A Charlie Brown Christmas was released in 1968 by a very nervous CBS, who though the whole thing was going to be a flop. They thought this for several reasons, one being that the animation was done on a shoestring budget and looked amateurish to the executives. Also the producer, Lee Mendelson, had had Vince Guaraldi compose the soundtrack and having a children's Christmas special set to jazz music seemed eccentric at best. In addition, Charles Schultz's story contained several features which, according to traditional TV wisdom at the time, should have proved fatal to the little cartoon. The pacing of the story was slow, and the kids in the Peanuts gang used big words and talked like little adults:
“Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. Maybe carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchadnezzar.”
The characters' wordy vocabularies were offset by the- at the time- unheard of insistance of Schultz to use child voice actors instead of adult ones for the Peanuts gang. Also, instead of being a relentlessly cheery holiday romp, the show addresses the melancholy and loneliness which can be experienced at this time of year through the character of Charlie Brown. In short, no one at the studio thought that the special was going to succeed and their disapproval shook Mendelson enough that he suggested to Schultz that they give in on one point and add a laugh track to the show. Schultz- thank heavens- refused to consider it.
Worst of all, Charles Schultz was insisting that Linus recite from Luke 2, and what possible place could an account of the birth of Jesus have in a Christmas program? Despite pushback, Schultz wouldn't remove the scene and later Mendelson admitted that he thought this was going to end his career. Of course, this scene is actually the heart and soul of the special and Schultz's instincts were 100% right. The rest, as they say, is history: A Charlie Brown Christmas was a rousing success, its jazz soundtrack now a Christmas standard. The special has aired every year since 1968, providing enjoyment and the true message of Christmas to generations of children.