Good grief! Charlie Brown’s famous “Peanuts” holiday specials, once available in broad fashion each year via ABC and CBS, are now caught up in some of the complexities of the streaming era.
Apple, which in October unveiled its new rights to classic properties like “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as well as “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” for its streaming-video Apple TV service, said it would make the specials available on PBS and its PBS Kids outlet, adopting a “windowing” model for a classic kids property that has begun to take root in a new era for the TV business.
Apple in 2018 established ties to Charles Schulz’ time-honored “Peanuts” empire, which has its origins in a daily comic strip about characters like Lucy, Linus and Peppermint Patty. The pact intially called for Apple to develop original series, specials and shorts, including one featuring iconic canine Snoopy as an astronaut that would teach kids about science, technology and math. But the company’s bid to snap up the holiday specials raised eyebrows, as it placed the shows behind a paywall of sorts, even though Apple has promised to make them available for free viewing for a limited period of time. Apple’s streaming-video service costs $4.99 per month, and requires the subscriber to have a broadband connection in the home.
The companies said “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” will air on PBS and PBS Kids on November 22 at 7:30 pm, while “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air on PBS and PBS Kids on December 13, 2020 at 7:30 pm. Apple will stream “Thanksgiving” for free between November 25 and November 27 and “Christmas” between December 11 and December 13. A window for the Halloween-themed “Great Pumpkin” appears to have already closed.
Other big media companies have grappled with the prospect of securing a popular kids’ media property traditionally considered part of broader viewing.
WarnerMedia’s HBO in 2015 struck a pact with Sesame Workshop that gave it first access to new episodes of “Sesame Street,” which were subsequently made available to the show’s longtime home, PBS, after a period of a few months. More recently, NBCUniversal’s streaming-video hub Peacock announced it would be the first home of a new season of “Curious George,” long a staple of the PBS lineup.
Apple and PBS will make the specials available in a format to which some viewers may not be accustomed: free from advertising. The trio of “Peanuts” specials aired for decades on CBS, which began running “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965; “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” in 1966 and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” in 1973. Ads for Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison cakes and pastries appeared in early broadcasts, followed later by commercials for candies like Almond Joy, Mounds and York Peppermint Patties (which had no tie to the “Peanuts” character with a similar name). ABC secured rights to the animated specials after 2000.
PBS has long positioned itself as having a strong mission to help bring early education to children, particularly those in low-income homes who may not have access to the latest technology or programming that runs on cable or digital media. PBS has more than 330 member stations, and in 2016 launched the PBS Kids digital-cable network to give younger viewers more access to programs such as “Daniel Tiger,” “Molly of Denali” and “Nature Cat.”