Charlie Brown decks the TV halls

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

channesl15cut_1
When Charlie Brown complains about the overwhelming materialism he sees amongst everyone during the Christmas season, Lucy suggests he become director of the school Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown accepts, but it proves to be a frustrating struggle; and when an attempt to restore the proper spirit with a forlorn little fir Christmas tree fails, he needs Linus' help to learn what the real meaning of Christmas is. A Charlie Brown Christmas airs on Thursday (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (� 1965 United Feature Syndicate Inc.)

Charlie Brown never ages. But he does keep getting bigger.

Since 1965, the holiday TV landscape has included A Charlie Brown Christmas, the lovely holiday special featuring Charlie and other characters from Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts. From its sweet story of friendship to its effective religious element to the marvelous music by Vince Guaraldi, it hit all the right notes for holiday fare — sentimental and smart, funny and touching. Every year people scour the TV listings for replays, or pull much-watched VHS, DVD or Blu-ray copies from their shelves.

ABC, which has already replayed A Charlie Brown Christmas once this year, will present it again at 8 p.m. Dec. 19. But the good will generated by that special has been so big, the same week will include two other Charlie Brown shows. At 8 p.m. Dec. 20, Fox will show Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, which first aired in 2011. And at 8 p.m. Dec. 21, ABC will carry I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, which joined the holiday parade in 2003.

Of course, one could argue that the Peanuts gang has long been associated with special occasions, since the first Christmas show has been followed by specials tied to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and, yes, Arbor Day. And all of those appeared while Schulz was still alive, so it’s not as if his death in 2000 prompted a wave of corporate exploitation.

Instead, there has long been a tone set. For that first Christmas special, Schulz reportedly insisted on the inclusion of the Biblical Christmas story — and that there be no laugh track. Guaraldi’s music, for that matter, was catchy but not overstated, and the songs became standards on Christmas-music channels.

Beyond that, Peanuts is about children who, even if they talk like adults, still deal with the big and little frustrations of childhood. Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, for instance, involves the recurring Peanuts issue of Linus’ security blanket. (And who among us couldn’t use one of those from time to time?) I Want a Dog finds ReRun — the younger brother of Linus and Lucy — longing for a pet.

Oh, there are reasons to lament some of the Peanuts shows. Few of the specials have measured up to A Charlie Brown Christmas. And that show underwent years of trimming as the commercial demands of broadcast TV increased. To get it back to its original, precise length, it was moved from a half-hour to an hourlong time slot, with supplemental content added to fill the hour.

But these are still shows meant to give people a little holiday spirit even when their own lives do not provide them. And it feels a little more like Christmas when we can turn to Charlie Brown.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


© 2014 The Akron Beacon Journal  ●  Ohio.com  ●  Enjoy  ● 44 E. Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio 44308