Sunday, December 01, 2013

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS meets MAD MEN

A holiday tradition is A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and we pretty much have a Mad Man to thank for it. John Allen was a Don Draper at McCann-Erickson in the mid '60s. On behalf of Coca-Cola he was lobbying for Charlie Brown. It would be the first animated adaptation of Charles M. Schultz’s classic PEANUTS comic strip. But Allen had to really twist arms because in typical fashion, CBS hated it.

They thought the animation was awful, the story too thin and depressing, the jazz score inappropriate for kids, and of course wanted a laugh-track. I'm surprised they didn't require a laugh-track on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

And CBS was especially opposed to Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Bible. What the hell is that doing in a Christmas Special?

Oh, and they didn’t like that children were doing the voices of the…uh, children. In other words, all the things that made it distinctive; all the things that made it great. One high-ranking CBS program executive/visionary said it was a “piece of shit”.

And CBS had a lot riding on this. It was going to pre-empt THE MUNSTERS and follow GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The quality had to be top notch to join that pantheon of excellence.

But John Allen pushed and pushed and finally persuaded the reluctant program chief to air the special. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS premiered 48 years ago this month.

And got a 50 share.

It won an Emmy and a Peabody and became an instant holiday classic. I guess children doing the voices of children did not result in a viewer revolt.

CBS began running the special every year (taking credit for it of course). And it achieved the almost unheard of feat of getting higher ratings year after year. By 1969 it was scoring a 53 share.

CBS continued to air the special until 2000. ABC then took over. and has aired it ever since.  They'll show it again tomorrow night at 8:00/7:00 Central. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY ANNIVERSARY CHARLIE BROWN.

And thanks to John Allen.

23 comments:

Mitchell Hundred said...

Is a 50 share good? I'm not joking, I am legitimately ignorant of the jargon.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that a "share" means what percent of the tvs that are on are tuned into that program.

So half of every tv that was turned on, was turned on to that program.

I'd say that's pretty good.

Professor Longnose said...

Now they sell crummy little Christmas trees the size of the one Snoopy picked out with Peanuts pictures on the box.

LouOCNY said...

Only HELLO KITTY comes close to PEANUTS for the amount of licensed stuff they hawk. At least PEANUTS hasn't put out a Snoopy Vibrator like HK...yet

BruceB said...

Funny you should say you're surprised CBS didn't put a laugh track on "Twilight Zone." They did! The episode "Cavender is Coming" featuring Carol Burnett has one, at the insistence of CBS. According to Marc Scott Zicree's book "Twilight Zone Companion," producer Buck Houghton objected so much he refused to attend the dubbing session, but CBS apparently were afraid the viewers wouldn't know it was a comedic episode without the help of a laugh track.

Wayne said...

"At least PEANUTS hasn't put out a Snoopy Vibrator."

The Snoopy Vibrator. "Take that, Pink Baron!"

The Snoopy Vibrator. "Happiness is a warm pu**y."

The Snoopy Vibrator. Remember the football, Charlie Brown? Now you have something to pull away from Lucy at the last second!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Actually, I always hated A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and the kids' voices were the reason. I wanted it to have the voices of the great actors who played off-Broadway in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN: Bob Balaban (Linus), Gary Burghoff (Charlie Brown), Reva Rose (Lucy), et al. But voicing as adults, not as adults pretending to be kids, the way they did in the musical.

wg

LouOCNY said...

"It's the Great Orgasm,Charlie Brown!"

And thank God there would be no opportunity for 'spin off' items, such a vibrating security blanket...or the special model made with Peppermint Patty and Marcie on it...

Jeffro said...

Good grief, Wayne!

Thanks, John Allen.

And Charles Schulz too!

Tim W. said...

I may be in the minority, but I've never liked the Charlie Brown Christmas. I thought it was depressing as hell.

John H said...

I always thought that Charles Schulz was a morose individual and that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" wasn't the "laff riot" that I usually liked at the time, but it was what it was. And I've loved it for fifty years, though I haven't seen it in a while. I'll make a point of watching it this year.

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

If you'll forgive the author of The Peanuts Collection a few minor corrections here: while A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first animated special based around Peanuts, it was not the first "animated adaptation"; that honor would go to ads for the Ford Falcon years earlier. And perhaps more practically important: the wonderful special is not airing tonight. The season's first airing will be tomorrow at 8 PM (in most time zones) on ABC.

Lee said...

@Wendy Grossman: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN was two years off when A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS premiered.

Anonymous said...

On the flip side of the coin called irony CBS thinks CSI is the HOTTEST SHOW ever right?

LIKE HOT HOT HOT! Just HOT! It is sooooo HOT! HOT! I mean HOT!

Spin offs, closeups & actor labor disputes oh my!

Ken Levine said...

I say it will be airing tomorrow night.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Wendy,

You mean you didn't...
Like the way...
The kids talked...
In the specials...
with Charlie Brown?

The smaller children were recorded sometimes one line at a time, others were professionals and I assume were speaking in a way that made them all sound similar.

Dick Beals (voice of "Speedy Alka-Selter") told me that he read for Charlie Brown and was going to do the voice until Schulz objected because he wanted the cast to be all kids.

LouOCNY said...

John H- Schulz was not particularly remorse, he just your basic taciturn Upper Midwest Norwegian

Dbenson said...

Amusing irony: You can now get lawn inflatables not only of Snoopy and his decorated doghouse, but of Charlie Brown and Lucy playing Joseph and Mary in their little pageant.

Also reproductions of the little tree bent by one ornament. Perhaps to sit in the window next to the "Christmas Story" leg lamp.

Storm said...

My favourite line in the whole thing is still "All I want is what I have coming to me! All I want is my fair share!", and it's the little's girl's delivery, the genuine tone of it, that kills me every time.

While I may disagree with you on this one topic, Ms. Grossman, I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy your healthy and incisive skepticism. Although I still what can be labelled as a "believer in the paranormal", I do so with a healthy dose of skepticism missing from my more credulous youth; you gotta have some pretty outstanding evidence to convince me of something weird these days, and I have the work of people like yourself and your colleagues to thank. (But I still love a good weirdo/Fortean tale, and have seen some shit that would turn you WHITE! ;)

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Charles H. Bryan said...

I remember watching the special when I was a kid in the 60s and not liking it -- I did find it kind of a bummer then. So, it looks like the CBS execs and a four year old me had quite a bit in common. But I do remember liking Mannix. Seriously. I was a weird kid.

Of course, this was about the same time - around age four, I think -- that I woke up on the living room couch late on Christmas Eve and caught mom stuffing the stockings over the fireplace and pointing at her and saying "There's no Santa! There's no Santa! It's just you!", and my mom didn't try to come up with any "No, I'm just Santa's helper" weaseling, she just admitted that there was no Santa and she and dad bought the stuff at Sears. Years later, she was disappointed to hear that I chose atheism. Was it wrong for me to say "Well, Mom, I think it all goes back to finding out that Santa was a lie"?

However, now I like the special. I don't make a point of watching it each year, but I do like to catch it now and then.

Anonymous said...

50 share is good. With three networks, I guess a 33 share is typical. I think the record is the episode of Cosby Show where he goes to buy a car. The trailer was
Cliff deals a steal and then 'Hey Dr Huxtable'

roger said...

@ BruceB

Yes, CBS insisted on a laugh track for TZ's "Cavender is Coming," but the episode was meant to be a backdoor pilot for a new sitcom starring Jesse White -- hence the laugh track.

JED said...

I watched the show again last night and, as with many wonderful things, I found that I liked it even more than I did in previous viewings.

I love the children's voices. They don't oversell it like adults pretending to be children do in the majority of animated features. Also, the voices match perfectly with the not-so-wonderful animation. It made the whole thing seem like it was made by the kids - just like their production of the Christmas pageant.

The first time I saw it, at fourteen years old, the one thing I wasn't sure of was the music. It didn't seem right. But right after "Christmas Time is Here" was over, I was sold. It's now my favorite secular Christmas song.

And Linus' reading of Luke 2:8-14 brings me to tears. I've never heard an adult do it better.

Jim Dodd