15 December 2011

Charles Shulz nailed it: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Forty-six years on and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" continues to thrive as a favorite of holiday television programming.

Mark W. Benjamin calls it, "It is a testament to what television programming can be: contemplative, unpretentious and, above all, respectful of the intelligence and innocence of its audience."

A Charlie Brown Christmas" first aired on CBS, 7:30 p.m.on December 9, 1965, sponsored by Coca Cola.

Benjamin explains,

"The director, Lee Mendelson, found kids with no professional experience, ages 6 to 9, to do the voices. Some of them could not yet read a script.

Charles Schulz agreed to write the screenplay. He had never written one before. Then he declared that there would be no laugh track, something unheard of in the day.

Then he included a scene in which Linus read from the Gospel of Luke. Melendez argued against it: "You can't have the Bible on television."

Schulz countered: "If we don't do it, who will?" And so they did.

Predictably, the show fell behind schedule as the animators worked feverishly to complete it. CBS had been heavily plugging the special without quite knowing what they would be showing.

When they finally got a private screening, they were horrified.

The special opened with Charlie Brown moaning, "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I don't feel happy."

A child says this? It got worse. No laugh track. Jazz music. Wobbly children's voices. Linus quoting from the Bible and then proclaiming, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Worst of all, Charlie Brown constantly inveighs against the crass commercialism of the Christmas season. What would the sponsors think?

The CBS execs didn't laugh once. They declared it a flop; they would air the film once and then consign it to a can, never to see the light of day again.

They were wrong.

Several months later, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" won Peabody and Emmy awards.

1 comment:

Woven and Spun said...

I love "A Charlie Brown Christmas?! Love it. Managed to snaffle a copy of the soundtrack in a Starbucks in Sydney many years ago and play it over & over every year.
Thanks for the interesting facts regarding its development. Those tv execs really don't know diddly squat about what people really want . . .