Good grief, network executives said when they first saw Charles Schulz's "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"They thought it was too slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson recalls being told by the powers-that-were at CBS in 1965.
But the special was an instant hit with critics and audiences. Forty years later, its ruminations on the spirit of Christmas, backed by a lilting jazz score by Vince Guaraldi, remain fresh and affecting.
Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown and the rest of the "Peanuts" comic strip gang, never doubted that the program he'd written was good, Mendelson said. Schulz, who died in 2000, considered it his favorite of the "Peanuts" TV specials.
"I guess you can have an animated scene where you have a kid read from the Bible," Mendelson said of the show, in which Charlie is depressed by the commercialization of Christmas until he is reminded of its unchanged meaning.
The sermon falls to Linus. "I can tell you what Christmas is about," he says, recounting the story of Christ's birth and ending with, "Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men."
"A Charlie Brown Christmas," directed by animator Bill Melendez, airs 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, on ABC. It's paired with "Charlie Brown Christmas Tales," based on Schulz's work and featuring each of the Peanuts characters, including Snoopy, in individual vignettes.
Among the other old favorites and newcomers marking the holiday season (all times EST, check local listings for PBS programs):
• "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, CBS. A shy reindeer battles the Abominable Snowmonster and finds that his vibrantly colored nose makes him a hero, not a misfit, when Santa Claus needs a guiding light.
• "The Happy Elf," 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, NBC. Harry Connick lends his voice and original songs to the story of Eubie the elf, who must rescue the unhappy town of Bluesville. The voices of Carol Kane, Lewis Black, Mickey Rooney and Rob Paulsen also are featured.
• "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, ABC. Fred Astaire was the narrator for this 1970 tale about how Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney) overcomes a ban on toys in his native Sombertown and ends up becoming Santa Claus, the world's biggest toy distributor.
• "I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown!" 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, ABC. Rerun, younger brother of Linus and Lucy, gets more than he bargained for when Snoopy the beagle invites his brother, Spike, for a visit.
• "Rugrats Chanukah Special," 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, Nickelodeon. Grandpa Boris and his old rival, Shlomo, perform in a play about the holiday's meaning and, with the help of the babies, find a way to reconcile.
• "Frosty the Snowman," 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, CBS. Jimmy Durante narrated the tale of the brave snowman pursued by evil Professor Hinkle on a mission to rescue the North Pole. Followed at 8:30 p.m. by "Frosty Returns," narrated by Jonathan Winters.
• "A Rugrats Kwanzaa," 8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26, Nickelodeon. When Aunt T. arrives to celebrate the Kwanzaa holiday with the Carmichaels, little Susie learns what it means to honor "the legacy of our great people," and what greatness comes from.
• "Arthur's Perfect Christmas," 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24, PBS. Elwood City is abuzz with plans for the perfect holiday, whether Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, but everything doesn't go as planned for Arthur, D.W. and their family and friends.
• "Chanukah Stories," airing on PBS stations in December (check local listings). Two children's books, "The Tie Man's Miracle" and "Moishe's Miracle," were adapted for this special, featuring Jami Gertz and Bob Saget.
• "Holiday Inn," 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, AMC. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire star as two showmen whose New England country inn, open only on national holidays, becomes a success. The classic tune "White Christmas" was introduced in the 1942 film.
• "Recipe for a Perfect Christmas," 9 p.m., Monday, Dec. 5, Lifetime Television. Bobby Cannavale, Christine Baranski and Carly Pope star in a romantic comedy about a fledgling food critic whose scheme involving her mom and a restaurant owner doesn't go according to plan.
• "It's a Wonderful Life," 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24, NBC. Frank Capra's classic 1946 fantasy about troubled George Bailey (James Stewart) and his enlightening angel,Clarence (Henry Travers).
• "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, ABC. Jim Carrey stars as the unpopular Grinch in the film based on the Dr. Seuss book. Christine Baranski and Jeffrey Tambor co-star.
• "The Santa Clause," 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, ABC. Tim Allen stars as a man who becomes the unwilling successor to Santa Claus and has to quickly learn the ropes. Wendy Crewson, David Krumholtz and Peter Boyle co-star.
• "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, NBC. Life on the road isn't easy for Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and family, but at least his Christmas bonus is coming. Beverly D'Angelo co-stars.
• "Christmas Lights," 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, BBC America. Two lifelong friends — and rivals — become locked in a holiday house decoration contest that gets out of control and ultimately forces them to reflect on what really counts. Robson Green and Mark Benton star.
• "I'll Be Home for Christmas," 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24, ABC. College student Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is on a homeward holiday trek, determined to win back his girlfriend and get a '57 Porsche, to boot.
• "Finding John Christmas," 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 25, CBS. Valerie Bertinelli, Peter Falk, David Cubitt and William Russ star in the tale of a woman whose search for her long-missing brother brings her together with a newspaper photographer and a helpful angel.
• "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, NBC. A celebration of the lighting of the famous New York tree, with music by Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Brian Wilson, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Earth, Wind & Fire.
• "Entertainment Weekly's Best Holiday Movies," 10:15 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, AMC. Actor French Stewart hosts this rundown of yuletide movie favorites.
• "Creative Juice for the Holidays," 10 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, DIY Network. Hosts Cathie Filian and Steve Piacenza demonstrate affordable holiday craft projects, including turning foam snowballs into snowmen and tomato wire cages into Christmas trees.
• "The White House Christmas 2005," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, HGTV. The special, with host Joan Steffans, takes viewers into the holiday planning process for the White House and includes first lady Laura Bush's discussion of her choice for this year's theme.
• "Christmas in Washington," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, TNT. Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and Ciara will perform at the annual event attended by the president, first lady and other prominent Washingtonians. Phil McGraw ("Dr. Phil") and his wife, Robin, are the hosts.
• "L.A. Holiday Celebration," 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, PBS. A multicultural program of music and dance with performers of African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Hispanic backgrounds marking the season. Elayne Boosler hosts.
• "Soul Train Christmas Special," 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Wayne Brady, Eric Benet and Tiffany Evans host a slate of R&B stars performing holiday hits.
• "A Home for the Holidays," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, CBS. George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis are among those featured in this annual effort to spotlight the issue of adoption. Performers include Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige and the Goo Goo Dolls.
• "Renee Fleming: Sacred Songs and Carols," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, PBS. In this "Great Performances" program recorded at Germany's Mainz Cathedral, the opera singer is backed by an orchestra and full choir.
• "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, and 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24, PBS. Audra McDonald and Peter Graves take part in a concert that includes African-American spirituals and contemporary favorites.
• "A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, PBS. The choir of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., joins with a Norwegian girls' choir and mezzo Randi Stene in a program taped at Tronheim's Nidaros Cathedral.
• "Christmas at Belmont," 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, and Sunday, Dec. 25, PBS (check local listings). Country singer Josh Turner, a Belmont University alumnus, is set to perform at the school's annual concert Hall, as are students, faculty and the Nashville Children's Choir.
• "Creature Comforts — Merry Christmas Everybody," 10:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, BBC America. In short films from the makers of Wallace & Gromit, answers from Brits to pressing questions (how do hamsters handle indigestion?) come out of the mouths of animal characters.
• "Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade," 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 25, ABC. Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa host the 22nd annual telecast of the resort's parade, with guests including Vanessa Williams, Julie Andrews, Tiger Woods, Fantasia and Hayden Christensen.
• "Live from Lincoln Center," 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, PBS. The New York Philharmonic presents its annual New Year's Eve gala, featuring a program of Italian opera with soprano Angela Gheorghiu.
• "Tournament of Roses Parade," 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 2, NBC. The 117th edition of the Pasadena parade includes performances by LeAnn Rimes, Toni Braxton and magician Lance Burton, along with the flower-bedecked floats, parade royalty and many horses. ___
AULD LANG SYNE:
• "New Year's Eve with Carson Daly," 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, NBC. Daly rings in 2006 from New York City's Times Square.
• "Dick Clark's Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve 2006," 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, ABC. Ryan Seacrest joins Clark in hosting the celebration in Times Square.
• "New Year's Eve Live," 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, Fox. Regis Philbin is the host for these Times Square festivities, including music, celebrities and a look back at the events of 2005.