Critics hated it, but cable loved it
TNT first launched its 24-hour marathon in 1997, but Director Bob Clark started to realize A Christmas Story was gaining cult momentum a few years before that, while at a restaurant with his family. As he told the LA Times, "We thought we were hearing 'A Christmas Story' on TV. We leaned over and, in the booth across from us, a family was acting out the movie -- the entire movie. They sat at dinner and they played all the roles. We couldn't believe it. It really astounded me."
The movie first aired on cable in 1985, with HBO doing the honors, but it was the various Turner networks -- then still newcomers, but already drawing critical raves for programming built upon their unprecedented archive of classic films -- that entrenched it in the national consciousness. Here’s a shorthand summation of the film’s Turner rise, per A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic:
- Following its HBO debut, TNT showcased it in a holiday movie block in 1990, to great ratings success.
- A simultaneous boom in VHS rentals surreptitiously amplified cult status.
- In 1995, the film aired 6 times across Turner networks. In 1996, that was upped to 8.
- In 1997, the boom was lowered: 24 Hours of A Christmas Story debuted on TNT.
In 2014 and ’15, Turner doubled down on its double down, airing the movie 24 hours straight on TNT and TBS, with staggered start times. This isn’t just filler programming: over 4 million people could watch any given airing; over 50,000,000 will tune in at some point during the marathon. Not even PCU in its cable heyday could touch that.