Sunday 11 December 2016

A Charlie Brown Christmas: It's Going to Run for a Hundred Years

Every year we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas which premiered in 1965.  Charlie Brown, frustrated with the materialism of Christmas, directs a Christmas pageant.  But he feels like he's failed when the centrepiece for the whole play is a sad little evergreen tree with a bit of tinsel draped over it.

It is Linus who reminds him about the true meaning of Christmas.  A spotlight shines on Linus who, holding his blue "companion" blanket, takes the stage.  His speech opens with the words:  "And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night." A hush falls over the audience as we ponder Linus' message, that a baby, born in a lowly manger, has come into the world to save us.

You would think that given the enduring popularity of the TV show, that it would have been a success from the start.  However, A Charlie Brown Christmas had a bit of a rocky beginning.  Here are ten things you may not know about the Christmas special (

1. Director Bill Melendez wanted to make the TV show as genuine as possible.  Therefore, he cast children from his Southern California neighbourhood in all of the roles except Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy.

2.  In pursuit of sincerity, the director had to sacrifice practicality:  some of the children were so young they couldn't even read the script, including Linus, and he had to recite it to them line by line.

Lee with the voice actors and Bill Melendez

3.  Although it was standard practice at the time, Charles Schultz refused to have a laugh track inserted in the show, even walking out of a production meeting at one point.

4.  Charles Schultz, originally, was not a fan of jazz music.  However, it was Vince Guaraldi who had worked on the musical score for A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Schultz had to admit that it gave the show a "childlike, bubbly tone" and for the sake of continuity, he asked Guaraldi to pen the score for the Christmas special too, a score which has now become its trademark.

5.  "The life of Jesus remained for Schulz a consuming subject."  Therefore, he wanted the story from St. Luke of Jesus' birth included in the TV show.  However, Melendez realized that Linus' speech took up an entire minute and suggested that it be cut.  However, Schultz insisted that it remain -- a speech that became the centre of the whole story.

6.  The network executives along with the chief sponsor, Coca Cola found the end product to be wry and melancholy rather than funny and upbeat.  They particularly worried about the TV show's religious overtones.  Therefore, they agreed to air it only once, and be done with it.

7.  Mendelson and Melendez feared that the public would not embrace the Christmas special.  However, "one of the animators -- he had had a couple of drinks -- said, 'It's going to run for a hundred years,' and then fell down.

8.  Snoopy was the easiest to animate and therefore got all of the action scenes.  The Peanuts gang all had large heads which made them difficult to work with.

9.  The original production included a plug for Coca Cola. While Snoopy tosses Charlie Brown and Linus around the ice as they skate, Linus goes flying into a sign advertising the famous soda.  The contract eventually ran out and the Coca Cola sign was replaced with a Danger one.



10.  The drunken animator turned out to be right.  A Charlie Brown Christmas is the second longest running Christmas special of all time (next to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer).  The original airing was watched by 15.4 million people.  TV critics gave it rave reviews.  Schulz and Mendelson earned an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program.  It has aired every year since 1965 and still earns the highest ratings in its time slot.

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