Second Helpings: Savoring a 2-Part Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

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For 36 years now, Lucy has been taunting Charlie Brown to kick that same football, yanking away at the last second. Year after year, the scene goes on in perpetual repeat, the same frustrated little boy falling backwards, groaning in agony. And yet for me, that scenario never grows old. Each and every time, I feel Charlie Brown’s pain, hoping that maybe – just maybe – things might play out a little differently this year.

When it comes to my world – that of movie theaters, television screens and DVD rental stores – there are only a few indicators that the holidays are upon us. At the top of that list are the Charlie Brown specials that punctuate Thanksgiving and Christmas – two never-fail staples of earnest sentiment in an otherwise crass and commercial season.

But last autumn, ABC started mixing up the regular “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” routine. They resurrected an old Charles Schulz cartoon from a 1980’s mini-series, which featured the Peanuts crew in an array of historical situations. “We did a mini-series back in the mid-‘80s about the history of America – and I was always particulary fond of Charlie Brown coming over to America as a passenger on the Mayflower,” recalls Lee Mendelson, who served as producer on so many of the original “Charlie Brown” specials. “And it was sort of serendipity that they brought this episode of the series back last year, programming it right after the traditional Thanksgiving special. The best part: Ratings actually went up in the second half-hour.”

Thanks to that unexpected ratings boost, last year’s Thanksgiving experiment returns in full this year, testing the waters yet again with a 2-part “Charlie Brown” event that could become the new annual tradition. Thursday night, from 8-9 p.m. (eastern), the conventional “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” will be followed by “This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers.” Mendelson says he loves the pairing: “It’s a more natural fit than some of the other historical episodes we produced, but I love this notion of the history of Thanksgiving being paired with the story of a bunch of kids cooking their own Thankgiving meal, making popcorn and peantut butter sandwiches. It’s really a celebration of people coming together, both in the past and present.”

Mendelson says he’s not too sure about other “This is America” segments being revived on the airwaves any time soon. While he loved the series, he says episodes about Charlie Brown venturing into space don’t meld too well with traditional Christmas or Halloween programming. That being said, it makes Thursday’s Thanksgiving edition that much more special – after all the football games, cranberry sauce and Tryptophan-induced naps, why not give a full hour of “Charlie Brown” a try?

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