The Charlie Brown holiday specials, a cross-generational family favorite, will air on network TV this year. Instead, the beloved Peanuts episodes, which include A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, will be exclusively available on the streaming service Apple TV+. So with this disruption of the tradition by Big Tech, let’s try to be thankful for the 55 years we had with A Charlie Brown Christmas. Because it almost never happened.
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree: “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.”
How It All Came Together
A Charlie Brown Christmas, which premiered in 1965, went down in history as an artistic, authentic, and heartwarming TV event which brought Charles M. Schulz’ familiar Peanuts characters to the silver screen for the first time. But all the special features that resonated with viewers — a unique jazzy score, the lack of a laugh track, youthful voice acting, and a storyline that centers around a depressed child — nearly got the project shelved. Producer Lee Mendelson had recently teamed up the comic strip writer, Charles M. Schulz to produce a show that would be financed by Coca Cola. All Schulz knew was that the story should center around the annual stress of planning a Christmas play. Mendelson, Schulz, and animator Bill Melendez were given six months to make it happen.
Three months later, with the black and white illustrations and storyboard well underway, a representative from McCann Erickson, Coca-Cola’s advertisement agency, complained that the plot seemed slow. Later, when jazz musician Vince Guaraldi first applied his music to Schulz’s images of the Peanuts children skating on the frozen pond, the final product was also… way too slow. And sad. Luckily, it didn’t take Guaraldi long to pen the ultimate “Christmas Time is Here,” which borrowed vocals from a children’s choir. But that was still not enough to convince CBS executives that the show wasn’t too dark for American audiences.
Schulz insisted that real children would supply the voices for Charlie Brown, Sally Dryer, Pigpen, Lucy and Linus Van Pelt, and the like. This would sound natural and offered a humorous spin on moments like Lucy’s succinct Christmas wish list: “Real estate.” But CBS did not want real children or the excessively cynical Peanuts chatter. With its atypical humor, no one expected the viewers at home to laugh at all – especially without a laugh track.
Tensions began to rise within the original team. Mendelson suggested trying a laugh track, which insulted the integrity of Schulz’s project. Schulz suggested that little Linus recite a passage from the Gospel of Luke, and Mendelson reportedly stormed out of the room. Even when the product was finish, nobody trusted that it would connect with people, and many worried that the attempt would simply tank the Peanuts brand which had been so popular for fifteen years. Of course, they all were wrong.
The Legacy of a Holiday Classic
Appealing to the whole family, children and adults alike loved A Charlie Brown Christmas immediately. Critical praise followed and the 25-minute episode earned both an Emmy and a Peabody Award. The television special quickly became not only an exciting cinematic extension of the Peanuts universe but welcome addition to the Christmas season at large. CBS quickly ordered more episodes, and over the next decade, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang because a treasured new part of holidays, like Thanksgiving and Halloween. In the end, 45 different animated Peanuts TV specials were made. Schulz was involved in all the productions, until his death in 2000.
Over the course of those many years, Vince Guaraldi’s score, especially the intro, has become ingrained in so many hearts; it plays like a happy memory. And another bonus, thanks to A Charlie Brown Christmas: never again did any family need to feel embarrassed by a sparse or droopy tree. In fact, they could be proud. Come on, it’s a Charlie Brown Christmas tree!
Still Want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (and other holiday specials)?
In 2001, ABC acquired the rights to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the special began airing annually there instead of on CBS. But now that Apple has acquired Peanuts, pay attention to the certain dates that the holiday specials will be available to non-subscribers FOR FREE through tv.apple.com
- It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown: October 30 – Nov 1.
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: November 25 – November 27
- A Charlie Brown Christmas: December 11 – December 13