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Jules Bass' Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Is The Longest Running Christmas Special In TV History

Animation fans were devastated earlier this week when the death of American filmmaker Jules Bass was announced. Per Variety, the creative died at an assisted living care center in the town of Rye, New York. He was 87. Bass is best remembered for co-founding Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment with Arthur Rankin Jr., which produced over a dozen television specials, a handful of animated and live-action theatrical films, and shows.

The production company boasts an impressive CV, producing multiple specials during its peak years in the late 1960s and early '70s. While Bass and Rankin are best remembered for creating seasonal fare, they also produced the animated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Return of the King." While "Lord of the Rings" is an impressive franchise to work on, Rankin/Bass Animated is primarily known for its Christmas specials, which include the likes "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," and "Jack Frost," specials which continue to air to this day.

For all their varied offerings, their most popular special after all these years is "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which has the honor of being the longest-running Christmas special in television history.

Over 5 million viewers tuned in for Rudolph's adventure in 2021

While Jules Bass is no longer with audiences, his work continues to entertain millions of viewers across the world. With their company, the duo single-handedly cornered the animated Christmas special market, as their works such as "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Little Drummer Boy" continue to receive airtime throughout the holiday season. However, Bass and Rankin's most popular work continues to be "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The success of the special led to two direct sequels, including a crossover with Frosty the Snowman.

Produced for NBC in 1964, the stop-motion special, which clocks in at just under an hour, is the longest-running Christmas special in television history, per The New York Post. "Rudolph" will celebrate 58 years this upcoming holiday season, when it will air multiple times throughout December. Very few programs have such cross-generational appeal, but somehow, Rudolph and his friends have managed to stay relevant in an animated landscape dominated by CGI.

"It feels homemade to the point where generations of children were inspired to try to do their own versions of it with their action figures and bendable figurines and things like that," said critic Matt Zoller Seitz when speaking to CBS about the special and Bass' legacy. Despite having a cultural hold that doesn't seem to dissipate, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" almost never saw the light of day. Luckily, Bass and Rankin persisted in their vision, creating a classic that was seen by over 5.7 million viewers in 2021 (via TVLine).