I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Pass the Toast: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

by Kristen Bialik
Nov. 26, 2015

Like all good American holidays, there are several things to look forward to at Thanksgiving: an abundance of food, sodium (or sugar) induced comas, and of course, the season’s installment of a Peanuts TV special. Now that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, it’s tradition – nay, our duty – to show "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving". Because there’s just something incredibly American about a nation-wide tradition of getting together in front of the boob tube and watching some good ole wholesome cartoons.

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" was originally broadcast by CBS on November 20, 1973, and, as anyone who’s observed Thanksgiving probably knows, has been airing ever since. The special won a Primetime Emmy the year after its release for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming, thanks in large part to the amazing team Charles Schulz put together.

The short was directed and produced by Bill Melendez, an eventual 6-time Emmy award winner on top of 13 more nominations. With Schulz and producer/director Lee Mendelson, Melendez produced, directed, and animated around 70 Peanuts television specials, four movies, and countless commercials. Plus, he acted as the voice for Snoopy in 53 specials, making him a dude more well-rounded at Peanuts-related business than Charlie Brown’s head. But Melendez has touched many a memorable cartoon set outside of that as well. When your animation career starts in 1938 and spans from Disney to Warner Brothers for a good six decades, you pick up credits like Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bugs Bunny cartoons. After meeting Schulz in 1959 to work on a Ford commercial with Peanuts characters, Melendez went on to become the only artist authorized by Schulz to animate the beloved characters.

But Melendez wasn’t the only Peanuts superstar behind the scenes. "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" was also directed by Phil Roman, another 6-time Primetime Emmy winner --and not, as you might think, for all the same things. First working under Walt Disney on Sleeping Beauty, Roman went on to direct and produce shows like Garfield and Friends and The Simpsons. Throw editor Robert Gillis into the mix, who worked on shows from the Charlie Brown series to various television installments for Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Transformers, and The Incredible Hulk, and you’ve got the makings of primetime, animated greatness.

Good things, it seems, come from Charlie Brown, but rarely come to him. Thanksgiving is no different, or as Chuck puts it, “Holidays always depress me.” Maybe that’s why the special is so popular -- so true to Thanksgiving year after year. It’s not just Linus’ historical name-dropping (though the Standish and Bradford references certainly make the special smart, which helps); A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is an awesome special because it’s a little bit of all things holiday: a tad sentimental, a lot awkward, and generally totally anxiety-ridden.

“I think I’m losing control of the whole world!” Charlie Brown laments, after Peppermint Patty invites herself over for dinner and whatever charge he had over the Thanksgiving situation careens wildly out of bounds for a boy who can only make cold cereal. And maybe toast. But in the end, the jellybeans get eaten, the friendships get mended, and Peppermint Patty learns (sort of) how to conduct herself outside the baseball field. It wouldn’t be children’s programming if it didn’t have some heartwarming lesson about learning to appreciate what we have (each other), learning to be kind, to ignore your smart-ass dog, yadda yadda yadda. But it’s not done in a grinchy or scroogey way (read: total transformation and complete reversal of character). Charlie Brown is just a sad little Everyman. He can’t turn around and love the holidays, but he can get through it until he has to worry about the next one.

So this year, when you get stuck hosting, when the guest list grows exponentially (and not by invitation), when the turkey’s drier than Snoopy’s pretzel sticks, and when you’re running late for grandma’s, think of the Peanuts. Enjoy yourself. Go big with what you’ve got. Always have a couple extra seats for friends. And just get through it. If Charlie Brown can handle it, so can you.

Kristen Bialik is a writer, teacher and graduate student of Journalism and Mass Communication. In her spare time, she's a baker of pies and maker of stories.