Aaron R. Davis
Did you watch ABC’s broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas last Tuesday? Did it seem… off to you? Don’t worry, you didn’t imagine it. ABC hacked it to pieces in order to make room for more commercials.
Since it first aired in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been a holiday staple. And as much as I hate the holidays, I make sure to watch it every year because it makes me feel good. It’s as integral to Christmas as putting up the tree and hanging the lights; it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without Charlie Brown and Snoopy. It’s sincere about the meaning of Christmas, and its anti-commercialism message still hits home.
How ironic that this year’s broadcast was cut to pieces in order to show more commercials.
Classic scenes were just edited right out: the classic scene where Sally asks her big brother to help her write her materialistic letter to Santa, ending with her deciding wish for Santa to “just send money”; the gang catching snowflakes on their tongues; Linus hitting the can on the fence with his trusty blanket; Lucy and Schroeder’s discussion about Beethoven and Schroeder’s attempt to play a version of “Jingle Bells” to satisfy Lucy; poor Shermy’s only line. Those are just the scenes everyone’s pointed out; I’m not convinced that there weren’t further trims (the dancing scene seemed a lot shorter, for example).
All of it, gone, gone, gone to make space for a barrage of commercials, many of them simply to advertise the new Disney special that was airing immediately afterward. And it was inexcusable. Hell, it wasn’t just inexcusable, it was downright sleazy.
Hell, they even sped up the broadcast, which threw off the sound synch. Dialogue, music and sound effects were all about a second behind, which created a bizarre and kind of unsettling effect.
This was not A Charlie Brown Christmas. This was, in its barest form, what all television programming essentially is: filler between commercials. What was so special about A Charlie Brown Christmas is that it made us forget that content is only there to sell stuff. Now there’s no point to it.
Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that we finally got A Charlie Brown Christmas back. Almost.
The special, a surprise hit in 1965, was first re-edited in 1968 to remove all references to the show’s original sponsor, Coca-Cola (including scenes of Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign on the ice and a final voiceover which said “Brought to you from the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola,” which is why the chorus suddenly trails off at the end into silence). Those references weren’t removed because anyone embraced the anti-commercial message of the special; they were removed because Dolly Madison became the sponsor of Peanuts specials.
When CBS started airing the special in the 1990s, they made a lot of cuts that included removing the carol at the end, trimming character moments and removing references to commercialism. Those cuts were made to cram the special into a 30 minute time slot.
When ABC started showing A Charlie Brown Christmas in 2000, however, they really trumpeted the fact that they were running a restored version of the special. The Coke references were long gone, sure, but all of the scenes CBS pulled out were put back in and the special was shown the love and respect it had long since earned.
They still managed to screw it up, however, by inserting the commercials in different places than were originally intended, screwing up the pacing (the fades seem out of place now) and even cutting into the middle of musical cues or dialogue. But at least they used to show the entire special. They just aired it over an hour and stuck in a bonus cartoon or a making-of special.
But last week, a beloved holiday program which has, for 44 years, condemned the crass commercialism that deteriorates the true meaning of Christmas, fell victim to that same crass commercialism. It’s a tragedy of real irony: an anti-commercial message vandalized for the sake of commercialism.
This is becoming the norm for television. I noticed this same thing a few years ago during an airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer which was unnaturally short. I could see it happening with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, too – Cartoon Network airs it now, but sometimes I think I see edits to that as well, which wouldn’t be surprising coming from the network that gave us an extreme version of Looney Tunes and decided to embrace reality programming for kids.
I always thought A Charlie Brown Christmas was safe from that sort of thing. I was wrong.
Tonight, ABC is airing A Charlie Brown Christmas again. It’s scheduled for an hour, so I assume this is going to be the version they usually air. But it’s too late. ABC’s lost me when it comes to this holiday tradition. I can’t forgive them for what they did. Thankfully, we live in the age of DVD, and Charlie Brown – and Rudolph, and the Grinch – are available for me in their uncut forms whenever I choose to watch them.
ABC, you had your chance. And, like Lucy Van Pelt, when we ran to it you yanked it out of our way and sent us flying onto our backs. Unlike Charlie Brown, I don’t plan to trust you again.
Screw you, ABC.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.