This Tuesday, December 6th ABC will air A Charlie Brown Christmas marking its 40th anniversary on television. I don’t think that we children of television fully appreciate the influence this holiday classic (I don’t use the word classic lightly) has on our popular culture. If someone, said "that looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree" you don’t need any explanation. If you hear Vince Guaraldi’s Linus And Lucy someone will mimic the dance moves of one or more of the characters. The only part that of the cartoon that is dated is when Lucy sends Charlie Brown out to get an aluminum tree.
Lucy Van Pelt: Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink.
It is hard to believe that this holiday special that has been airing all of my life was not liked by the brass at CBS, but remember these are the same people who thought that Gilligan's Island might be too highbrow. The network wanted a laugh track, did not like that real children were used to voice the characters (Snoopy was voiced by animator Bill Melendez) and thought the show was too religious (Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14).
Charlie Brown: (shouting in desperation) Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?
Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please. (A spotlight shines on Linus.) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie brown.
After the show aired CBS ordered four more specials. Who knew? Honestly if Charles M. Schulz & Lee Mendelson went to one of the major networks today with the pitch for A Charlie Brown Christmas I would imagine that the response would be, "So, this is a holiday special for kids where the title character is a boy going through holiday depression. Okay, a bit of a downer isn’t it? And this depression stems from people’s greed and the over commercialism of the holiday. Yeah, kinda hard to sell commercial time when you alienate the potential sponsor who is also counting on that consumer greed. See a good Christmas story has to have someone saving the holiday by helping Santa make his flight. In your story the day is saved thanks to a Bible reading. I don’t get it. How does the birth of the baby Jesus inspire kids to save a tree? The tree was cut down, it’s already dead. Sorry this is not for us, but the guys at PAX will love it".