Inside: Fifty-two years ago A Charlie Brown Christmas broke many rules on the way to its debut–and went on to become one of the most beloved Christmas shows, pointing viewers to the real reason for the season.
A Charlie Brown Christmas airs tonight on ABC, but it’s surprising it even made it into the television lineup fifty-two years ago. Looking behind the scenes at the making of the special, Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez encountered many problems in creating this endearing classic.
To start with, the script broke tradition from the standard Christmas programs based on classic literature and Christmas songs by telling an original story.
Coca-Cola, the sponsor of the special, gave Melendez six months to produce it with a budget of $76,000. Compare that to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which had a budget of $300,000 the following year.
Back then it was a common practice for half-hour comedies to have canned laughter or a studio audience. Charles Schulz objected to the laugh track and got his way.
Three weeks before the show was due to air, the network watched the screening and hated it. They felt the pacing was too slow and the story lacked energy. They left the meeting vowing there would be no specials in the future. But when the program finally aired, 15 million households tuned in–about 50 percent of homes which owned televisions were watching. Suddenly the network had a change of heart. (Imagine that.)
Sometimes you have to break the rules of conventional wisdom and take a risk. You might just create a future classic!
Note: Mom sent me one of her daily devotionals that mentioned a subtle symbol in A Charlie Brown Christmas that most people miss. I’ve included the link here for the curious.
Do you have a favorite Christmas special? Tell us about it in the comments.