Christmas comes early |

Christmas comes early

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

“Christmas in Aspen” sounds like a dream vacation.

It’s not a bad title for a television special, either.

That, at least, is what production company executive Danny Harris decided after scouting out ski resorts around Colorado.

Harris, producer with Tall Pony Productions, was on top of Aspen Mountain yesterday to tape country star Lee Ann Womack for a segment of ABC’s “Christmas in Aspen.” Taping will continue today and Saturday, when a sold-out show at the Wheeler Opera House will provide the bulk of the footage for the one-hour network special, scheduled to air Sunday, Dec. 8.

“We wanted to do a Christmasy feel ? a ski resort made a lot of sense,” Harris said. “They’re all amazing, but I found Aspen to be heads and shoulders above the rest for our purposes. It’s laid back, but it’s an incredibly efficient town.”

Harris credits everyone from the Aspen Skiing Co. to hotels, a local clothing retailer and the city for helping pull off the production. “We could not have done this without the Skico,” he said.

“‘No’ does not seem to be in anyone’s vocabulary,” Harris added. “I can tell there is a can-do attitude in Aspen. This place has done this kind of stuff before, and it belongs here.

“Christmas in Aspen is a natural.”

Even the weather has cooperated with Harris’ crew. Yesterday’s taping was done under sunshine and blue skies over Aspen Mountain, while clouds billowed over surrounding peaks. Womack, in a setting of fresh powder with a backdrop of Highland Bowl shrouded in cloud cover, sang “Silent Night” for a segment of the show.

Today, the inimitable Johnny Mathis will be taped in the main lodge at T-Lazy-7 Ranch for another musical moment.

Womack and Mathis have both released new Christmas CDs, as has Barry Manilow, who is scheduled to appear in Saturday’s taping at the Wheeler. Also penciled in for Saturday’s show is jazz saxophonist Kenny G, who has two collections of holiday music to his credit, including the double-platinum CD, “Faith ? A Holiday Album.”

Scenes outside the Wheeler Opera House will be taped this evening, according to the production schedule, and Aspen has put on its holiday finery early to accommodate the event. The city has strung up its Christmas lights, while Mother Nature made sure Harris’ crew wouldn’t have to provide the snow.

Still, the production company was prepared to haul snow down from Independence Pass if necessary, and Harris prepared a stash of corn kernels painted white, just in case. (Underfoot, the corn happens to sound exactly like the crunch of snow, he reports.)

Historic photos of Aspen, archived at HeritageAspen, have also been shot, and a cameraman has been up Red Mountain to capture a twilight shot of the town, according to local production consultant Joe Lang.

Most of the action, however, will take place Saturday during a two-hour taping at the Wheeler.

Cast members from several ABC prime-time shows will take part in the special, which Harris described as a cross between a Christmas concert and a TV taping.

Scheduled to appear are: John Ritter and other cast members from the sitcom “Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” Bonnie Hunt from “Life With Bonnie,” Andy Dick from “Less Than Perfect,” George Lopez from “The George Lopez Show” and Tisha Campbell-Martin from “My Wife and Kids.”

An elaborate set, including a gas fireplace and freshly cut Christmas trees, will transform the Wheeler stage.

“For the most part, it’s like a holiday house party,” said Lewis Friedman, writer for the show.

Although it’s being taped, it will have the feel of a live show, according to Harris.

And, there will be plenty of music ? and not just from Manilow and Kenny G, according to musical director Tom Scott.

“What’s interesting about this is we’ve convinced some non-musical-type entertainers to get involved in a musical way,” he said.

As it turns out, Ritter’s co-star, Katey Sagal, happens to be a marvelous singer, according to Scott. So is Hunt.

“We still don’t know what Andy Dick is doing,” Scott said. “It’s a work in progress, let’s put it that way. That’s the fun part, to be able to improvise.”

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