Charlie Brown and Linus

Charlie Brown may decry the commercialization of the holidays, but there's no denying the continued popularity of his TV specials. A Charlie Brown Christmas returns to ABC Wednesday night (8/7c) for the first of two airings this month, and if the network's recent rebroadcasts of the Peanuts Halloween and Thanksgiving specials are any indication, it's sure to do well.

Nearly 50 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas first premiered on December 9, 1965, the special and its subsequent holiday brethren (including It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving) continue to be ratings hits in primetime.

Last Wednesday, ABC's annual repeat of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving averaged 8 million viewers, up 37 percent from last year and posting the special's biggest audience in four years. In October, ABC's annual airing of Great Pumpkin posted its best ratings in three years, attracting 8 million viewers— up 8 percent over its 2011 telecast — and winning its half-hour with adults 18-49 and kids.

How A Charlie Brown Christmas Became a Holiday Tradition

"It's the whole family watching," says executive producer Lee Mendelson. "We have the grandparents, the parents and the kids." That's all the more impressive given that the Charlie Brown specials are all available on DVD. "[Peanuts Creator] Charles Schulz said there would always be a market for innocence in this country," he adds. "That longevity is attributed to Schulz's humor and sense of the pulse of America. He created these endearing characters. Even though they're animated they seem almost alive. It all goes back to the comic strip and people's love of the characters in the comic strip."

Early on, A Charlie Brown Christmas attracted as much as half of all TV households, setting up an enduring holiday tradition. "It was almost like a Super Bowl fan base," Mendelson says. "That has gone from generation to generation. We had no idea it would go nearly 50 years."

Mendelson even credits TV Guide Magazine for being "very instrumental in the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas" by running a major feature on the special the week before it aired. And Vince Guaraldi's famous jazz score has become a part of the annual Christmas soundtrack.

After 35 years on CBS, the specials were snapped up by ABC in 2001. It wound up being one of the smartest acquisitions ABC ever made. "They made a total commitment to them," Mendelson says. "They run about seven or eight hours over a seven week period. We're so grateful to them because it did resurrect the whole franchise." CBS execs were caught off guard by the move at the time, and were not pleased.

ABC will run A Charlie Brown Christmas again on Tuesday, December 18 at 8/7c, as well as the more recent specials I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown on Thursday, Dec. 20 at 8/7c and Happy New Year. Charlie Brown (along with She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown) on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 8/7c.

Good grief, that's a lot of Peanuts specials, Charlie Brown!

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