Celebrate the joy of the holidays with the classic animated special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," tonight at 7:00 p.m. Central Time on CBS. Charlie Brown and his search for the meaning of Christmas are pop-culture icons. But do you know the story behind the story?
In April of 1965, an ad exec contacted tv producer Lee Mendelson. Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special. Did they have anything in the works? Mendelson's emphatic answer was "Absolutely". His next phone call was to Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, to inform him that he had four days to write a Peanuts Christmas special. After Coke approved the idea, Schultz, Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez scrambled to produce the special in only six months.
When the final product was delivered, CBS Programming Exec. Fred Silverman was less than thrilled. A jazz soundtrack, voices done by non-professional children rather than actors, and scripture voiced by a cartoon combined to make an atypical children's special. However, since the tv schedule had already been published, CBS had no choice but to air it anyway and hope for the best.
What ensued took everyone by surprise. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the second most watched show that week, with an unblievable 49% market share. (If you're wondering, Bonanza was the #1 show.) The show went on to win both an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Programing and a Peabody Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television. Charlie Brown and the gang have helped America celebrate Christmas every year since.
Watching a Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season. I have it on DVD and in book form - both regular and pop-up versions. I often identify with Charlie as he struggles with the commercialization and ponders the true meaning of Christmas. Not that I'm against the more commercial aspects of the celebration. If you've visited here before, you probably know that I'm a Christmas nut. I love the music, the decorations, the lights, the tv specials and Santa Claus. But the Peanuts characters remind me to stop amidst all the rush and glitter to consider "what Christmas is all about." The answer can be found in Luke 2:8-14. Listen to Linus recite those amazing words and have a truly Merry Christmas.
Bonus trivia: In the opening scene of the program, we see the characters skating and playing Crack the Whip. Charlie Brown and Linus are at the end of the line and are sent sliding across the ice. Charlie Brown slides into a tree and snow falls on his head, but we never see where Linus lands. Do you know why?
In the original version, Linus slides into a Coca-Cola sign - an extra bit of advertising for the sponsors. Since Coke is no longer the exclusive sponsor, that scene was cut. And now you know....the rest of the story.