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It's an Ab Fab, Abbey Christmas

It's safe to say Christmas television this year is going to be unlike any other we've known. The plight of broadcasters during a recession mirrors that of the populace, in that they're all a bit strapped for cash.

RTE, BBC, and especially ITV and Channel 4, which are wholly dependent on falling advertising revenue for their survival, are having to do the best they can this festive season on budgets that, compared with the largesse flung around like confetti at a wedding during the boom, are positively Scrooge-like.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that they've done a good job of providing decent Christmas Day entertainment. Or at least most of them have. The exception, as it has been for years now, is RTE, whose atrocious Christmas Day line-up deserves to be scooped up and thrown in the bin along with the fallen pine needles from the Christmas tree. TV3's is terrible too -- but the commercial broadcaster didn't have much money to play with before the recession either, so expectations were always going to be rock bottom.

A flip through the Christmas Day schedules of the terrestrial channels betrays a heavier reliance than ever before on movies to plug gaps, particularly in the first half of the day. But there's something warm and comforting about having seasonal favourites such as The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life thrumming away in the background as the presents are being unwrapped.

It's become a tradition on this page to declare BBC1 the winner for the hearts and eyes of Christmas Day viewers, and this year's no exception.

The tots are taken care of with The Gruffalo's Child (6.30pm), a brand new animated sequel to the much-loved family favourite. A top-drawer voice cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane and John Hurt.

The big guns start blasting with Doctor Who (7pm). Frankly, I could take or leave the last couple of Who Christmas specials, but this one, set in Blitz-torn London and guest-starring Bill Bailey as a madcap caretaker who holds the key to a wintry wonderland, sounds like it could be fun.

This year's BBC1 schedule is practically a carbon copy of last year's, in that Doctor Who is followed by Strictly Come Dancing (8pm) and then EastEnders (9pm). But the highlight of the evening for many will be the return, for three special episodes, of Absolutely Fabulous (10pm). However ITV is not about to let the Beeb have it all its own way on the big day. The incredible popularity of the first two series of Downton Abbey with viewers in Britain, Ireland and around the world meant a Christmas special of Julian Fellowes' Upstairs Downstairs-style saga of the English gentry and their servants was inevitable.

And here it is (ITV, 9pm), two generous hours of it, focusing on events at the Abbey's lavish Christmas party in 1919. Happy Christmas, war is over, but the shadow of Bates's arrest hangs ominously over the evening's festivities. Will he be condemned, or will he be found innocent in the nick of time and get to dance with his wife at the servants' ball? You'll have a second chance to find out when TV3 screens Downton Abbey on St Stephen's Night (9pm).