Everyone's favorite red-nosed reindeer is back for his annual go-round, and this year the spotlight on him is shining even brighter than his shimmering schnoz. The classic stop-motion musical Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — which first aired Dec. 6, 1964 — celebrates its golden anniversary airing Tuesday, Dec. 9 (8/7c on CBS); the U.S. Postal Service is marking the milestone with four stamps in its honor.
"He holds up pretty well for a 50-year-old," says Jack Sussman, CBS's executive vice president of specials, music, and live events. More than 11 million people tuned in last year to watch the cartoon, based on the classic Johnny Marks song and starring folk singer Burl Ives.
The show's producers, Arthur Rankin Jr., who died in January, and Jules Bass, never expected interest in Rudolph to last longer than the fragile puppets they used to make the stop-motion-animated program for its premiere in 1964. Initially shown on NBC as part of The General Electric Fantasy Hour, Rudolph was intended to be broadcast only twice. But, says Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt, "After the first airing, the phone started ringing off the hook." Rudolph, Goldschmidt notes, has gone on to become the longest-running, highest-rated television special of all time.
The postage stamps are the latest seal of approval. "This is kind of exciting," says actor Paul Soles, the voice of the misfit elf dentist Hermey, who appears on one of the stamps. (The others feature Rudolph, Santa, and Bumble.) "It's better that Hermey is on a stamp than the Duck Dynasty people!" Let's see all of the other reindeer laugh and call Rudolph names now.