by David Mendez
If you don't have any positive feelings toward "A Charlie Brown Christmas," I'm relatively certain that your heart is made out of wood—or you don't celebrate Christmas. Either or.
The fact that it has been as successful as it's been over the past 57 years wasn't a slam-dunk, however. Even the men responsible for it, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, were afraid that it was going to be a complete failure after its first screening. In fact, according to Mendelson, it seemed like the entire room watching that screening felt the same way.
Except for one animator.
What the roomful of executives saw upon the first screening was a shock—a slow and quiet semireligious, jazz-filled 25 minutes, voiced by a cast of inexperienced children, and, perhaps most unforgivably, without a laugh track. “They said, ‘We’ll play it once and that will be all. Good try,’ ” remembers Mendelson. “Bill and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room—he had had a couple of drinks—and he said, ‘It’s going to run for a hundred years,’ and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were.”
PopMatters has a spectacular article on the history of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," written all the way back in 2006, but like the movie that is its focus, it's near timeless. Give it a read at PopMatters.