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50 years of 'a little love' from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'




A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Meléndez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. 

Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special aired on CBS from its debut in 1965 through 2000, and has aired on ABC since 2001. For many years it aired only annually, but is now telecast at least twice during the Christmas season. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody award.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is also one of CBS's most successful specials, airing annually more times on that network than even MGM's classic motion picture The Wizard of Oz. 

Created by: Charles M. Schulz
 
Directed by: Bill Meléndez
 
Voices:
Peter Robbins: Charlie Brown 
Chris Shea: Linus van Pelt 
Tracy Stratford: Lucille
A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Meléndez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special aired on CBS from its debut in 1965 through 2000, and has aired on ABC since 2001. For many years it aired only annually, but is now telecast at least twice during the Christmas season. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody award. A Charlie Brown Christmas is also one of CBS's most successful specials, airing annually more times on that network than even MGM's classic motion picture The Wizard of Oz. Created by: Charles M. Schulz Directed by: Bill Meléndez Voices: Peter Robbins: Charlie Brown Chris Shea: Linus van Pelt Tracy Stratford: Lucille "Lucy" van Pelt Kathy Steinberg: Sally Brown Chris Doran: Schroeder and Shermy Geoffrey Ornstein: Pig-Pen Karen Mendelson: Patty (not the same as Peppermint Patty) Sally Dryer: Violet Gray Ann Altieri: Frieda Bill Meléndez: Snoopy Theme music composer: Vince Guaraldi Composer: Vince Guaraldi Country of origin: USA Original airing December 9, 1965
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In 1965 the animated holiday special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" first aired on television. 

ABC will be celebrating the golden anniversary by airing the show Monday at 9 p.m., along with an additional feature entitled "It's your 50th Christmas Charlie Brown" with host Kristen Bell at 8 p.m.

These days, it's hard to think of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as anything less than a holiday classic, but according to Lee Mendelson, who produced the special along with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and director Bill Melendez, no one expected that it would ever get the amount of attention that it did.

"I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown," Melendes says. "The network didn't like it either. They thought it was too slow. We thought it was going to be a one time and out."

Their doubts couldn't have been more wrong.

Mendelson's relationship with Schulz began when he called him up with the idea to create a documentary about the Peanuts comic strip. The finished documentary attracted the attention of  a certain popular brand.

"Coca-Cola called," Mendelson recalls. "They had seen our documentary and liked it and they said, 'Have you folks ever thought about doing a Christmas show?' and I said, 'Absolutely!'"

All that was left was to get Schulz on board with the idea.

"I called Mr. Schulz and I said, 'I think I just sold A Charlie Brown Christmas.' and he said, 'What in the world is that?' and I said 'That's something you're going to write tomorrow!'"

The production was a major risk. In addition to having children voice the main characters, Mendelson decided to have jazz-musician Vince Guaraldi create the music.

He knew it was the right decision the first time he heard Guaraldi play the classic song, "Linus and Lucy."

"I remember saying this is going to change Vince's life and my life," Mendelson says. "Why I thought that, I have no idea."

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is full of moments that have resonated with audiences. Mendelson says that his personal favorite comes when Linus wraps his blanket around Charlie Brown's scrawny little tree. 

"[Linus] says, 'All it needs is a little love.' That's always the line that I remember the most" Mendelson says. "I thought that particular line was very very important."

To hear the entire interview, click on the blue player above.