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Peters decks the halls with TV throwback

TORONTO - When it comes to Christmas, Canada's comedy giant Russell Peters is a traditionalist at heart.

TORONTO - When it comes to Christmas, Canada's comedy giant Russell Peters is a traditionalist at heart.

The standup superstar throws together an old-fashioned TV variety special this week featuring plenty of carols, mirth by the fire, wishes for Santa, and unabashedly cheesy skits involving his mother, Maureen, and baby girl, Crystianna.

"This is a real family affair, (including) Momma and baby. Did you see my daughter? How cute is she?" Peters gushed recently from the Toronto set, admitting he's taking every opportunity to show off his nearly year-old offspring.

"Even if she never wants to be in show business ever again at least I got footage to show her and go, 'Who didn't want to be in show business then?'"

Besides baby schmaltz, "A Russell Peters Christmas" features famous friends Michael Buble, Pamela Anderson, Jon Lovitz, Scott Thompson, Faizon Love and "The Love Boat"'s Ted Lange, as well as a bevy of lingerie models to help ring in the season.

Thompson says the mix of stand-up, sketch comedy, stop-motion animation and musical performances harkens back to holiday specials of yore.

"I think if a white guy did it, it would be like, 'Wow, this is too much of a throwback.' But with him it seems kind of hip," Thompson says of the show's Indo-Canadian host, who peppers the special with trademark jokes about race and culture.

"And I think people will go, 'Oh my God, so he's a Christian. I wasn't sure.'"

Anderson says she offers up a pretty convincing take on the Virgin Mary for a nativity scene, in which Peters plays "Joe" and Thompson, Lovitz and Love portray "Wisemen" named Abe, Mel and Jermaine.

"I love all this Christmassy stuff," says the former "Baywatch" bombshell, gesturing to a TV studio decked out with snow drifts, pine trees and lights.

"Everyone says I kind of overdo it for Christmas, I overdo all the holidays so my house kind of looks similar to this — much smaller, but lots of lights and lots of twinkling things."

A real blast from the past comes from an appearance by Lange — a cultural touchstone for a select generation that grew up watching him play Isaac the bartender on "The Love Boat" in the late '70s and '80s.

"I just loved the show," says Peters. "He was the only black guy on the show and back then when you're a brown kid watching TV you always identify with the one non-white person."

Lange says he's a big fan of Peters' as well, and is flattered to think he helped paved the way for the Brampton, Ont.-bred funnyman.

He recalls that it wasn't always easy to be part of an integrated TV series when the industry itself was still grappling with race issues.

"There were a couple of situations when they would write (something) where you say, 'Hey, this isn't really a good idea. Can we rethink this?' Because they were just writing funny and sometimes the funny was like, me sticking my finger in my eye," says the L.A.-based Lange, who has written 23 plays and now directs television.

"I was very fortunate the writers were sensitive to that when I would bring it up."

Peters admits he's a bit of a softie when it comes to the holidays, describing his annual traditions as centred on turkey and "a couple Indian dishes just to give it a little kick."

"It lives up to the festivity of it all, you know, with the Christmas music and the egg nog and the food," he says, despite the fact his Christmas won't be snow-covered this year — he'll be in Los Angeles on Dec. 25 with his family.

"It's fun, it's a nice hang."

"A Russell Peters Christmas" airs Thursday on CTV and repeats Dec. 10 on The Comedy Network.

Also Thursday, George Canyon, Chantal Kreviazuk, Barenaked Ladies and Great Big Sea unite for a one-hour special to raise awareness about hunger in Canada on CMT. "Gift of Giving" will air throughout December on CMT, YTV, W Network and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network (Canada).

Other specials across the dial include CTV's "A Michael Buble Christmas" on Dec. 6 featuring Justin Bieber, Kellie Pickler and more; the holiday sequel "Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice" on Dec. 5 on CTV; and a swath of seasonal movies on CTV and CTV Two running throughout the month.

A jolly menu is also on offer over at Food Network Canada, where holiday programs are being served up nearly every day until Christmas. Highlights include "Chuckmas," from Montreal chef Chuck Hughes of "Chuck's Day Off" on Dec. 10, and seasonal treats from celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis and Paula Deen.