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Originally published in The Gospel Herald
A Charlie Brown Christmas was looked down on by TV executives and criticized for reciting the story of Jesus’ birth and upholding it as the true meaning of the holidays – but 50 years on, the animated feature has become an annual Christmas tradition on television at least once a year all around the world.
According to the Los Angeles Times, though the cartoon special would soon become a holiday classic that “in retrospect seem preordained,” not many were impressed when the animated feature was reviewed by television bigwigs prior to its first airing during the Yuletide holidays of 1965.
CBS screened the feature in New York a week before coming out in December that year. According to the report, the “executives watched in stony silence” and gave television producer Lee Mendelson a condescending and less than enthusiastic response: “Well, you gave it a good try.”
Watch below, the scene in which Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas. You can view the full TV special here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It_ZOyrjN8E
There were other things that the Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz insisted on which producers did not agree with: Schulz hated canned laughter and would under no circumstances use laugh tracks in the feature.
Finally Schulz and Mendelson got into an argument about whether reciting of the story of Jesus’ birth according to the passage in St Luke should even be mentioned, much less declared as the true meaning of Christmas. Schulz was adamant despite Mendelson’s belief that religion should not be mentioned on prime-time entertainment.
In the end, Schulz kept his stand and the rest was history. But he wasn’t the only one who believed in the timelessness of the cartoon.
“One of the animators stood up and said, ‘You guys are crazy. This is going to run for 100 years,'” Mendelson recalled in his biography.
The A Charlie Brown Christmas special had a special quality about its message that made it so enduring that each generation lovingly passed it down to their children, thus ensuring the Peanut special’s longevity.
Wikipedia cites three other lesser known Christmas Peanut specials that did not equal the success of the 1965 original: It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992): This aired on CBS and was released on DVD as a bonus feature with A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002): This aired on ABC and has been released on DVD along with the third special I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003), which also aired on ABC.