I was only four years old on the night of Thursday, December 9, 1965 (45 years ago!), but to this day, I can tell you where I was and what I was doing – watching the debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas on CBS in our southern California home.
It was an instant hit, much to the surprise of network executives, but surely not to me. (I assumed the whole world was watching!) Creator Charles Schulz argued with the bosses at CBS over a host of issues. At the time of its creation, studio personnel thought it was too religious (Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14) and too amateur (all the voices were of kids, not professional actors). They also believed the theme music was too contemporary for kids’ tastes (Vince Guaraldi’s jazz soundtrack is now a classic and instantly recognizable by all) and that the lack of a laugh track left the production feeling flat and too contemplative, but in an overly simplistic kind of way.
Isn’t it interesting that all the things we like about it are the very things Hollywood didn’t?
I guess the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Not every critic lampooned the production. Harriet Van Horne, of the now defunct New York World-Telegram, wrote in her review that “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”
Little did she know that it would become the highlight of many seasons to come. As a kid, I can remember that feeling of anticipation each year. I’d scour the TV Guide come December looking for and circling the day – and then counting down until the big night arrived. In this age and era of DVDs, DVRs and video on demand, my boys don’t quite understand why a child would breathlessly monitor television listings, but many of you do.
Much has happened and evolved on television and at the movies since 1965. Some good, some bad. Family entertainment is the topic of today’s Focus on the Family broadcast. We’ll be talking about movies, television and music with long-time members of our Plugged In staff. We’ll try to give you a lowdown on some good choices this Christmas season. I think you’ll find the discussion to be very practical. To listen, simply click here.
As long as we’re on the topic, I thought it was a little ironic (and sad) that network producers have in recent years edited down the original version of the Peanuts classic. Did they do it in order to cut out the religious aspect of the show? No, it was simply done to make more room for commercials – the very thing old Charlie Brown was burdened by in the first place!
I came across a list of the edits. If you want to impress your friends with some trivia, here is what ABC (they acquired the show from CBS in 2000) cut from the show, courtesy of writer Leon Lynn:
Gone was Sally’s materialistic letter to Santa, which finally sends Charlie screaming from the room when she says she will settle for 10s and 20s.
Gone was Schroeder’s miraculous multiple renditions of “Jingle Bells” from a toy piano, including the one that sounds distinctly like a church organ.
Gone was Linus using his blanket as an improvised slingshot to knock a can off the fence no one else can hit, complete with ricochet sound effect.
Gone were the kids catching snowflakes on their tongues and commenting on their flavor.
Gone even was poor Shermy’s only line. He thought he had it bad because he was always tasked to play a shepherd. He had no idea.
Lest I end on a down and sour note, take heart and comfort. The special is still available in its entirety (clips can be viewed here and here ) on DVD.
Of course, we all know that however enjoyable a program, Christmas is not about movies or television or entertainment, but rather the world’s greatest birthday celebration for a baby that not only changed civilization – but changed me (and you?), too.