Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas TV - What's The Point?

For many Americans, Christmas would not really be Christmas without watching their favorite seasonal shows. For some, these beloved programs actually kick start the holidays more than any other thing.

Over the years, the many classics have entered the nation’s living rooms geared either at youngsters or adults – sometimes both. Often the older generations still adore the versions they grew up with and enjoy watching their childhood favorites over again through they eyes of their own children.

Some of the more recognizable children’s classics would include, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the now popular Polar Express. And In more recent years it seems that nearly everyone has gotten into the act with titles such as A Dennis the Menace Christmas, Winnie the Pooh Christmas, A Flintstone Christmas, Muppets Christmas, Garfield Christmas, Pinocchio’s Christmas, and even The Little Rascals Christmas. The list is nearly endless and the story lines sometimes a bit bizarre like Merry Madagascar, The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, and even Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

Hallmark has produced numerous programs over the years, some of which are quite well-done and moving. And then, of course, Hollywood has its more modern entries like The Santa Clause 1-3 and Home Alone 1-4. These newer seasonal mainstays now accompany the all-time adult favorites like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and, of course, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The current inventory of Christmas specials has become vast and the stories varied. Unfortunately, many of them have very little or nothing to do with the one whose name makes up the very title of the holiday. But with all efforts in producing Christmas-related media, still nothing ever seems to compare to what is arguably the most simple, most effective, and likely the most inexpensive program of all time - A Charlie Brown Christmas. Using simplistic graphics, genius Charles Shultz somehow captured the imagination of young and old alike. He somehow managed to say more in his brief low-budget cartoon than most all other productions combined!

What few know, however, is that the beloved show almost ended before it even started. Schulz wanted his story to have the religious meaning that was central to his own Christmas experience. But others in the TV industry were far less than enthusiastic. Actually, most executives hated the entire concept from day one.

The now idolized broadcast was criticized as being ‘too religious’ because little Linus quoted Luke 2:8-14 - straight from the King James Bible, no less. How dare he? Few of today’s programs would ever have to be concerned over that criteria. It was criticized for featuring contemporary jazz background music in a cartoon. How could that work? And it was blasted for not having a laugh track and for using the voices of real children except for Snoopy. How could all of these factors ever begin to be overcome? But ‘overcome‘ they did and to the surprise of most everyone except maybe one - Charles Shultz himself.

On Thursday, December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was seen in more than 15 million homes. That was a hefty viewer number almost a half century ago. It was nearly half of the potential audience of that day and was number two in the ratings, after TV’s hit series, Bonanza. Soon thereafter Shultz’s gem won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program and a Peabody Award for Excellence in Programming. He had basically fooled the experts and fully inspired their viewers.

The Shultz classic is a simple masterpiece containing a simple message. He was a man of character, talent, and vision. But most of all he was a man of simple faith. As such, he fully recognized the implications and impact of Linus’ great Bible quote when he boldly responded to Charlie Brown’s famous question. “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

For many, it was little Linus who introduced them to the pure and personal reason for the season. It was the adorable cartoon character who perhaps first conveyed the true meaning of the incarnation and of the truth of Emanuel - “God with Us”, through his Luke chapter 2 proclamation.

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them,"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:8-14)

A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.“

That is exactly and exclusively what Christmas has always been about - and always will be!

Bill Breckenridge

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