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Charlie Brown on Apple TV: Why are people outraged?

A look at Charlie Brown, the popularity of the comic strip Peanuts, and the Apple deal that has caused outrage.

Written by Surbhi Gupta , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 29, 2020 10:02:06 am
Charlie Brown, Who is Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown Apple TV, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown Christmas, Indian ExpressThis image released by Apple shows key art for the animated classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas" holiday special. Apple and PBS have teamed up for ad free broadcasts of the special and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” (Apple via AP)

The holiday special TV show, ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’, is said to be as traditional in American households as turkey and stuffing. Hence, earlier in October, when it was announced that the specials, including its classics ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’; ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’; and ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, were moving from CBS to its new home Apple TV Plus, it caused outrage among viewers, who have been watching them on network TV for over five decades now.

Later, Apple offered to stream the shows for free on select days, but that didn’t stop online petitions. It made Apple make a deal with PBS to broadcast the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, bringing cheer among people.

A look at Charlie Brown, the popularity of the comic strip Peanuts, and the deal that caused outrage:

Who is Charlie Brown?

“Lovable loser” Charlie Brown, the principal character of the comic strip Peanuts, syndicated in daily and Sunday newspapers all over the world, is considered one of the greatest American archetypes. He is known to be someone who frequently suffers and as a result is usually nervous, lacking self-confidence. The character’s creator, Charles M Schulz, had once said that Charlie Brown “is a caricature of the average person”.

Brown made his official debut in the first Peanuts comic strip on October 2, 1950, but it was in the 1960s when it entered its Golden Age, reaching a peak of 355 million readers. Charlie Brown is the only Peanuts character to have been a part of the strip throughout its 50-year run. The other popular character from the series is Snoopy, the beagle. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Charlie Brown, Who is Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown Apple TV, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown Christmas, Indian Express This image released by Apple shows key art for the animated classic “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” holiday special. (Apple via AP)

The legacy of Peanuts

One of the most influential American cartoonists, Schulz first used the name Charlie Brown for a character, along with a dog that looked like Snoopy, in a series of cartoons called Lil’ Folks from 1947 to 1950. They later found their way to Peanuts.

At its height, Peanuts was published daily in 2,600 papers in 75 countries, in 21 languages, and was “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being”, as over nearly 50 years, Schulz drew 17,897 published Peanuts strips. It was also instrumental in cementing the four-panel gag strip as the standard in the United States. The strips, along with the merchandise and product endorsements, produced revenues of more than $1 billion per year.

“Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip, so even now it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor, the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale – in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow,” wrote Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, in 2007, about Peanuts’ legacy.

Also in Explained | The history of Thanksgiving, and the presidential turkey pardon

Holiday specials

Peanuts achieved great success with its television specials, several of which won or were nominated for Emmy Awards. It all started with the 1965 Christmas special, considered way ahead of its time in its anti-consumerism message. In the 25-minute production, Charlie Brown is seen dealing with seasonal depression, confessing that he just can’t catch the Christmas fever like everyone else. Commissioned and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company, directed by Bill Melendez, it took an unconventional route by hiring child actors and featuring a jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi.

Though the producers and the network predicted the failure of this project, it found extreme popularity as a pleasant surprise, paving the way for a series of Peanuts television specials and films, including one for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

What is the deal with Apple?

In October, Apple TV+ inked a deal with WildBrain, Peanuts Worldwide and Lee Mendelson Film Productions to become the home for all things Peanuts, including new original series and specials. New animated Peanuts originals will now be released on the streaming platform, including the second season of the Daytime Emmy-nominated ‘Snoopy in Space’, and new specials marking Mother’s Day, Earth Day, New Year’s Eve and going back to school, all produced by WildBrain’s animation studio.

Why were people outraged about it?

To many, including the more than 260,000 people who signed a petition against the deal, it meant a theft of holiday traditions, as one had to subscribe and pay for the streaming service to view the shows, as opposed to watching them on network TV for free of cost. Later when Apple decided to make them available for free for select days, people pointed out poor connectivity in rural areas and digital divide as deterrents for viewing the shows. Therefore, the PBS broadcast was a welcome announcement.

‘The Great Pumpkin’ could not be shown on broadcast as the deal with PBS came later, making it the first time since 1966 that the special didn’t air on TV.

Meanwhile, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas specials would return to air.

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