A simple story of pride and consistency

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Calling all Scrooges, calling all Scrooges. Proceed to PBS for a seasonal lesson in respect, humility, understanding, human dignity, and, yes, principle: A Matter of Principle (PBS, Monday, Dec. 3, 9-10 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats).

This is the season for Christmas specials - and mostly they are hackneyed, predictable, mushy, or slushy kinds of shows. But even if you're a Scrooge-like avoider of season-to-be-merry Christmas spirit in the form of TV specials, watch this uniquely cantankerous one, presented by television's most impressive regularly scheduled dramatic series, ''American Playhouse.''

It tells a simple story of pride, petty consistency, and stubborn principle on the part of an unemployed father of 11, Flagg Purdy, played with his own brand of dogged persistence by Alan Arkin. He is totally believable, despite the fact that his accent wavers between New England and Kentucky. But Barbara Dana as his wife (she is also his wife in real life) never strikes a single false note in either accent or motivation as she plays a principle-weary wife who finally puts her foot down when her domineering husband destroys the children's Christmas tree. She takes the youngsters and leaves, discovering that ''I've been my own woman for a day now and I like the feeling.''

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How Flagg handles the situation, from the story by John D. Weaver, is what this very simple but very special story is all about. Produced by Morton Neal Miller and directed by Gwen Arner with skillful sensitivity, ''A Matter of Principle'' is for me an instant Christmas classic.

''A man that's got as many principles as Flagg, some of 'em's bound to be wrong,'' says wife Ada. Yes, Flagg - and Alan Arkin - is my kind of Scrooge.

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