Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rudolph, Charlie Brown Not for Kids Anymore?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rudolph, Charlie Brown Not for Kids Anymore?

Article excerpt

The children's holiday special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," airing again Dec. 1 on CBS, turns 40 this year. It marked the beginning of a golden age for Christmas television.

For three straight years, American TV went on a tear of serious holiday mythmaking: 1964, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; 1965, "A Charlie Brown Christmas"; 1966, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The programs in this yuletide triptych are the only TV shows made during Lyndon Johnson's administration that still play on network prime time. They were produced for children, but they live on today at the center of a thriving nostalgia industry aimed right at the hearts of those too old to believe in Santa.

As any Scrooge will tell you, Rudolph isn't real. He was invented in 1939 as an advertising gimmick for a mail-order catalogue and immortalized 10 years later in a hit song recorded by Gene Autry. It was the NBC-TV special that fully fleshed out the story, however. The various images of Santa, Mrs. Claus, the North Pole, elves, and reindeer that had been floating around in the culture for some time, were finally standardized here. The show earned a 55 share, and Rudolph became more famous than Bambi.

CBS answered the following December with "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It was a more modern look at the holiday. Delivering monologues like, "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I always end up feeling depressed."

With a minimalist script and a way-cool soundtrack, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" also took an early TV stab at the flagrant commercialism of the holiday. And in a genre that is usually safely secularized, it showed some rare and audacious faith-based initiative when it wrapped up with a reading from the New Testament.

CBS returned a year later with its animated adaptation of Dr. …

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