A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 1965 animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. Produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez, the program made its debut on CBS on December 9, 1965. In the special, lead character Charlie Brown finds himself depressed despite the onset of the cheerful holiday season. Lucy suggests he direct a neighborhood Christmas play, but his best efforts are ignored and mocked by his peers. After Linus tells Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown cheers up, and the Peanuts gang unites to celebrate the Christmas season.
Peanuts had become a phenomenon worldwide by the mid-1960s, and the special was commissioned and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. It was written over a period of several weeks, and animated on a shoestring budget in only six months. In casting the characters, the producers went an unconventional route, hiring child actors. The program’s soundtrack was similarly unorthodox: it features a jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi. Its absence of a laugh track (a staple in US television animation in this period), in addition to its tone, pacing, music, and animation, led both the producers and network to predict the project would be a disaster preceding its broadcast.
Contrary to that apprehension, A Charlie Brown Christmas received high ratings and acclaim from critics. It has since been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. It became an annual broadcast in the United States, and has been aired during the Christmas season traditionally every year since its premiere. Its success paved the way for a series of Peanuts television specials and films. Its jazz soundtrack also achieved commercial success, selling 4 million copies in the US. Live theatrical versions of A Charlie Brown Christmas have been staged. ABC currently holds the rights to the special and broadcasts it at least twice during the weeks leading up to Christmas.