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Explainer: You’ve had some great TV specials, Charlie Brown

  • Image: "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
    Charles M. Schultz  /  AP
    Charlie Brown and his pal Linus rediscovered the true meaning of the holidays in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

    Saturday marks the 60th birthday for Charlie Brown and his "Peanuts" pals, and over the course of those decades, Charles Schulz’s perennial elementary schoolers starred in more than 17,000 comic strips, four feature films, two musicals and a heck of a lot of television specials.

    Jeannie Schulz, wife of the Peanuts cartoonist, on TODAY

    The entire multimedia collection is worthy of repeated viewings from faithful fans, but for those who grew up in the glow of the small screen, the specials are the best of the bunch. They marked holidays, explained some universal ups and downs, and brought life to the kids from the funny pages.

    From 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to 2006’s “He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown,” it’s not hard to find a few favorites.

    Here’s a closer look at five of them:

  • ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’

    Halloween would be lacking something without Linus’ annual vigil and Charlie Brown’s usual dose of bad luck found in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

    The animated story features some of the greatest “Peanuts” moments of all time. There’s Snoopy’s failed mission as the World War I Flying Ace. There’s Sally’s plea for restitution after wasting her first night of “tricks or treats.” And of course, there’s Charlie Brown wearing his ghost-of-many-holes costume and carrying a candyless bag. (“I got a rock.”)

    But for once, Chuck’s plight wasn’t the worst. His best buddy, Linus, was the down-and-out star of this show. After spending all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin in “the most sincere pumpkin patch” he could find, the occasional thumb-sucker faced a whole lot of ridicule but not one giant, anthropomorphic pumpkin. Of course, as the man of faith in the “Peanuts” world, Linus remained undaunted.

  • ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

    As the holiday season moves on, the next-best offering takes the center stage. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the first “Peanuts” TV special ever aired, set the laughs-to-tears tone to come.

    Despite the fact that Christmas Day was on its way, Charlie Brown had a bad case of the blues. Nothing new for him, of course, but this time his ennui forced him to take action. On the advice of Lucy (which, generally speaking, one should never take), he decided to direct the yearly nativity play. Thus began his downward spiral.

    Everyone around Charlie Brown wanted the shiny trimmings of the day, even his pooch pal, Snoopy, but that just led the kid in the yellow shirt to groan about all the offensive commercialism. They were greedy, he was preachy and only Linus knew “the true meaning of Christmas,” which reminded them what the holiday was all about — decorating a tiny tree and dancing like mad.

  • ‘You’re in Love, Charlie Brown’

    In “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” everyone’s favorite round-headed protagonist falls in love with the elusive Little Red-Haired Girl.

    For some, love inspires great things. For Charlie Brown, it inspired all new lows. In fact, were it not for all the usual “Peanuts” fun packed into this one, those lows might have been a bit too much.

    After all, Chuck’s not just blue in “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” he’s downright emo.

    “You know why that little girl with the red hair never notices me?” he asked Linus. “Because I’m nothing.”

    Ouch.

    At this point in the timeline, the legendary Little Red-Haired Girl remained nameless and faceless. Unfortunately, she lost all of her mystery in a later Valentine’s Day special.

  • ‘You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown’

    The world’s worst athlete gave it one more shot in “You’re a good sport, Charlie Brown.”

    Competing against the likes of Peppermint Patty and his own dog, Charlie Brown of can’t-kick-a-football-or-win-a-baseball-game fame joined a motorcross race. After one wreck, a trip to the vet (for him, not Snoopy) and an impromptu pumpkin helmet, he actually won it all. No, really.

    The bad news, and there had to be some, was that the mostly bald kid won a gift certificate for five free haircuts.

    Waa-waa.

  • ‘It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown’

    As the previous two entries proved, not every “Peanuts” TV special focused on a holiday — just loads of them. In addition to the aforementioned Halloween and Christmas stories, there was “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown,” “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” and many, many more. Included in the “more” mix is the unexpected gem “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.”

    Arbor Day isn’t exactly one of the A-list holidays, and as such, it was a mystery to Chuck’s little sister, Sally. That is before she discovered her green thumb and decided to “beautify” the baseball diamond. All that friendly foliage almost lead to the impossible — a win for Charlie Brown’s long-beleaguered team. Almost. Eventually another force of nature — rain — prevented the victory. (AAUGH!)

    The 1976 cartoon classic not only featured yet another playful and at times bittersweet journey with Charlie Brown’s family and friends, it also marked the end of the signature piano sound all the specials had until that time. Jazz musician and “Peanuts” composer Vince Guaraldi died shortly after recording the music for the Arbor Day show.

    Good grief! Ree Hines didn’t pick one ’80s special for the list. Follow @ReeHines on Twitter and tell her which of your favorites she missed.

Video: Charlie Brown turns 60

  1. Transcript of: Charlie Brown turns 60

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: And a milestone birthday tomorrow. Charlie Brown turns 60. That's right , October 2nd , 1950 , the first "Peanuts" comic strip appeared in a total of seven newspapers. Charlie Brown had a bit of a different look than what we're used to. Creator Charles Schulz , who died in 2000 , is being honored all weekend at the Smithsonian , which added his picture to the National Portrait Gallery today.

Vote: What's your favorite Peanuts special?

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