On Dec. 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas made its grand debut. The 25-minute special, which is now in its 50th year of airtime, played on CBS that Thursday night, airing in the coveted 7:30 p.m. ET timeslot.
Shown in color, the holiday program found its main competition that evening in NBC’s adventure series Daniel Boone. Starring Fess Parker, Patricia Blair, and Darby Hinton, among others, the 60-minute episode, titled “The First Beau,” focused on Boone’s daughter Jemima Boone (Veronica Cartwright) as she considers her romantic future.
ABC rounded out the three major networks, playing the musical variety series Shindig! opposite the two. The Dec. 9 episode was the second part of a two-part series in which the show went to London and featured The Who and The Yardbirds. The American Broadcasting Company got its major foothold in the night at 8 p.m. ET, however, with the latest episode of The Donna Reed Show. The “Slipped Disc” installment of the classic comedy centered on Donna (Donna Reed) and Alex (Carl Betz)’s son Jeff (Paul Petersen) as he eyes a career as a rock star.
The true rock star, though, ended up being the young Charlie Brown and his canine best friend. The two pals (voiced by Peter Robbins and Bill Melendez, respectively), along with their cartoon cast members, earned a Grammy nomination, as well as Emmy honors and a Peabody Award. The decorated special also led to the subsequent productions of 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1973’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and 1974’s It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, among others.
Telling the story of Charlie Brown, his less-than-impressive Christmas tree, and his search for the true meaning of the holiday, CBS’ special programming seriously paid off in a then-stacked lineup. A Charlie Brown Christmas nabbed a 50 rating share, meaning, as producer Lee Mendelson said in a recent interview with Zap2it, “half of the country tuned into the show, which is unbelievable.”
The massive chunk of viewers had even more in store for them on CBS that night, as the network queued up a new episode of the famed Gilligan’s Island following the Peanuts gang. In a particularly timely “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes” chapter, the 25-minute show spoofed The Beatles with the fictional band The Mosquitoes, led by fictional lead singer Bingo.