A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Premiering December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a holiday fave for both young and old. This animated Christmas special has proved itself as timeless, having aired for more than 47 years. Like many early television-aired shows, though, this Peanuts special has an interesting history.
This special was the Peanuts comic strip’s first animated special and was produced by Bill Melendez (formerly of Warner Bros.), who also provided the voice of Snoopy. Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, it aired on CBS until the year 2001, when ABC took over. The show’s production was done on a “shoestring” budget in just six months, so the animation itself was choppy and the sound poor. Some of the children whom provided voices had never acted before. The girl who voice Sally, for example, couldn’t read and needed to be cued a line at a time. Many other issues arose, such as arguments over Linus’ recital of the birth of Christ and the soundtrack.
Reportedly, producers told the production team they would air the special, but wouldn’t order further ones, saying “We’ve just ruined Charlie Brown.” Execs also didn’t think Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack would work. Ironically, Guaraldi wrote “Linus and Lucy’, a song which became the “trademark” music for Peanuts, in just two weeks.
A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on a Thursday night between Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters. It was a hit – half of US TV sets were tuned in – and critics said none of the technical issues distracted from the show’s commercial appeal. Linus’ recital was considered the highlight of the show.
Watch an original promo for the special:
The special went on to win a Peabody in 1966, and two Emmy awards that same year (Outstanding Children’s Program and Special Classification of Individual Achievements for Charles M Schulz). In 2009 it was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD.
Like many early TV specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas also served as advertising. In its uncut form (which was aired from 1965-1967), the opening and closing credits referenced Coca-Cola. When the sponsorship was dropped certain elements were removed, including:
- Linus’ crashing into a Coca-Cola sign during the opening credits.
- A voice over during the closing credits which says, “Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola.”
- A Coca-Cola can during the scene when some of the characters try to knock cans off a fence (that can is now blank).
In the ’90s, CBS made additional cuts. The network removed a closing Christmas carol and cut out dialog of characters picking on Charlie Brown for choosing a small tree. When ABC acquired airing rights, it restored them. In the late 2000s more cuts were made for time limitations. This is why the special edition DVDs are so popular.
Take a look at this short yet detailed documentary on the making of A Charlie Brown Christmas:
Did you grow up watching this holiday classic? Share your memories below.