Saturday, November 11, 2006

Good Grief

I think, by now, we all agree that television network execs have absolutely no idea what they are doing. (I mean, I'm still doing theater for Godsakes. What is the matter with these people?)

However, in case you need more proof, check out this write up I came across about the original Charlie Brown Christmas special, called A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was the first time the lovably disgruntled character appeared on network television.

"Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision.

The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke (Lk 2:8-14); the network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible.

Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track, a common element of children's cartoons at the time. Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable.)

A third complaint was the use of children to do the voice acting, instead of employing adult actors. Finally, the executives thought that the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi would not work well for a children's program.

When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a complete flop. "

Of course, the program became a huge hit, with the original broadcast being tuned into by more than half the television sets in the United States. It won an Emmy, a Peabody, and spawned numerous sequels as well as subsequent networks specials and an animated series called Peanuts.

Another interesting fact about A Charlie Brown Christmas are the shots that have been edited out of the show since its original airing.

- The main titles have Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign after Snoopy has spun both him and Charlie Brown around with Linus's blanket. In the versions currently available, the viewer never sees where Linus' trajectory lands him.

- In the "fence" scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket. In the original airing, this is a Coke can, but was later replaced with a nondescript can.

- The final end credit originally had text and graphics wishing the viewer a "Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler." This is why the "Hark!" chorus sung at the end trails off oddly before the song would normally end, as an announcer originally did a voice over at this point in the credits to repeat and reemphasize the local bottler's well wishes to the TV audience.

Considering the show's anti-commercialization theme, I imagine these sequences must have seemed a little off-putting and ironic.


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