“In 1963, I did a documentary on Willie Mays, the world’s best baseball player and one on Charlie Brown, the world’s worst. We sold the Mays documentary, but never sold the Charlie Brown documentary. Three years later, TIME Magazine put the [Peanuts] characters on its cover and we got calls from advertisers and networks asking if we were still thinking of doing an animated show, and that’s what led us to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
We had done a couple of minutes of animation in the documentary but people said, “You can’t have kids who talk like adults.” We had given up, but when Coca-Cola called after the TIME cover they asked if we’d ever thought of doing a Christmas show and I lied and said, “Oh, absolutely.” So they asked us to send them an outline on Monday. I called Schulz on the phone and said, “I think I just sold A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and he said, “What’s that?” and I told him, “It’s something you’re going to write tomorrow.”
When we first did the Christmas special the network thought it was awful. There was a TIME Magazine writer who wanted to see it and they told me that I’d better not let him see it, but I said, “It’ll be worse if we don’t.” So I sit in the room alone with the TIME magazine critic as he watches and he doesn’t say a word, doesn’t take any notes, gets up and leaves. I said, “Oh my God, we’re dead.” Two days later the review came out and it was a whole page calling it the greatest cartoon ever made. I remember it saying, “it’s going to run for 100 years.” TIME Magazine saved our butts. Twice.”
- Longtime Peanuts TV specials producer Lee Mendelson in an interview with TIME