While A Charlie Brown Christmas might not be my favorite classic holiday special, it’s hard to deny its legendary status in pop culture. Originally airing on CBS in 1965, it’s currently secured by ABC which runs it at least twice a year in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Love it or hate it, it’s kind of impossible to imagine a world without A Charlie Brown Christmas. But apparently we came pretty close to just that. In Reddit’s TIL (“Today I Learned”) subreddit this morning, someone posted an interesting NPR article from back in 2006 that details the rocky start A Charlie Brown Christmas had with the network and why it almost never even happened.
The special, which was the first animated Peanuts special, was intended to be a vehicle to showcase the jazz music of composer Vince Guaraldi, who producer Lee Mendelson had previously worked with in a televised Charles Schultz documentary. The two men, along with animator Bill Melendez had a very clear idea of what direction they wanted to go with the special, but CBS basically hated everything about it.
Aside from not loving the the jazz music for an animated kids holiday special, CBS abhorred the idea of using regular kids’ voices (who went uncredited) as opposed to child actors. Plus, there’s the messaging about materialism, that — in addition to being somewhat mature subject matter for young kids — couldn’t have initially sat well with advertisers. And even Bill Melendez apparently tried to talk Charles Schultz out of the Jesus-y stuff, but Schultz wasn’t having it. As such, what is considered to be one of the more powerful moments of the special is when Linus goes on to recite scripture directly taken from Luke 2:10.
CBS was also nervous about airing an animated children’s special without a laugh track, which was unheard of at the time. Just to be safe they even insisted on producing a version with a laugh track, although they never ended up airing it due to the immediate success of the broadcast version.
But somehow, despite the non-kid acting voices, absence of a laugh track, biblical references and anti-commercialism, Mendelson, Melendez and Schultz were able to make the special they wanted. But even then, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson thought for sure the special was going to flop after viewing the rough cut. Of course, that turned out not to be the case, and the rest, shall we say, is history. Thanks to the long-standing success of the special, that’s why today you can even buy your very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree on Amazon and shipped to you by a worker probably forced into mandatory holiday overtime.
Merry Christmas, everybody!