You can thank Apple TV+ for this.
For the first time since 1965, the beloved “Peanuts” holiday specials won’t air on broadcast TV this holiday season, marking the end of a 55-year American tradition. On Monday, Apple announced its streaming platform, Apple TV+, has acquired exclusive rights to the entire library of Charles Schulz’s animated specials.
The agreement — which has sparked quite an intense backlash on social media — is part of a plan between Apple and Wildbrain, Peanuts Worldwide, and Lee Mendelson Film Productions.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first animated special of its kind, airing Dec. 9, 1965, on CBS. Initially, it was expected to be a flop. Executive producer Lee Mendelson had big issues with the special, which, as USA Today explained, was “defiantly different,” because it included no laugh track, the characters were voiced by real children instead of seasoned actors, and the now-iconic score for the special was provided by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. Mendelson’s biggest complaint, though, was Schulz’s insistence the holiday special end with the telling of the true Christmas story — the birth of Jesus.
“We told Schulz, ‘Look, you can’t read from the Bible on network television,'” Mendeleson recalled. “When we finished the show and watched it, [animator Bill] Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, ‘We’ve ruined Charlie Brown.'”
What happened the evening of Dec. 9 left Melendez “absolutely shocked.” Nearly 50% of all Americans watching TV that night were tuning in to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which ended with Charlie Brown asking in frustration if “anybody knows what Christmas is about.” In response, Linus quoted directly from the Bible:
Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone ’round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
The beloved scene came after Charlie Brown and Linus went off to a tree lot to pick a fake Christmas tree for the gang’s play set. While there were plenty of aluminum trees to choose from, it was a little sapling that caught Charlie Brown’s eye, and that’s the one he chose — much to the chagrin of everyone waiting for him on the stage.
In addition to its success in sharing the Gospel message, the holiday special sparked a resurgence in Americans’ purchasing real Christmas trees that year, bucking an aluminum tree trend that had been growing rapidly over the preceding decade.
Schulz, who died in 2000, never doubted his Christmas special would be a success amid the commercialization of the holiday season.
“It comes across in the voice of a child,” his wife, Jeannie, said in 2005. “[Charles] used to say, ‘There will always be a market for innocence.'”
The success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” led to an entire series of animated shows, including classics like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which aired on CBS for the first time in 1966. Those specials — including “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” — remained at CBS until 2001, when they moved to ABC, where they have aired every year since. Each of the three specials will be available for free for a few days on Apple TV+: the Halloween special is accessible for free from Oct. 30-Nov. 1, the Thanksgiving one from Nov. 25-27, and the Christmas show from Dec. 11-13.
Apple also announced it’s creating additional “Peanuts” specials to commemorate Mother’s Day, Earth Day, New Year’s Eve, and the back-to-school season at the end of summer.
The subscription service Apple TV+ is available for $4.99 per month following a 7-day free trial.