"The best and worst things that ever happened to "It's a Wonderful Life" are that it fell out of copyright protection and into the shadowy no-man's-land of the public domain. Because the movie is no longer under copyright, any television station that can get its hands on a print of the movie can show it, at no cost, as often as it wants to. And that has led in the last decade to the rediscovery of Frank Capra's once-forgotten film, and its elevation into a Christmas tradition. PBS stations were the first to jump on the bandwagon in the early 1970s, using the saga of the small-town hero George Bailey as counter-programming against expensive network holiday specials. To the general amazement of TV program directors, the audience for the film grew and grew over the years, until now many families make the movie an annual ritual."
Chicago Sun Times