I must have watched A Charlie Brown Christmas hundreds of times. In the past few years, it's been on more than once during the holiday season, truth be told, once ABC TV got its hands on it, the gentleness of CBS's handling of the classic has really gone commercial. But that is what the whole cartoon is about -- the commercialization of Christmas. Sally, Charlie Brown's sister, talks about getting lots of gifts for Christmas and if possible, cash would be better -- 10s and 20s. Snoopy enters a contest for best holiday decorations and until Linus gives his speech about the whole meaning of Christmas, it's all one big commercialized mess. And it's ironic how Charlie Brown complains in the episode about how commercialized Christmas has become and that's exactly what the holiday special has become, an economic engine for non-stop TV commercials. And Charlie was complaining about it in 1965! He would really have a conniption today.
ABC has taken the cartoon and spread it into an hour so they could add many more commercials, which seem to air every five seconds. Originally A Charlie Brown Christmas ran for half an hour with a handful of commercials, with Dolly Madison products as its main sponsor -- remember those Dolly Madison Zingers? And Coca-Cola, -- remember "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing?" There were a handful of commercials and the cartoon was wrapped around them. Now it's the other way around; they manage to show a few images of the cartoon in between a barrage of commercials.
I found it interesting that The Munsters was preempted to show A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time in 1965. It was seen by 15,490,000 TV viewers! That was 45 percent of people watching TV that night, and that was second place. Bonanza came in ahead of that. I'm sure TV networks would kill for numbers like that these days, when 3 million viewers seems to be a good rating.
But again, it seems that Charlie Brown is the height of commercialization himself as it seems that the Peanuts machine has never stopped right after the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas had its first airing. I don't think there is a product that has been licensed more than the Peanuts comic strip from books and dolls and toys, calendars, posters and movies and plays and just about everything. It's a cartoonist's dream. The comic strip is so successful that the reruns still run to this day on comics pages in newspapers around the world, almost 15 years after creator Charles Schulz's death in 2000.
A simple little comic strip has become the height of commercialization and yet still holds it's sweet, gentle character. Genius.
An ironic note: There are no images of Charlie Brown with this article because they are all licensed and not royalty free.