A Christmas Special That Almost Never Was
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a holiday classic that might have never happened. Who could have predicted such difficult beginnings for one of the longest-running cartoon specials in the history of television? Debuting in 1965 and playing every year since, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became the first of nearly fifty “Peanuts®” television movies to delight millions of viewers.
Nobody Wanted “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
It all started a couple of years earlier in 1963 when a producer named Lee Mendelson made a short documentary feature about Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts®”. That documentary was called, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” and it included a few animated segments by Bill Melendez with jazz music by Vince Guaraldi. Incredibly, no television network wanted to air the show. Then, in 1965, “Peanuts®” made the cover of Time Magazine and an advertising agent for Coca-Cola contacted Mendelson about creating a “Peanuts®” Christmas special. In order to take advantage of the opportunity, Mendelson said that he already had one-which little white lie he quickly rectified. The following day, he and Schulz quickly met and developed the storyline for “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Comes Together
The basic idea for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” came together within a few hours. Schulz and Mendelson drew on favorite “Peanuts®” themes, such as ice-skating, and life experiences of the two authors, such as flubbing parts in the Christmas pageant, which had happened to both Schulz and Mendelson in their youth. Of course “A Charlie Brown Christmas” would have to have Christmas carols and Guaraldi’s signature jazz music. Shultz, a religious man, insisted that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” center on the true message of Christmas-the joy of Jesus’ birth.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Had Its Critics
From the outset, television executives hated “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If it was going to happen, only one man could apparently make it happen, and that man was Charles Schulz. He managed to push “A Charlie Brown Christmas” through even at critics’ hammering it. They criticized it for:
- Being too religious-Linus quotes right from the biblical Christmas story in Luke, Chapter 2
- Featuring contemporary jazz, an unconventional choice for an animated show.
- Not having a laugh track.
- Using the voices of real children (although Snoopy’s voice was that of Melendez).
Viewers Loved “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Few shows can boast the instant success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” On Thursday, December 9, 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was broadcast to more than 15 million homes-half the available audience. Delighted people all over America tuned in to watch the always-unlucky and self-depreciating Charlie Brown become repelled by commercialism that is overwhelming his wonderful Christmas season. He tries to find the true meaning of Christmas, so he decides to direct a school play depicting the birth of the baby Jesus. He tries to find a nice Christmas tree for his play, but he chooses instead a pitiful little twig that makes him the laughing stock of his friends.
This sweet and simple story touched a universal chord, and an enduring Christmas classic was born. After, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired applause came from both viewers and reviewers alike-and no more criticism! “A Charlie Brown Christmas” went on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program, and a Peabody Award for excellence in programming. Not bad for a show no one wanted. [Courtesy of www.holidaydecorations.com]