Ho, ho, ho! How ironic that Ed Asner — best known as TV's tough, gruff Lou Grant — has carved a professional niche for himself by playing, of all roles, jolly old St. Nick. If you recall, he donned Kris Kringle's red suit for the 1996 TV movie The Story of Santa Claus and 1999's Olive, the Other Reindeer. Next up, he plays the North Pole's head honcho in the new Will Ferrell comedy, Elf (opening Nov. 7). That was one sleigh ride he'll never forget.

"This is about the eighth time I've [played Santa]," Asner tells TV Guide Online. "It is really old hat. But [my Elf character] is the ne plus ultra Santa, and all of the others were preparation for this!

"I'm delighted that it paid off nicely," the 74-year-old actor adds. "None of them were as much fun as this. From the script to the director and the ensemble cast, this was a beautiful experience."

Besides free milk and cookies — Santa's favorite meal! — Elf afforded Mary Tyler Moore's old boss the chance to work with another '70s TV icon, Bob Newhart. But just 'cause their sitcoms reigned supreme during the decade of disco, that doesn't mean these two are pals. "We try to avoid each other," Asner teases. "I've never cared for him. He's too good."

All kidding aside, Asner and Newhart enjoyed sharing happy memories of their very own golden age of television. "We talked about it a lot," he confides. "But it is difficult to think about it, because it was so good. Nothing has come along to really match it. It was a magic time."