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CBS Originally Hated 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Because Of Its 'Anti-Consumerism'

Entertainment | December 24, 2019

The show was hardly an endorsement of the Christmas-tree market. Source: IMDB

Though beloved today, the TV holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas was disliked by CBS and might not have seen the light of day. With a meandering story, a strange jazz soundtrack, and a message deemed anti-consumerist, the program seemed unlikely to succeed -- yet it has been airing annually for over 50 years.

Thankfully, no one listened to the know-it-all executives who conspired to sink A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Tough Crowd

CBS executives may have hated 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' but whoever said TV executives know anything? (sinclairclarion)

When the show’s producers, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, first showed A Charlie Brown Christmas to CBS executives, the network suits were disgusted. “They just didn’t like the show when I brought it to them,” said Mendelson. To be fair, executives actually hated the show and just about everything in it.

Mendelson went on to say, “I remember them saying it will probably be the first and last Charlie Brown show. ... They thought it was too slow, they didn’t like the jazz music so much on a Christmas show -- in other words, these were all creative things that they didn’t like.”

So Many Complaints

The anti-consumerist message really bothered the higher ups at CBS (radiofreethinker.wordpress)

In addition to the jazz music and plodding pace, executives loathed that children were used as voice actors as opposed to professional voice actors. They also condemned the adult themes about materialism, believing such topics didn’t belong on a Christmas special. The anti-consumer message about Christmas being more than just receiving gifts also made them queasy.

A Coca-Cola executive also saw the production about halfway through and gave his warning that the project would be sunk if he reported his self-important thoughts. Mendelson was forced to reason with said executive to keep his mouth shut. Thankfully, he listened. 

Low Costs Save The Day

The original "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was all about that jazz (wvxu.org)

One element young Charlie Brown had going in his favor: the cost of the project was minuscule. CBS and Coca-Cola gave the producers only $76,000 and six months to make it. So despite the genius executives wishing the whole project would just go up in flames, they went ahead and ran it anyway.

However, their extremely tepid response left Mendelson and Melendez very discouraged. One higher up at CBS told them “Well, it’s going to go on next week. There’s nothing we can do about it.” Hardly a vote of confidence. It also didn’t help that Charles Schulz himself thought the animation was shoddy and thought the jazz in the show was “awful.” 

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Goes Gangbusters

What's more Christmasy than singing carols? Source: IMDB

Amazingly, despite the non-stop hand wringing over how terrible the show would be, it pulled in Superbowl level ratings. The original A Charlie Brown Christmas received a 50% share, which means half of all households watched Charlie Brown and his friends discuss the true meaning of Christmas. That translated to roughly 15 million viewers in 1965.

Such a massive rating just so happened to lead to the death of aluminum Christmas trees. That’s because during the special Charlie Brown refuses to accept an aluminum Christmas tree and America decided to follow suit. Mendelson and Melendez got their just rewards earning $5 million for the special through the year 2000. 

Tags: A Charlie Brown Christmas | ABC | Charles Schulz | Charlie Brown | Christmas

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!