Fran Drescher doesn't remember receiving Chanukah presents as a child.
"With the Dreschers, [Chanukah] was all about the food," laughed the actress who is best known for her role in TV's "The Nanny," which aired from 1993-99. "Nothing was as important as the chocolate dreidels and chocolate coins."
Besides seeking out her share of Chanukah gelt, the Queens, N.Y., native remembers going to her grandmother's house on the first night of Chanukah for an annual holiday feast. This year, Drescher is inviting audiences to celebrate the Festival of Lights with some music, a few stories and, yes, a little nosh, as she hosts "A Chanukah Celebration," a new holiday special airing on PBS stations around the country throughout the month of December.
The one-hour show includes Chanukah musical performances from popular recording artist -- and Friday Night Live staple Craig Taubman -- as well as folk legend Theodore Bikel; a holiday dessert how-to from chef, author and television host Jeff Nathan of "New Jewish Cuisine"; decorating tips from Journal singles columnist Teresa Strasser; a contemporary telling of the "Eight Lights of Chanukah" by public television host Rabbi Irwin Kula; and some holiday fun with the puppets from the Parents' Choice Award-winning "Alef...Bet...Blast-off!"
"There were so many Christmas specials in the public television pipeline and zero Chanukah specials," said Jay Sanderson, the CEO of Jewish Television Network (JTN), the Sherman Oaks-based production company that produced this and other Jewish programs for PBS.
"We're in the business of producing television that promotes Jewish life and heritage and makes people feel more comfortable and relate to being Jewish," Sanderson said. "If there's a need, we're the ones to fulfill it."
When they needed a host for "A Chanukah Celebration," Sanderson knew just who to call on.
"It's clearly a family special and Fran was the perfect hostess for that," he said. "She's attractive, she's funny and she's got that quirky laugh and that quirky voice."
In between segments about hosting your own Chanukah bash, making a holiday dessert that leaves latkes in the dust and tapping your feet to a few new Chanukah tunes, as well as some classics, Drescher occasionally chimes in with her slightly nasal, yet always charming, New York accent to recall her own Chanukah memories. For instance, the actress remembers illuminating the light bulbs in an old electric menorah, as her family preferred not to use real candles for the holiday.
Drescher embraces her tendency to attract Jewish-related roles and is proud of her roots.
"I actually made a point of making sure that the character I played on 'The Nanny' was Jewish," she told The Journal. "[Other people] thought maybe she should be Italian because they thought more people could relate to that and I'm like, no, I don't think so. She's Jewish."
Just as diverse audiences across the country came to embrace Drescher's ethnic character on "The Nanny," Sanderson has found that many non-Jews appreciate and watch Jewish programming -- and he anticipates that "A Chanukah Celebration" will be no exception.
I'm hoping that people will have a positive feeling about Chanukah and what it means and that this special brings a little light to Jews and non-Jews around the county," he said.
Meanwhile, Drescher is already planning a Chanukah celebration of her own.
"This year I'm going to host a Chanukah dinner," she said. "I don't whether we're actually going to do Chanukah presents, but there will definitely be chocolate coins."
"A Chanukah Celebration" will air on PBS stations around Southern California on the following dates and times:
KOCE in Huntington Beach on Thurs., Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. KVCR in San Bernardino on Thurs., Dec. 18 at 10 p.m. KCET in Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 20 at 9 p.m. KLCS in Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 21 at 10 a.m.