It’s 50 years this week since Charles Schulz introduced the Great Pumpkin in his Peanuts comic strip, and it’s 43 years tonight since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was first broadcast on CBS. Every time I watch the show, I wonder how much of it goes sailing over the heads not merely of today’s kids, but of their parents’, too.
“I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” Never mind the vocabulary itself; today, placing such high stakes on sincerity versus hypocrisy seems about as quaint as worrying about the commercialization of Christmas, which is the point around which A Charlie Brown Christmas revolves.
There’s a lot to love about The Great Pumpkin—the early scenes featuring golden fall leaves are gorgeous, and all throughout the show the backgrounds are rich with shades of gray and purple. And of course, there’s the music. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the soundtrack features of Vince Guaraldi’s cool, contemporary jazz. The choice to score the Christmas special with jazz hadn’t pleased CBS when that special was first delivered, but its success ensured that all future specials would feature the same sort of thing.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was the third animated Peanuts special, following A Charlie Brown Christmas and the little-seen Charlie Brown’s All Stars, and like its two predecessors, it was among the highest-rated programs on television the week it aired—nearly 50 percent of the viewing audience watched the show that night. It won’t draw that kind of numbers when it’s rebroadcast on ABC tonightWednesday night, although it does well enough. If you plan to watch tonight, keep in mind that when the show was originally produced in 1966, it ran 25 minutes. The standard for commercial TV today is 21 or 22, and sometimes less in “children’s” programming, so you won’t be seeing the whole thing. According to Wikipedia, ABC once cut out the scene in which Lucy tries to get Charlie Brown to kick the football, one of the classic bits in the history of the Peanuts strip. That’s like trying to shorten “Stairway to Heaven” by taking out the guitar solo.
Recommended Reading: Speaking of holiday perennials, on Halloween night 1968, WKBW Radio in Buffalo broadcast a version of The War of the Worlds updated for the Top-4o era. They thought nobody would panic—but they were wrong. Also, at WNEW.com: This Week in Rock History.