In theory, at least, New Year's is supposed to be one of the biggest holidays in the American year. Granted, most of the celebration of the holiday takes place on New Year's Eve, but one would think that New Year's Day itself would be equally important. That having been said, it seems to me that, for as long as I have been alive, one wouldn't know this from the television schedule.
At one time, New Year's was a time of parades on the three oldest networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). The Orange Bowl Parade has always taken place on New Year's Eve in Miami. For years at least one of the networks aired the parade, but I cannot remember them doing so in recent memory. The Cotton Bowl Parade, my favourite of the New Year's parades, has always taken place on the morning of the New Year's Day. It aired on CBS from 1964 to 1992. When NBC won the rights to air both the parade and the game, it elected not to show the parade. Sadly, the only parade that airs these days (and on ABC, CBS, and NBC) is the Tournament of Roses parade. Even as a child it was my least favourite of the New Year's parades. Then as now, I thought it was a tad dull and a bit over long. I have to admit it amazes me that the most boring of the three parades is the one that continues to air each year. Of course, I must confess that I will probably watch part of it, if for no other reaosn than tradition. When I was a child and we only had three channels, it was the only thing to watch of New Year's morning.
Of course, of an afternoon there is always football. Several bowl games will air on New Year's Day, including the Cotton Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, and the Rose Bowl. I have to admit that I have never watched any of the bowl games on New Year's Day. It is not that I have anything against football. It is simply the case that for me to enjoy a football game I must have some kind of emotional investment in it. That is, I must have a team to root for. When it comes to college football, the team I root for is the University of Missouri Tigers. This year's Cotton Bowl will be the first time that Mizzou plays in a New Year's bowl game in literally years. This means that I will watch the Cotton Bowl this year. Of course, I also have a team I always root against, which is the Kansas Jayhawks. For that reason I might watch the Orange Bowl on January 3 just to see Virginia Tech soundly defeat the Jayhawks (which I suspect won't be very hard for them to do...).
Of course, it has always been the night of New Year's Day when network programming has always tanked. Generally speaking, the networks will simply show reruns of their usual shows. This means that for this year one can watch reruns of NCIS, The Unit, and 48 Hours on CBS, Boston Legal on ABC, and One Tree Hill on the CW. Only Fox and NBC are showing original programming. Fox is airing the Sugar Bowl (since Mizzou can't play in both the Sugar Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, I won't watch it), while NBC is showing The Biggest Loser (a show I have no desire to watch).
So far I have mainly discussed the broadcast networks. Looking at the cable channels, I can say that they do a better job of programming on New Year's Day. Indeed, TV show and movie marathons have become a bit of a tradition on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in the past ten years. The only drawback with such marathons is that often the cable channels will air TV series that they have already shown to death. TNT and USA are prime examples of this. TNT is airing a Law and Order marathon, while USA is airing the whole first season of Monk Now I love both Law and Order and Monk, but I have seen so many of their episodes that I have no real reason to watch a marathon. Fortunately, there are other cable channels with other marathons. TV Land is airing a Beverly Hillbillies marathon starting on New Year's Eve and running for most of New Year's Day. It has been some time since I have been able to watch The Beverly Hillbillies and I don't think it has been on any of the major cable channels for some time. A Beverly Hillbillies marathon then sounds like a good idea to me. The Hallmark Channel has a different kind of marathon, showing not TV shows but Western movies instead. Indeed, they are showing classic Western movies at that, including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Hang 'Em High, and The Magnificent Seven. What better way to open up the New Year than with a shoot 'em up?
Ultimately, I have always been puzzled as to why television on New Year's Day has tanked for the most part. In theory, at least, it is supposed to be a major holiday on the American calendar. And given that many will be recovering from hangovers that day and not up to doing much beyond watching television, you would think the broadcast networks and the cable channels would give them something to watch. Quite frankly, I think if some broadcast network or cable channel would try something new on New Year's Day (the broadcast debut of some Hollywood blockbuster, a broadcast of a classic movie, or something of the sort), they would clean up in the ratings. Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to television programming, New Year's Day does not bring us anything new, simply more of the old.