DAVID BIANCULLI

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'Charlie Brown Christmas': TV's Best Holiday Special Mistreated Again
December 5, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 

[Tue Dec 6 UPDATE:

Thanks to all of you who responded so quickly and passionately -- on Twitter, here and even in other blogs and posts -- about ABC's mistreatment of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

One reader, Scott McGuire, even has his own web page devoted to Peanuts TV specials, which you can reach HERE. Here's what he wrote TV WORTH WATCHING about my own Peanuts column, which is printed below this update:

"I appreciated your latest blog entry regarding ABC's decision to air A Charlie Brown Christmas in a half-hour slot this evening. It's certainly something ABC should be taken to task for and I'm glad to see you did so, unlike so many other sites that are just announcing it as a special to watch tonight.

"I wasn't sure if you were aware of this or not, but I thought it might be worth mentioning in the article (or a perhaps a followup) that ABC will be airing the unedited A Charlie Brown Christmas on Thursday December 15 from 8-9 p.m. ET.

"It's still rather dumb that ABC is airing the edited version of the special as the initial broadcast, when most people will watch it, and the complete version for the repeat broadcast, but at least watching a complete version 'live' on TV is still possible, if people know the date to tune in.

"Also, this is the second time ABC has pulled this stunt (showing an edited version of A Charlie Brown Christmas first, then the unedited version second) - they did it in 2009 as well, when they had the first Prep & Landing special to promote.

"I'm a regular reader of your blog and always enjoy it (in addition to being some guy obsessed with Peanuts TV shows)."

And John Kiesewetter, an old friend and TV critic from the Cincinnati Enquirer, reposted and wrote about the same issue HERE. Thanks, John.

And now, on to the original column... - DB]

--

A Charlie Brown Christmas, broadcast by CBS in 1965, was and remains the best holiday TV special ever made. Even in an age of DVRs and Blu-Ray, gathering the family to watch Linus, Snoopy and the gang, even with commercial intrusions, is one of the few annual television traditions we have left.

charlie-brown-and-tree.jpg

But CBS, after showing the animated special reliably and proudly for decades, undervalued it and sold it to ABC, which restored it and put it in a respectful one-hour time slot. But now, as ABC televises it Monday night at 8 ET, that network, too, is disrespecting a classic...

ABC, since acquiring A Charlie Brown Christmas from CBS, used to present the special in a one-hour time slot. And with good reason: Back in the 1960s, a lot less commercial time was allowed in each hour, so a 30-minute special then, crammed into a 30-minute slot today, would have to lose scenes, as well as be sped up electronically in places to fit all the ads. Ho ho ho.

(For a fast trip down memory lane, click HERE to see what my BIANCULLI'S BEST BETS page looked like in 2008, touting ABC's one-hour telecast.)

And yet, in 2011, ABC is doing what CBS used to do, and is cramming this first, perfect Peanuts
special into a 30-minute slot, to make room for a new Prep & Landing Christmas special.

charlie-brown-christmas-pig.jpg

Bah, humbug!

Good grief!

Rats!

Back on Nov. 27, 2007, the opening month of TV WORTH WATCHING, I wrote about A Charlie Brown Christmas, praising ABC for rescuing the show but complaining about televising it so early in the season.

Now I find myself pointing out that ABC is following in CBS's footsteps -- and both networks, by not treasuring this iconic TV special, are treading down the wrong path.

In the spirit of holiday reruns, you can read my original November 2007 column about A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the true meaning of that unparalleled Charles Schulz special, by clicking HERE.

But here are some key excerpts:

--

Linus, the faithful optimist, would see the true meaning of this TV special. He'd say that it's one of the few places left, other than the Super Bowl and American Idol, where entire families can and will gather annually to enjoy a television show together. But A Charlie Brown Christmas isn't a competition. It's a celebration.

Charlie Brown Christmas image 1

Charlie Brown, the perpetual frowner whose most common exclamation is "Good grief!," would say it's one more example of a TV network not recognizing, much less treasuring, its own heritage...

--

Just because the networks take this show for granted, though, don't make the same mistake. The simplicity of the animation, all these years later, is charming, not quaint. The music, by the Vince Guaraldi trio, is as infectious as ever: "Christmas Time is Here," sung by children, is angelic, and "Linus and Lucy" is about as happy as musical notes can sound.

Charlie Brown Christmas image 2

Most important, there's the message of the special itself, written by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Where Super Bowls and American Idol finals are hyped massively, A Charlie Brown Christmas actually bemoans, and lectures against, the juggernaut of commercialization. And when Charlie Brown, at rehearsal for the school holiday pageant, asks discouragingly if anyone knows the true meaning of Christmas, Linus explains it to him - by walking to center stage of the auditorium, waiting for the spotlight, and quoting from scripture.

(To see this, play the YouTube video at the top of today's new 2011 column. YouTube wasn't showing this sort of stuff in 2007.)

No TV special made today would get away with that. But Schulz held firm, and when A Charlie Brown Christmas was unveiled - back when both James Bond and the Beatles were young - his first Peanuts special was seen in half the TV homes using television that night. And deserved to be...


7 Comments

 

Eileen said:

This is just another blatant example of the tv networks' disrespect and disregard for the American tv viewer. I guess they think the viewing public won't even notice. I'm sure they could make an hour, heck probably an hour and a half for, say, "A Kardashian Kristmas Karol". And what other family in tv land speaks so well to American values and tradition?

In my home, and I'm sure millions across America, there are three holiday traditions (in no particular order): A Christmas Story (TBS), It's A Wonderful Life (NBC) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC). TBS, bless them one and all, actually runs A Christmas Story for 24 hours leading up to Christmas Day (can't ever get enough of Darren McGavin).

I'm wishing PBS had gotten the rights to this show. They could air it during the day with their children's programming, and again in the evening for adults who would watch it with or without children present. I'd even cut PBS a break and let them show it during their fundraising efforts if it meant letting this show run in it's real length.

As they sing in Fiddler on the Roof -- TRADITION.

[Don't even joke about a Kardashian holiday special. It's bad enough she made the list of Barbara Walter's most fascinating people of 2011. Shudder. - DB]

 

Comment posted on December 5, 2011 11:30 AM


Brian said:

ABC is showing it again on Thursday December 15th in an hour long format with a Prep & Landing short to fill the rest of the hour) according to my TV Guide

Comment posted on December 5, 2011 3:22 PM


Mac said:

A good bit of the charm of "CBC" is its pacing, something I noticed on the very first broadcast. As a teen raised on Looney Tunes and also someone who read "Peanuts" every day (while discovering the '50s strips in book collections), the pace of the show was startling. Quiet parts and no laugh track?This was a cartoon? It took its own sweet time to get to Linus' comment that still makes this agnostic well up in tears: "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." The last few minutes when the gang remake the tree seem almost tacked on, as if even Schulz knew what ever came after that statement would look like a coda. But Charlie does get his time and space to soak in the impact of Linus' words. It could have ended there,with CB looking in the stars. Time & space. Not another ad.
The post-"CBC" world has some interesting things in it. For one,notice the ready availability of "Charlie Brown Christmas trees" everywhere, going for just a few bucks. Now, Schulz in his prime almost out Disney-ed Disney with merchandise, but it seems that when someone got the idea to merchandise these years ago, they were catalog-only items for big bucks.Now, available everywhere, and even cheaper Dec. 26th.
Also, the playing of Guaraldi's music on all-Christmas format radio proves some interesting moments for someone who has had the LP in his personal collection for over 40 years (an original pressing rescued from a clearance table in 1969).First, the jauty "Linus & Lucy" theme, which harked back to before the Christmas special (it was recorded for the documentary,"A Boy Named Charlie Brown"), is treated as any other Christmas song, even though it has nothing to suggest either Christ or Santa (plays best in the Halloween special). But because it's from the soundtrack and scores high recognition, it goes into the rotation. Also, the original instrumental of "Christmastime is Here" gets equal treatment. What's interesting about this is the slow groove set by the drummer's brushes. It's one thing to hear Nat,Bing & Frank again on radio for a few weeks, but the plodding, poorly edited master take on modern radio must drive programmers nuts. But since it, too, scores high recognition, it survives, though even in its day, no station would play anything from the special.

[Great comments, and great insights, too. Personally, if I could play "Linus & Lucy" on the piano, I'd be a happy guy. But even just listening to it makes me smile. - Always. DB]

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 8:45 AM


Phillip R. Crabb said:

Well, here we are again, Dave...

Clearly, nobody is in charge who has any perception of the magnitude of what these programs mean to tangible individual and family holiday traditions.

Back in the day, these were shows that were talked about in school, after church, and on the playground in the days leading up to their broadcast.

Certainly, in these days of technology with DVD's, Netflix, and on-demand viewing...it's incredibly significant that these shows (Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph in particular) still compel sit-down family viewing in front of a regular television broadcast. We don't even sit down anymore for the Nightly News...

But even now, they are diluting the significance of these shows in what seems to be very obtuse ways.

Back in the day, these shows were broadcast once...just once. No second chances, so you did everything you could to adjust your schedule to watch the show, which made it special..

And, back then at least, they broadcast them in some coordinated timing fashion that put them right smack in the middle of the 'Christmas Build Up' that every little kid probably enjoys as much as the Holiday itself.

But, this year again....Rudolph was broadcast in, hello, November....I mean, what is up with that..?
Does Led Zeppelin open up a concert with Stairway to Heaven?

And with Charlie Brown being cut up to accommodate commercial breaks...well, it looks as if there are broadcasting these show because they are 'expected' to...and nothing else...no thought at all put into this.

They must have people in charge that have no concept of what these shows meant 45 years ago, and why so many of us still watch and try to push down that legacy to our children...

But it's hard to suggest something 'special' when they can just see it again in a couple weeks...

I'm telling ya' Dave...they need you and me in charge for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas...and that 'period' wouldn't start anything prior to December 10th or so...

With Christmas on a Sunday this year...they would have had a whole contiguous week to ramp up to the big day...

How about the Sunday before (18-DEC) starting off the expanded prime-time with:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at 7:00pm
Charlie Brown Christmas at 8:00pm
The Grinch at 8:30pm
White Christmas at 9:00 - 11:00pm

Then to bed because you have school tomorrow..

During the week, bring back a classic 60's Holiday Show each night...

Red Skelton
Jackie Gleason
Bob Hope
Andy Williams
Bing Crosby

Saturday morning (23-DEC) put all the old Terry-Tunes Christmas cartoons on, like when Saturday used to be for the kids...

Saturday night...

"A Wonderful Life"
Kids to bed, toys out during the Network News
Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's with all the dignataries, regardless of religion, attending..

Wake up on Christmas morning...

Turn on the Yule Log on WPIX and sip on hot chocolate


It's really not that complicated...you just need those who have the first hint of the season and a memory of why what they did was so special 45 years ago, to get things right...

Happy Holidays Dave!
Keep up the fight..!

Phil
Franklin (Sussex County), New Jersey

[Dear Phil -- I wish you were running a cable network. How about one called TV WORTH WATCHING? And I especially loved your Stairway to Heaven analogy. Thanks! And happy holidays to you, too. - DB]

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 4:59 PM


Rich said:

Speaking as someone who has worked for over 5 years in video stores I can tell you that since this Charlie Brown special has been available on VHS & DVD for years the networks are probably aware that most kids watch this "special" 3-8 times a season.

There is NO exclusivity for CBS or ABC to show this when most parents own it already. Maybe if someone made a live action version with real kids & a CG Snoopy it'd be a exciting event but the core audience of viewers already own this at home. This argument is true for "Rudolf" & "Frosty". There is NO shortage of viewings it's just this 'special' gets played to death a week before Xmas just in rentals.

There's like 10 versions of "A Christmas Carol" (some are Amazing & others BAD!) but everyone has their version (Mine is the George C. Scott as Scrooge) for others it's Aliester Simm or even the Muppets. There is only 1 Peanuts Xmas special and everyone's seen it. This is why Disney puts their 'classics' in a Vault.

I agree with the Edited vs. 1 Hour version argument you make however, isn't it ironic that a 'Special' about the over-commercialism of Xmas has become over-commercialized for all the wrong reasons. Someone could make a 'special' about over-commercializing a special but to do that effectively would take an Xmas Miracle.

[Rich, the one point with which I take issue is this: Whenever a network reruns Charlie Brown, even today, the broadcast usually wins its time slot. So clearly, there are millions who still remember, and want to carry on, the tradition of gathering the family to watch something the way they remember doing it as kids. Yes, we all have, or can get, copies -- but sometimes, its viewing, and the manner of viewing, is driven as much by nostalgia as convenience. - DB]

 

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 11:21 PM


Mara said:

This is another Best Bets comment... I just finished Monday's episode of Enlightened, and I found it to be one of the more well-done half hours of television that I've seen in a long time. You have recommended Enlightened at times, but missed on this one. It was a fantastic episode of what I consider to be one of the two best shows of the season (Homeland being the other, of course).

Oh, and it's also a travesty what ABC is doing to Charlie Brown!

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 11:35 PM


Eileen said:

Thanks for mentioning The History Channel's special along with TCM's showing of From Here to Eternity in today's Best Bets. I'm happy that there are actually programmers who remember today and its significance for all Americans, past and present.

Frank Sinatra's Oscar set him back on the path of fame and glory, but let's not forget Donna Reed also won for Best Supporting Actress, and her role was such a departure (as was Deborah Kerr's) that she deserved to win.

I loved your mention of The History Channel actually showing a show about history. Remember when A&E had that wonderful show, Biography? Or The Learning Channel actually screened things you could learn?

As I scanned my TWC tv guide last night I was shocked, I repeat, shocked to note that The Discovery Channel was airing a new reality show: Moonshiners!!

I weep for creativity and the future of television.

[Maintain hope, Eileen. Creativity and the future of television will be fine -- the good stuff will be harder to find, but it'll be there. And finding it is my best hope of job security... - DB]

Comment posted on December 7, 2011 12:33 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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