Bay Area producer reflects on 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' 50th anniversary

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Americans will see the classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for the 50th time on Monday, with an extra bonus thrown in about the making of that legendary show.

The man who produced both the original and the special lives here in the Bay Area.

Lee Mendelson house's not much different from a lot of other American homes.

Look hard enough, you're likely find some peanuts memorabilia. But in Mendelson's house, you needn't look hard at all because there is a lot of Charlie Brown stuff.

Because there is also a lot of him in Peanuts.

Mendelson is the man who worked with Charles Schulz to produce the TV specials and the movies.

"Charles Schulz said that there will always be a market for innocence in this country," said Mendelson.

Mendelson first met Schulz after producing a documentary about Willie Mays.

"And I was thinking, we had done the best ballplayer. So, why not the worst, Charlie Brown?"

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" first aired in 1965, and has become a classic American seasonal icon.

The sponsor and original network executives thought it was slow and might need a laugh track. Schulz disagreed..

"He said absolutely not. No laugh track," said Mendelson.

He must have been right, because that original showing had half the country watching, and it earned a national Emmy award.

Jeannie Schulz says what resonates about her husband's work is that his characters never waver.

"People have said, and I believe it is true, they teach you how to be human," said Schulz.

Indeed, which is why this year, as every year, Mendelson will sit down with his family to watch the Christmas special again. It's a tradition for the man who knows every line and every note.

"It's Your 50th Christmas Charlie Brown" airs Monday night at 8 p.m. on ABC7. The classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas" will follow at 9 p.m.
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