DAVID BIANCULLI

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Great Grief! "Charlie Brown Christmas" Still the Best
November 27, 2007  | By David Bianculli
 
Charlie Brown and Linus would look at tonight's ABC presentation of A Charlie Brown Christmas (8 p.m. ET), a Peanutsholiday special first broadcast 42 years ago, somewhat differently. In this case, they'd both be correct.

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.

The network presenting this delightful special in 1965 was CBS, which repeated it, proudly and popularly, each year for decades. By the mid-'90s, though, CBS was treating it shabbily, trimming it and speeding it up slightly to squeeze more advertising time into its half-hour time slot.

Eventually, the special was rescued and restored, expanded to a one-hour time slot to accommodate more commercials without harming the flow of the cartoon itself. CBS let the rights for the show slip to ABC, which has presented it ever since.

Shame on CBS for thinking little enough of A Charlie Brown Christmas to let it go. Shame on ABC, too, for broadcasting this quintessential Christmas special just five days after Thanksgiving, far earlier in the season than it deserves.

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.

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.

Two score and two years later, it deserves just as large an audience. Gather the family - and enjoy.

 

2 Comments

 

Diane Werts said:

It's a lee-tle bit closer to Christmas, anyway, when ABC repeats "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on Monday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.

And "I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown" airs on ABC Dec. 10 at 8.

Thought you'd wanna know . . .

Comment posted on November 27, 2007 2:34 PM


Phillip R. Crabb said:

Charlie Brown Christmas stands on it's own. Why on earth would they try to dilute it's proven, 42-year success and traditions with another 'Charlie Brown' holiday special.

It's absurd. Someone is asleep at the wheel, and has no feel for the subject matter they're responsible for.

Despite all efforts to bury this classic, it still generates the ratings, especially with, not surprisingly, the adult demographic who grew up with it.

Gee, maybe next year it will broadcast on Labor Day Weekend....

Comment posted on November 29, 2007 2:19 PM

 
 
 
 
 
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