You look outside and see the leaves turning caramel red as they begin their descent toward the ground. The streets are filled with various props of ghouls, witches, monsters and other creepy crawlers. You see your neighbor’s lawn filled with tombstones and spiderwebs scattered throughout. Yep, it’s October all right.
You turn on the television and flip the channel to some of your favorite networks such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. As you scroll through the TV listings you are bombarded with spooktastic content such as age-old Halloween classics like “Hocus Pocus,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and various other shows and movies dedicated to the Halloween season.
October is a special time as a kid. Not just for the normal festivities, but also for the chance to watch and indulge in these Halloween specials. After all, these programs usually only air once a year before disappearing from screens nationwide for 11 months. Thus, watching Halloween specials was a memorable event for many 2000s kids. Not just for the movies, but also in how most cartoons and other kids programming would set aside their conventional episode structures to tell a story related to Halloween.
However, if you flash forward to now and scroll through the TV guide, you don’t actually see these shows and movies listed anymore. Halloween is right around the corner, yet it seems like the broadcasting networks don’t care or aren’t interested in showing these classics to the current generation of children.
In fact, the famous Halloween special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” won’t be making its return to television this fall for the first time in 54 years. Instead, it will be shown for free on Apple TV+.
So what happened to Halloween specials? Why don’t the networks seem to care about producing and promoting these classics?
A big reason may be the heavy emphasis on streaming. Streaming has clearly created a major change in how viewers consume their content. Whether it be TV shows or films, people have access to a wide library of content when they want it and whenever they want it. The age of checking the TV guide to see when the next hit movie or episode will be shown is slowly dying. Now, it’s been replaced by trying to find the right streaming service that carries the most content you want to watch. Simply put, there may not be an incentive for networks to replay these classics when people can easily stream them at their leisure.
Yet, it seems like every time the holiday season rolls around, we’re still bombarded with Christmas-themed content. While Christmas programs are great in their own right, the magic of Halloween specials adds a nice contrast. Whereas Christmas shows and movies promote messages of hope and compassion, Halloween specials show us spooky and downright freaky stories that often go against those messages of love.
The tales being told are precisely what makes Halloween specials so magical: They tend to evoke the uncanny. Halloween programs give writers the opportunity to make truly bizarre yet captivating stories that perhaps wouldn’t be told under normal circumstances. But under the guise of a Halloween special, basic continuity and conventional genre goes out the window. You can get weird and you can get spooky; the Halloween special lets you enter a void where any type of story is possible. The only rule is that it must be a bit scary.
There may not be a better example of eerie holiday programming than the “The Simpsons” and the show’s annual “Treehouse of Horror” specials; during these episodes, the beloved characters of Springfield get thrust into some truly freaky and downright horrifying situations that they must navigate their way through. Whether it be a parody of “The Shining,” a zombie outbreak or Homer Simpson entering a 3D world, these stories are surely strange, but for the past few decades, they have managed to keep the spirit of the spooky season alive.
Take other classic 2000s kids shows, such as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “The Fairly OddParents” and “Jimmy Neutron.” These shows’ Halloween specials are some of the most memorable, yet the episodes would only come on once a year in October — a true testament to their popularity.
Movies were a part of this holiday trend as well; for example, in 2007 and 2008, Cartoon Network aired the memorable “Goosebumps” marathons to wide approval. Our generation may not have discovered their favorite spooky holiday classics if it weren’t for the networks that dedicated themselves to showing Halloween-themed content.
But it is perhaps a broader issue. Especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many across the nation may skip out on the holiday altogether. Even before the pandemic, research showed that fewer and fewer kids were going out to trick-or-treat each year; now, an all-time low is expected for this fall. With today’s generation being so technology-based, the idea of going out in a costume may not sound as appealing as it once was; the lack of celebrating may just be one factor contributing to the holiday’s decline in cinematic popularity.
Not all hope is lost, however. In network television, the Freeform channel continues to do their annual “31 Nights of Halloween” tradition that you could check out. Alongside that, with the move to streaming, you yourself can still keep the tradition alive. Netflix and Hulu still dedicate themselves to making lots of horror movies and Halloween-themed content every year. Thus, those beloved specials are still out there, just on different platforms.
So, gather your friends, get a big bucket of popcorn and indulge in a wave of nostalgia and spookiness in the vast land of streaming. The spirit of Halloween specials might just live on.