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Virtual Heartwarming 

Even on Christmas morning, the TV begs to be turned on.

After grousing since Halloween that the holiday season is so commercialized that everybody forgets its true meaning, we can't even open St. Nick's presents — or the ones we've all lovingly picked for one another — without the background noise of shrill commercials for after-Christmas bargains, 13th-month auto sales and pitches for Yanni CDs.

Sure, you'll keep the volume low, and nobody will be paying much attention to what's on the tube. But it will be on. You know it's true.

I have a friend who explains it this way: A TV set with no picture or sound — which means one that's not turned on — is like a blind eye. The tendency to open that eye is irresistible. It seems CBS, which for years used an eye as its network logo, was onto something. This particular friend — who lives alone — even leaves the TV on when he goes out. He says it's to make potential burglars think somebody's home, but he confessed to me once that it's really because he hates coming home to a silent house with a blind eye sitting in the corner.

But back to Christmas morning.

By now the kids are playing with the boxes their gifts came in, the cat is playing with the ribbons that tied up the presents, and the dog is eating the presents. And you're clutching a cup of coffee with both hands and wondering vaguely, perhaps guiltily, why you bothered. And the TV is telling you that those plush Fur-real Friends that you couldn't find at the store or on eBay two days ago will be on sale for 50 percent off tomorrow morning at the mall.

There are alternatives, of course. Not for the commercialism of the season, but for what to half-watch on TV Christmas morning.

PBS, which is mercifully commercial-free, will be broadcasting a pleasant mix of holiday music both sacred and secular — from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. (And if you clutch that coffee cup hard enough and think deeply enough you may recall exactly who St. Olaf was. But probably not.)

Or you may be able to find a rerun of one of the great Christmas movies, like "Miracle on 34th Street" or "The Bishop's Wife" or "Christmas in Connecticut."

Personally, I like what TV stations in New York and Washington, D.C. plan for Christmas morning. WPIX and WBDC are showing a commercial-free broadcast of — are you ready? — logs burning in a fireplace. The Yule-log show drew a million viewers the first time it was broadcast back during Mayor John Lindsay's administration, and last year it was the highest rated program in its time period in New York. And to complete the image, the stations accompany the visuals with a holiday-music soundtrack.

How cool is that? No, it wouldn't warm up the room like a real fire in a real fireplace — but how many of us have working fireplaces, anyway? — and it would probably do more to warm your heart than another episode of "Judge Judy" or another strident commercial for an interest-free car loan.

For years, TV networks, writers and even viewers have been extolling the virtues of the TV set as the nation's hearth.

Now the dream comes true. And isn't dreams coming true what Christmas is all about?
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