The iconic Peanuts special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” turns 50 this year, which ABC marked Monday night with a musical retrospective celebrating the animated tale that has become a hallmark of the holiday TV season.
But back in 1965, the now-classic special almost didn’t air.
When Coca-Cola’s ad agency (which sponsored the original special) contacted executive producer Lee Mendelson looking for a holiday special for CBS, he pitched the idea of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on a whim — before even mentioning it to “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz. The two then had three days to come up with a fuller proposal.
As Mendelson recalled in the documentary “The Making of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,'” Coca-Cola approved the outline and gave them six months to produce the special — an extremely tight deadline for an animated show, especially given that Peanuts had never been adapted for TV before.
Director Bill Melendez opted to use amateur children to voice most of the Peanuts characters which meant he often had to feed lines to the 5- and 6-year-olds, resulting in the singsong cadence of the younger characters. Schulz’s decision to have Linus read a Bible passage was also seen as risky, since a Bible verse had never been animated.