Lee Habeeb writes a story for National Review about how the now-classic TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” almost didn't make it to broadcast. Apparently the executives at CBS, which had commissioned the 1965 special, were horrified by several aspects of the production: There was no laugh track; the only voices used were those of children; they thought the Vince Guaraldi jazz soundtrack wasn’t young enough. Worst of all, they knew Americans wouldn’t sit through a reading of the King James Bible, as Linus recited the Christmas story from Luke 2:18-14.
However, there wasn’t much time to make changes, and when Charles Schulz insisted it stay as he wrote it, the CBS brass reluctantly decided to let it go to air, sure it would flop.
“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special,” explained producer-director Bill Melendez. “They basically wrote it off [as though] 'Hey, this is just isn’t going to be interesting to anyone, and it’s just going to be like a big tax write-off.”
Habeeb writes: “The half-hour special aired on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965, preempting 'The Munsters' and following 'Gilligan’s Island.' To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award. Linus’s' recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, ‘Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.’
“'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is equaled only perhaps by the 1966 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' in its popularity…Thank God the Grinch-like executives at CBS chose to air the special…despite their misgivings. If it had been left to their gut instincts, we would have had one less national treasure to cherish come Christmas time.” (Read the full article.)
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