If you wind up spending a cozy Friday night with NBC's newest holiday special, you may find yourself wondering: was How Murray Saved Christmas based on a book? Mike Reiss, a longtime writer and Emmy winner for The Simpsons, also authored How Murray Saved Christmas in 2004. The popular book covers how Murray, the owner of a Jewish deli that happens to be open on Christmas Eve, fills in for Santa's big night after Saint Nick is knocked unconscious when he opens a jack-in-the-box with a boxing glove packed inside. With Santa suffering from a possible concussion, the elf responsible for the blunt force trauma, Edison, an aspiring toy inventor, spots an ad for Murray Kleiner (in the NBC version, his name is switched to Weiner) and his super quick special deliveries.
The TV version changed and added a few things. Of course, in order to turn a picture book into a full hour of entertainment, you need a few more characters. So Jason Alexander is onboard as Santa's doctor, John Ratzenberger is a cop who slows Edison and Murray's progress, and Walter Murphy is on board to turn this into an original musical, which, of course, isn't possible in print. They've also changed the art style significantly, which is a little disappointing because the detailed shading of David Catrow's original illustrations made it feel a little more unique. The cartoony style of the NBC show is probably much easier to animate, but it looks a bit like a more generic Phineas and Ferb or something. But I do appreciate that they've given Murray a big old push broom mustaches, which feels like an appropriate aesthetic choice.
But a few things remained true to the source material, not least because Reiss was adapting his own work. The entire special is written in rhyming verse, like the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, complete with sonorous narration offered by Dennis Haysbert. And they've kept the internal irony of a Jewish deli owner helping to save Christmas.
Mike Reiss' most famous credit may be The Simpsons, but that's not the only place he's honed his writing ability. He was also the co-creator and co-showrunner of The Critic, a beloved cult show about a snobby film critic voiced by Jon Lovitz. He's also worked on animated screenplays like Horton Hears a Who! Simultaneously, Reiss began his children's book career, and to date has written seventeen titles including How Murray Saved Christmas. So he's more than qualified to take on the hurdle of making the next classic holiday special.