“Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year”
Christmas time is here, and that means it’s time for the annual airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There are many children’s Christmas Classics, but only one that actually quotes scripture and refers to the baby that the season is about. Not only does everyone remember CBC, but they remember its unusual, blues-inspired sound track, by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi. In particular, the instrumental “Linus and Lucy” has come to be regarded as the signature musical theme of all the Peanuts specials. Additionally “Christmas Time is Here” has become a popular Christmas tune.
The special’s jazz album became as ubiquitous as the special itself. A soundtrack album, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” for the special was released by Fantasy Records and remains a perennial best-seller. While the soundtrack contains some music that does not appear in the TV special, it also fails to include two musical themes which appear in the special. Both of those missing themes are, however, available on another album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio entitled Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits 2004.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. CBC premiered Dec. 9, 1965 on CBS. I was six. We were regular readers of Charlie Brown in the newspaper, and even though my mother didn’t approve of comic books, she did buy the collections to encourage my younger brother to read.
The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. A Charlie Brown Christmas is also one of CBS’s most successful specials, airing annually more times on that network 31 times on CBS, but not consecutively as the Charlie Brown special was; between 1968 and 1976, NBC aired the film. The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The strip’s creators, with funding from sponsor Coca-Cola, presented the CBS network with an idea for a Christmas television special starring Schulz’s characters. The production was done on a shoestring budget, resulting in a somewhat choppy animation style and, from a technical standpoint, poorly mixed sound. With the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work. This was especially challenging for Kathy Steinberg, who voiced Sally: she was too young to read and needed to be cued line by line during the soundtrack recording.
The technical issues are in evidence on the show’s audio track, which to some may seem noticeably choppy and poorly enunciated (this is according to Wikipedia; those ‘enunciations’ were one of the reasons the show was so popular with kids). One of the more noticeable quirks in the special include a shot in which Schroeder abruptly stops playing the piano, but several of the characters continue dancing for a couple of seconds. Melendez said he remained somewhat embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, but Schulz vetoed his idea of “fixing” the program years later.
Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision. The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke; The Gospel According to CBS assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible. A story reported on the Whoopi Goldberg-hosted version of the making of the program (see below) that Charles Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking that, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”
Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track (it didn’t need one), a common element of children’s cartoons at the time. Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable, though unauthorized copies have appeared on YouTube – where it can stay.)
A third complaint was the use of children to do the voice acting, instead of employing adult actors. Finally, the executives thought that the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi would not work well for a children’s program. When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a complete flop. How could one network get so many things wrong?
The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965, (today is Dec. 9, 2010 – the 45th anniversary of CBC), preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan’s Island episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.” To the surprise of the executives, it was both a critical and commercial hit. None of the special’s technical problems detracted from the show’s appeal (really?); to the contrary, it was thought that these so-called quirks, along with several other choices, are what lent the show such an innovative, authentic and sincere feeling. For instance, Linus’ recitation was hailed by critics such as Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram who said, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.” Not the show, mind you, the “season.” It says something that the New York World-Telegram went under.
Fifty percent of the televisions (many still in black and white) in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast. A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is considered by many to be a timeless Christmas holiday classic.
In January 2000, one month before Schulz’s death, the broadcast rights were acquired by ABC (as part of a deal between the network and Schulz), which is where the special currently airs (and has aired there since CBS’s final airing of the special on Dec. 25, 2000). On Sept. 12, 2000, the special was released to DVD [it had previously been released on VHS through Shell Oil for sale at their gas stations]. The show enjoyed its 40th anniversary with its broadcast of Dec. 6, 2005. This broadcast had the highest ratings in its time slot.
On Dec. 6, 2001, a half-hour documentary on the special entitled “The Making of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) aired on ABC.
The special has not been seen in its original, uncut form since the first three telecasts in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Much of this is due to the opening and closing credits containing references to Coca-Cola, the show’s original sponsor (I remember that). Specific, acknowledged cuts are:
• The main titles have Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign (complete with the main titles and the creator of this cartoon) after Snoopy has spun both him and Charlie Brown around with Linus’ blanket. In current versions, the viewer never sees where Linus’ trajectory lands him. Instead, they see Charlie Brown landing towards a pine tree which causes more snow to fall on top of him. The removed clip of Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign is seen in a 1965 promo for the film.
• In the “fence” scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket. In the original airing, this was a Coke can, but it was later replaced with a nondescript can.
• The final end credit originally had a voice-over saying, “Brought to you from the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola.” (In those days, nobody minded). This is why the “Hark!” chorus sung at the end trails off oddly before the song would normally end, as an announcer originally did a voice-over at this point in the credits to repeat and reemphasize the local bottler’s well wishes to the TV audience (nobody minded that, either; in fact, it was kind of nice). This edit was never changed, but in newer versions, a quick fade-out and fade-in revealed the “THE END” screen, in order to make the audio-fade seem more natural.
• Although the FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references (let’s not indoctrinate the little Trotskyites in the ways of commercialism; after all, CBC is supposed to be about the negative effects of commercialism) in the context of a story (especially in children’s programming), this had no effect upon the decision to impose these edits. The Coca-Cola product placement elements were removed when the company ceased being the sole sponsor, replaced in 1968 by Dolly Madison snack products, who continued to sponsor the Peanuts specials through the 1980s, along with McDonald’s.
When CBS aired the special in the 1990s, the network made further cuts to the special, including standardizing closing credits (removing the closing carol outright in the process), and trimming out a series of scenes where the characters belittle Charlie Brown for picking a small Christmas tree (cutting straight to laughter), and removing references to commercialism. These cuts were made ostensibly to fit the special into the 30-minute time slot; commercial time per half-hour had increased by approximately 2 minutes between 1965 and the late 1990s.
ABC, upon acquiring the rights to the special in 2000, restored all of these cuts, increasing the length of the special to 32 minutes including commercials. ABC, however, has chosen to insert its commercials into different places in the program than were originally intended (fade-outs and fade-ins where the commercials are supposed to go are clearly evident), resulting in the commercials being haphazardly inserted in the middle of musical numbers or even dialogue.
The full, unedited, version aired once again on Dec. 15, 2009.
* Source: Wikipedia
“’8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.’
“……That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”"