

WNBC topper Dennis Swanson has revitalized the tree lighting special since arriving at the Peacock’s Gotham flagship, first expanding it to an hourlong live broadcast in 1996 and then syndicating it nationally last year. Brian Williams will exec produce the spec for TWI, the television arm of Mark McCormack’s Intl. Management Group.

Local triumph

Spec has done solid Nielsen numbers for NBC’s Gotham flagship in access, which may explain why the station will air a live one-hour pre-show of sorts from 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2. Talent involved in the network broadcast will contribute to the local hour.

CBS has cornered the market on holiday specs in recent years, combining annual chestnuts like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman” with newer fare from celebs like Kathie Lee Gifford. This year, the web has skedded a holiday/general entertainment hybrid hour from Celine Dion for Thanksgiving week.

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