Beloved holiday classic limited on TV as streaming service takes ownership
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” one of the country’s most beloved holiday traditions, almost came to an end on public television in 2020.
Luckily, the new owners of the cartoon classic found a way to keep the show on regular TV instead of making it exclusive to paid subscribers.
The widespread public backlash over the change proved that Charlie Brown remains a slice of Americana that would be difficult for many to part with after 55 years.
The nostalgic cartoon film first aired on CBS on Dec. 9, 1965, and remained there until ABC won the rights to it and other Charlie Brown specials in 2000.
The programs stayed on ABC for nearly two more decades before Apple purchased the rights in 2018 and acquired the rights to air them this year.
Created by late cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, the Peanuts TV specials are considered a national treasure that span generations due to Schulz’s innocent portrayal of American youth with relatable characters such as Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and Peppermint Patty.
The Christmas episode is about 30 minutes long.
The story begins with Charlie Brown sad as another joyous holiday season approaches.
Lucy advises him to lighten up by putting on a Christmas play, which turns out to be a laughingstock. Charlie Brown is grief stricken at the outcome, but then Linus shows up and gives a speech about the true meaning of Christmas. Next, the entire Peanuts gang arrives and decorates a tree in a show of support for their friend Charlie Brown.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the episode is the delightful soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The song “Christmas Time Is Here,” with angelic vocals by a California boys choir, is still widely played on radio stations every holiday season.
In October, Apple announced it was moving the Christmas special — along with “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” — exclusively to its platform, meaning only paid subscribers would be able to view them.
Many fans expressed outrage because many households do not have access to streaming services.
Heeding the backlash, Apple TV+ later announced a partnership with PBS to air the classic Peanuts holiday specials for free, although the viewing times on public broadcasting are just as, if not more, limited as the streaming service schedule.
The Christmas special started streaming for paid subscribers Dec. 4, but everyone else can stream it free from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13.
The Christmas special will also air for free at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 on PBS and PBS Kids.
ArLuther Lee is a visual editor and occasionally covers national and world news for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Florida and has been a journalist for more than 25 years.