You're in a Ford Commercial, Charlie Brown!

Studio 360

A Charlie Brown ChristmaslandedCharles M. Schulz's Peanuts characters intelevision history and gave us one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. This wasn't the gang's debut on TV, though. Five years earlier, the same animation studio worked on the very first animated versions of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang. And they did it for a Ford Falcon.

"Is this a commercial?" Linus asks. Everyone who grew up watching Charlie Brown wait for the Great Pumpkin on Halloween might be feeling his confusion. Helistens politely as the narrator drones on about miles between oil changes(somebodyget that guy a muted trombone). "Considering all it has to offer, I think it deserves to be successful," Linus concludes, humorlessly. There's no trace of the gently subversive irony that makes Peanutsso great.

But as crassand un-funny as these commercialsare, we have them to thank for those belovedPeanutsspecials.A few years after Charlie Brown first hawked Fords, the producer Lee Mendelsonwas working on thedocumentaryA Boy Named Charlie Brown,aboutPeanuts creator Charles Schulz. Mendelson contacted the animator of those commercials, Bill Melendez, toadd some animated footage of the characters to the documentary. After that, whenCBS hired Mendelson to produce a half-hour animated Christmas special, he called up Schulz and Melendez. A Charlie Brown Christmascame out in 1965, winningan Emmy and a Peabody award (and our hearts!).

Schulz,Melendez, and Mendelsonwould makedozens ofPeanutsspecials together. And, of course, the Peanutscharacters went onto sellall kinds of grown-up stuff --- Snoopy continues to rep life insurance. Had they not first proven their worth hawking product, we would never have heard Schroeder playing "Linus and Lucy"or seenSnoopy dogfight withthe Red Baron.But seeing thempalling around with that unctuous pitchman with the chocolate cigars is enough to make anyone a little depressed.

Sally talks back to a commercial in this 3eanutsstrip.