“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Premieres

Charlie Brown, left, and Linus with Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the original airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Here are some things you may not have known about the animated television special.

The idea for the special came about in April 1965 when television producer Lee Mendelson was trying to sell a documentary on Charles Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts.” Advertisers and television networks weren’t interested in the documentary, but John Allen of the McCann Erickson advertising agency proposed the idea of a half-hour animated Christmas special to be sponsored by Coca-Cola. Mendelson and Schulz sketched out a basic idea for the special and Mendelson pitched their idea to Coca-Cola five days later. Coke wanted to sponsor the special and air it in early December, which gave them about six months to produce it.

The special was animated by Bill Melendez Productions. Melendez had never worked on a half-hour show before and learned as he went along. It is estimated that the special consists of 13,000 drawings shown at 12 frames per second.

The producers decided to try and use non-actors to voice the roles of Charlie Brown and his schoolmates. Eight-year-old Peter Robbins was cast as Charlie Brown, while Christopher Shea played Linus and Tracy Stratford played Lucy.

The music used in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is noted for its unusual combination of jazz and Christmas music. The now-well-known “Linus and Lucy” theme and most of the other music was performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The soundtrack album was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007 and was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2012 as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically important” recording.

The finishing touches were put on the special just 10 days before it aired on CBS. Lee Mendelson was concerned with the show’s quality, concerns that were amplified when network executives in New York didn’t like the special either. Animator Bill Melendez was embarrassed after seeing it for the first time, telling his animators, “My golly, we’ve killed it.” However one of the animators, Ed Levitt, told Melendez that it is “the best special you’ll ever make,” and that “this show is going to run for a hundred years.”

The show premiered at 7:30 p.m. on December 9, 1965, and was second in the ratings behind an episode of “Bonanza.” The reviews for the show were unanimously positive, hailing it as “delightfully novel and amusing,” “a yule classic,” and “fascinating and haunting.” One critic called the scene in which Linus quotes from the Bible as “quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.” The special won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program.

The special ran yearly on CBS until 2000, when ABC bought the rights. It is usually shown twice a year.

Our question, what product faded in popularity after it was portrayed negatively in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?

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