A “Charley Brown Christmas” the TV special that almost wasn’t. The TV executives didn’t like several things about the show. Bill Melendez the producer and director had second thoughts about the program as well. If Charles Shultz had listened to their advice, it would have robbed the special of its impact.
- They wanted to add a laugh track, so we knew what was funny.
- They weren’t happy with the children’s voices. Adults could do better.
- The background jazz music didn’t feel right for a kid’s program.
- CBS executives thought the reading from Luke might be a turn off, using the King James Version to top it off.
Bill Melendez remembers it like this:
“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special. They basically wrote it off, like, 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.”
Melendez had his own doubts. “I was leery of the religion that came into it, and I was right away opposed to it. But Sparky (Shultz) just assumed what he had to say was important to somebody.”
Shultz knew that the Linus’ reading of the Christmas story from Luke was the heart of the story. He stuck to his guns and created the special the way he envisioned it – with Children’s voices, no laugh track, jazz music and Bible reading.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.
“ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,”
Those words read by Linus spoke the truth about Christmas to Charlie Brown. He realized his tree wasn’t so bad after all.
You would think at the executive viewing, they would have realized their error. They didn’t. They were horrified and presumed the show would be a complete failure.
The December 9th showing was seen by 50% of the Americans watching TV that evening. It was a commercial success and won accolades from the public, gaining an Emmy and Peabody award.
It’s funny the story behind the Charley Brown Christmas Special almost mimics the show itself. Charles Shultz as Charley Brown inspired by the humble birth of Jesus stays true to his conviction and presents his story in the face of opposition and criticism. Charles Shultz was right – he knew what Christmas was all about.
In my book Modern Parables for Financial Peace, there is a poem about a Charley Brown like Christmas Tree. It has a couple of lessons in it. Lessons I can still learn from – maybe you can too.