By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A Charlie Brown Christmashas left indelible footprints in the snow that will never vanish: The Simpsons lifted its "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" finale for one of its Halloween specials; South Parkhas borrowed from it at least twice (two weeks ago, its Thanksgiving special offered a parody featuring a desiccated turkey named Gobbles in place of the fir tree); and Robert Smigel, who creates Saturday Night Live's "TV Funhouse" cartoons, lifted Linus' entire true-meaning-of-Christmas speech for one of his episodes. In a cartoon that originally aired on SNLtwo years ago, Jesus returned to earth and found it overrun by pocketbook preachers and gluttonous heathens; he was sickened by what he found. Then, standing in front of a TV store, Jesus catches Linus' recitation from the Bible, and a single teardrop falls from Christ's eye. It was a punchline delivered with a frown; the joke stuck in your throat.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas is the greatest half-hour American TV has ever produced," Smigel told the Dallas Observerin 1998. "And you know I'm serious when I say that, because I'm Jewish. The range of subjects that show covers in 22 minutes, and the way it treats each one with humor and sadness at the same time, is amazing. These were kids with adult feelings; they knew what a lonely place the world could be, but they had the determination to keep going."
"You know," Mendelson says, "generations change, audiences change, but this show never will. I had never thought about it till this discussion that it is Sparky's Christmas Carol, and it will last just as long as those other epics, which is quite something. Of course, I'd never put it in that context." He then laughs, like a man caught tooting his own horn. It makes him uncomfortable, if only because he doesn't need to. "I shouldn't be doing that. I'll leave that to somebody else."