On the 9th December 1965, American television network CBS first broadcast the animated cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now a staple of American Christmas television, the cartoon was originally financed by the Coca-Cola Company as a vehicle for Christmas advertising and was created in just six months.
By the mid-1960s, the Peanuts comic strip by American cartoonist Charles M. Schultz had become an international phenomenon. Ideas for an animated special had already been proposed, but it wasn’t until the influential Time magazine featured the Peanuts gang on the cover that sponsorship for the special was secured. Coca-Cola put up the money based on a simple pitch of “winter scenes, a school play, a scene to be read from the Bible, and a sound track combining jazz and traditional music.”
The creators took, at the time, a number of risks with the special. As well as exclusively casting children to voice the characters, Schultz opted for an unconventional jazz music soundtrack and refused to have a laugh track to accompany the animation. Combined with the necessarily simple animation and relatively slow pace, network executives expressed reservations about whether the special was even worthy of being shown.
However, having been completed just ten days before its network premiere the executives didn’t have much choice. They needn’t have worried, with popular and critical responses to the cartoon being universally positive. A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to win both a Peabody Award and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program, but more importantly captured the imaginations of the 16 million people who tuned in to watch it that evening.