When they finished making "A Charlie Brown Christmas" 50 years ago, the producers sat back and looked at their work. And they thought: good grief.

"We just thought it was a little slow, and it was certainly not a traditional Christmas show," said Lee Mendelson, the producer who persuaded "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz to adapt his popular strip about lovable loser Charlie Brown and his friends into an animated holiday offering. "When you're too close to something, you get a little worried."

A week before the December 1965 premiere, they screened it for CBS, where two executives watched in stony silence. When the lights came up, one of the bosses told Mendelson, "Well, you gave it a good try."

That humbly received TV special is now marking an unbroken half-century of annual telecasts, becoming a leading part of pop culture's holiday canon. In a world filled with memes, "Charlie Brown Christmas" offers a number of its own, from Linus' blanket-improvised shepherd's headpiece during the school play rehearsal to Snoopy's gaudily decorated doghouse to the gang's inimitable dance moves during the jazzy theme, "Linus and Lucy."

ABC, which acquired the rights to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in 2001, will precede this year's golden anniversary telecast on Monday with an hourlong special, "It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown," hosted by Kristen Bell.

There will be original music and guest appearances by Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Sarah McLachlan and others.

Los Angeles Times