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"A Charlie Brown Christmas"

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One of the most well-known television specials is "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which premiered on December 9, 1965 and has been shown on American TV at least once each year since.

Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz wrote the story. His friends Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson served as director and producer. Jazz composer Vince Guaraldi wrote the music. And real-life children voiced the lines of the characters.

The 25-minute special showcases the main character, Charlie Brown, struggling with the commercialization of Christmas. He is surrounded by bright, shining lights and stark reminders (including from his own sister) of how the holiday has become all about receiving presents. (Indeed, Sally Brown asks her brother to help her write a letter to Santa Claus, complete with an appeal for money.)

Most of the main characters from the popular comic strip appear in the special:

  • Lucy plays her role as amateur psychiatrist.
  • Schroeder plays the piano in a few memorable scenes.
  • Snoopy plays his role as a thorn in Charlie Brown's side, including winning first prize for an over-the-top decoration of his doghouse.
  • Other main characters appear in the rehearsals for the Christmas play that Lucy insists that Charlie Brown direct.
  • And, of course, Linus, Charlie Brown's most loyal friend, provides moral support, as well as a Biblical reading that tells the story of shepherds and angels and other familiar elements of the story of the birth of Jesus, after which he says, "That's what Christmas is all about."

The show appeared largely as Schulz wrote it and Melendez and Mendelson illustrated and directed and produced it. It was a hard sell to the TV network, CBS, for a number of reasons:

  • It quoted directly from the Bible, which TV executives thought would alienate some viewers.
  • It gently railed against the commercialization of Christmas, which was perpetuated by big businesses and others likely to sponsor TV shows.
  • Children, not adults, provided the voices. This was a departure from normal practice for a TV show.
  • The music was jazzy and seemed to some network executives to clash with the theme of Christmas, religious or commercial.

Yet Schulz and company insisted on keeping their vision and found a willing sponsor in Coca-Cola. Peanuts was already a household name, and the network begrudgingly aired the special as it was.

A full half of American televisions were tuned to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that night. The show was the second-most popular show of the week, behind only ratings powerhouse "Bonanza," and later won an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award.

Far from being a clash, the jazz background music has become a staple of holiday radio fare. "Linus and Lucy" appeared as the musical theme in other Charlie Brown TV specials. "Christmas Time Is Here" has become a popular song in its own right.

Later broadcasts removed the references to Coca-Cola, which included hand-drawn advertisements shown during and after the main events of the story..

 


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