PR One Sheet: Why the Guys Who “Ruined” Charlie Brown Should Get an Award

Photo Credit: G. Henry via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: G. Henry via Compfight cc

This one sheet was written for Current PR as part of a campaign to award producer Lee Mendelson with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.

In 1965, producer Lee Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez stood in a screening room after previewing A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It looked slow, had no laugh track, and the animation was flat and simplistic.  Melendez and Mendelson said to one another: “I think we’ve ruined Charlie Brown.”

It was at that moment that animator Ed Levitt made one of the most prescient statements in television history:  “You guys are crazy.  This is going to run for a hundred years.”

In 2015, A Charlie Brown Christmas will be more than halfway to fulfilling Levitt’s prophecy.  Like so many classic films, A Charlie Brown Christmas, started as an experiment, went through a rocky development, was questioned at every turn, and went on to become an indelible part of the cultural landscape.  In its wake, a cultural icon was born:  Peanuts animated television specials.

Peanuts:  Risk-Taking Innovation

  • Children voiced the characters at a time when children’s’ voices in animation were done by adults.
  • Linus Van Pelt’s quoting from the Bible broke new ground in animated television programing.
  • Flat, two dimensional characters on a simple background emphasized the character’s emotions and facial expressions.
  • Incorporating jazz into a Christmas special and animation in general was a first.

Peanuts: An Inspiration For An Industry

[A Charlie Brown Christmas] established the half-hour animated special as a staple of network television.  Chuck Jones’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas followed in 1966, and Rankin-Bass’s Frosty the Snowman in 1969.

– Charles Solomon, The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation.

One thing every cartoonist mentions, but I have to say really helps on The Simpsons, is the level of minimalism that Schulz used to create a great variety of expressions.

– David Silverman, animator for The Simpsons.

We do a lot of bits in our show where we get more humor out of Phineas and Ferb not reacting to something big happening right next to them.  That comes directly from Peanuts…  Peanuts was the first comic strip that did it, the first cartoon that did it.  The humor came from someone not moving or reacting to something.

– Dan Povenmire, Phineas and Ferb.

Peanuts: A Cultural Touchstone

  • In 2013, Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack album for A Charlie Brown Christmas was entered into the Library of Congress as one of their 25 annual music recordings considered to have deep cultural impact.
  • “Security blanket,” “Great Pumpkin,” and “Wah Wah Wah Wah,” are part of the American vernacular.
  • “The Peanuts television specials were up there with the Wizard of Oz and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:  The whole world would stop, and you knew that everywhere every kid was in his living room watching the same thing.  You would repeat the lines and discuss them the next day in school.”  Andrew Stanton, director, Wall-E.
  • Producer Lee Mendelson, attributes the lasting appeal of the Peanuts specials to the existential conversations about life, meaning and emotions that are heard from the mouths of child characters.

Peanuts: By the Numbers (In Case You Need Convincing)

Starting with the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez embarked on a decades long collaborative venture that has built a cultural icon.

  • 4 million:  albums sold of A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.
  • 4: Emmy awards (plus 32 other Emmy nominations)
  • 4: Peabody awards.
  • 2: Grammy awards.
  • 1: Oscar nomination.
  • 100: Covers of “Christmastime is here.”
  • 50: Prime time network TV specials.
  • 50: Consecutive primetime airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas.