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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Why "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Almost Wasn’t

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Hollywood party boy Charlie Sheen have both been in the news lately -- Schulz because of the excellent Peanuts movie that was recently released and Sheen for announcing that he is HIV positive.

Sheen has been proud of his hedonistic lifestyle and acted like he was invincible. No doubt some people envied his playboy antics of doing whatever made him feel good. Sheen is now learning that you can choose your actions, but you can't choose your consequences. If you play with snakes, you are going to get bit.

Schulz was not perfect, but his personal values were based on his Christian faith and he left us with a beloved treasure of comic characters that will continue to bring happiness to many future generations.

Schulz was not shy in proclaiming his faith in public. 50 years ago this month he proved it.

In today’s entertainment culture, no one would ever make a prime time TV cartoon where the highlight of the program is having a main character recite the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. One might guess that 50 years ago, this would be no big deal.

It was a big deal and A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t happen.

By 1965, Charles Schulz had turned down offers to make Peanuts into animated movies or TV programs. Schulz finally consented to do A Charlie Brown Christmas, but he maintained strict control over the content. It was to have a message about how Christmas was being commercialized that would play on commercial television. In an era when all cartoons used a laugh track, he insisted on no laugh track. He decided that he would use real children to do the voices, not adults imitating children’s voices.

Most importantly, Schulz wrote a script where Linus spent one whole minute reciting St. Luke’s Christmas story. CBS executives were not pleased. One said, “The Bible thing scares us.” Another thought the show was too slow and too innocent. Schulz was adamant that the Gospel story would stay in.

The program first aired on a Thursday night, December 9, 1965. Half the people watching television in America tuned in.

The next day reviews across the nation recognized it as an instant Yule classic. Audiences loved Linus’s touching speech which brought tears to many. The next year A Charlie Brown Christmas won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Programming.

We can thank Charles Schulz for keeping to his values and giving us a Christmas special that is actually about the real meaning of Christmas. When his co-producer tried one last time to get him to drop the St. Luke section, Schulz told him, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

For a comprehensive biography of Charles Schulz, read Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis.

What about Charlie Sheen's legacy? The less said, the better.

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