A Charlie Brown Christmas

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A Charlie Brown Christmas is an animated holiday special based on the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz. Originally airing in 1965 on CBS, it was the first of many animated specials based on the strip, and has since gone on to become one of the most successful, popular, and enduring animated specials in history.

Written by Schulz himself, and directed and animated by Bill Melendez, A Charlie Brown Christmas was a groundbreaking piece of television in many ways. The young characters were voiced by actual children, something that had not been done before that point. Another major point of departure from the orthodoxy of the day was the absence of a laugh track; Schulz believed that the audience was capable of figuring out when to laugh.[1]

Despite its iconic status today, A Charlie Brown Christmas was not without controversy at the time it was created. Network executives strongly opposed Schulz's decision to have Linus quote from Luke 2:8-14. Schulz, however, was adamant, as the scene was crucial to the show's theme (Charlie Brown's search for the true meaning of Christmas amid a flood of commercialism). Executive producer Lee Mendelson later recalled telling Schulz that "...you can't read from the Bible on network television"; both he and Bill Melendez worried that the show would be a failure.[2]

Mendelson's concerns proved unfounded. When it premiered on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas ranked number 2 that week (after Bonanza[3]), with a rating of 28.8 and 46.6 per share. In other words, nearly half of the people watching television were watching the special.[4]

A soundtrack album from A Charlie Brown Christmas was also recorded by jazz group the Vince Guaraldi Trio and was released in December 1965 (the same month as the special's premiere), which featured the special's three most notable songs: "Linus and Lucy" (which quickly became the theme for the Peanuts specials),[5] "Skating"[6] and instrumental and vocal versions of "Christmas Time Is Here".[7][8] The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album became a best-seller, certified 4x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 19, 2016;[9] prior to that, it was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007 and was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2011.[10]

A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on CBS for decades before its final airing on that network in 2000, after which ABC acquired the broadcast rights to the show in 2001. In later years, CBS had trimmed several minutes from the special in order to include more commercials and to fit in its half-hour slot, so when it moved to ABC, it was decided to expand the special by restoring it to its original run time as part of a full hour, then follow it with another Peanuts special to fill the remaining airtime; in its first year on ABC, A Charlie Brown Christmas was followed by the documentary special The Making of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg), then from 2002 onward, was followed by the new Peanuts Christmas special Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales. In 2020, Apple Inc. acquired the broadcast rights to the Peanuts specials (including A Charlie Brown Christmas) and controversially removed them from broadcast television to move over to its Apple TV+ video on demand streaming service, but after a backlash from TV viewers, Apple, in an equally controversial move, decided to make the Peanuts specials available for secondary airing on liberal educational TV network PBS instead of on a commercial network.[11]

References

  1. https://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2005-12-05-charlie-brown-christmas_x.htm
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2005-12-05-charlie-brown-christmas_x.htm
  3. How the Creator of A Charlie Brown Christmas Got the Gospel Past CBS Execs at NewsBusters
  4. Mendelson, Lee. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic. New York: Harper, 2006.
  5. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Linus and Lucy at YouTube
  6. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Skating at YouTube
  7. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental) at YouTube
  8. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal) at YouTube
  9. Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas
  10. 2002-2015 National Sound Registry (by year) (page 7)
  11. Charlie Brown holiday specials will air on TV again after backlash