Frank Cross (played by Bill Murray) is a dissolute and sour television executive at IBC TV Network. He is hell bent on resorting to any means so long as the ratings and moolah are raked in - despite the fact that he has a modestly burgeoning bank account, he’s hungry for more … and even more. He even harbors almost misanthropic views with regard to the people around him - costing him his family – his brother James(played by John Murray) and the love of his life, Claire (played by Karen Allen).
It is this strange, deeply embedded streak that leads him to get the staff at the to work through Christmas Eve - wanting them to stage a live broadcast of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. He gleefully hatches this evil plot to ensure that the Holiday is ruined and his coffers are brimming. At the receiving end of his constant derision is Grace Cooley (played by Alfre Woodward), the hardworking mother of Calvin, who is mute; much to her consternation and frustration she has to neglect the child and her family because she is so overburdened by work. A disastrous TV commercial produced by Frank causes an old lady’s death, and when his loyal sidekick Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) hesitatingly offers his opinion - he is dismissed from work on Christmas Eve.
Unfortunately for Frank, Christmas has something planned for him - a visit from the Ghosts of past Christmases. The first visitation is by Lew Hayward (played by John Forsythe), the spirit of his dead mentor, the past, present and future- will visit him; this obviously psyches him out. Matters worsen when Cross is informed by his boss Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) that he will be assisted by a younger, dynamic assistant Brice Cummings (John Glover), an over smart yuppie clearly out to sabotage Frank’s job.
We get a glimpse of how Cross became the man he is, as the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) meets him as a New York cabbie. The two go back in time to the year 1955 when Frank was a kid and through to the moment in his life when he gets his first break at a TV station in 1969, up until the year 1971, when he chooses his career over Claire. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) likes to bonk Frank on the face with a toaster oven, she offers him a glimpse of the sad life Grace has and how James, (whose Christmas invite he rejected) despite his unkindness, misses him.
Angered and pained after his unfair dismissal, Eliot Loudermilk, former employee at IBC TV Network, storms Frank’s office in an attempt to kill him. The Ghost of Christmas Future - headless, caped and with a TV screen in place of its face - shows him his lonely future, when it would send right to the grave after a grilling in the crematorium - his funeral attended only by James, whilst Claire’s heart turns to stone, just like his, and poor Calvin ends up in a mental health facility. We have an idea how the film would end - and so, all’s well, eventually.