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Talking turkey and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" with Lee Mendelson

November 25, 2013|By Elliott Serrano, @ElliottSerrano | For RedEye

With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, there's going to be a lot going on in kitchens around the country. But once the turkey has been eaten, and the football has been played, families will be gathering around the television set to watch Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang enjoying their own brand of holiday fun.

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is celebrating it's 40th anniversary, airing on ABC Thanksgiving Day and getting a special DVD release. (It will be followed by "The Mayflower Voyagers" which is also included on the DVD.)

To mark the special occasion, the good folks of Peanuts Worldwide and Warner Bros. gave me another opportunity to speak with legendary Peanuts features producer Lee Mendelson. Mendelson shared his experiences producing the special, and tells about the one thing in the feature that has always bothered him.

I also have some Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Gift Packs to give away! So check out the interview, then catch up with me at the bottom of the post to learn how to win a holiday gift pack!:

Geek To Me: And how are you today sir?

Lee Mendelson: Very good. And how are you?

G2M: I’m doing well. I’m very delighted to speak with you about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” It’s a little bit of a conversation that goes on these days, when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday, where it seems like Thanksgiving itself is getting lost between Halloween and Christmas. What do you think about that?

LM: Well, in terms of our show, our Thanksgiving show, it got the highest rating ever last Thanksgiving. Well, not ever but for the last five years. So interest in the program, which I translate into interest in Thanksgiving, may be on the rise.

One of the reasons that the second show, that goes with our Thanksgiving show, is “The Mayflower Voyagers”, to remind people of the first Thanksgiving. And in a sense, this is the 40th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” but it’s 200 and whatever years (laughs) from the first Thanksgiving. It’s kinda fun that we put it together. Maybe 400 years, I don’t have the calendar-

Me: (laughs) It’s very much a tradition. It seems like the Peanuts characters have been going through a real revival here. A lot of interest, again, in experiencing these holiday specials; whether it the Halloween special - which is one of my favorites; of course the Christmas special which is a family tradition for generations and generations; why do you think these characters resonate so much with people, especially around the holidays?

LM: I think it’s been around 65 years now in the comic strip. In fact, I think I should mention in passing that Charles Schulz did 18,000 comic strips over 50 years which is a staggering number when you think about it. Never had any help with the drawing, lettering or anything else. (In that time) these characters have become part of the culture.

Last year the Library of Congress set aside 25 recordings that had the most cultural impact in America, and we went in with Prince and Donna Summer. And I mention that only because Charlie Brown, although fictional, has become part of the American fabric, just as any movie star or television star or politician,

And I think that people identify with Charlie Brown because no matter how many times he gets knocked down, he gets back up and tries again. I think it’s the resiliency he shows that appeals to people. And I think Linus, with the security blanket, appeals to people. And then of course the not-all sweet Sally takes it out on Linus, and Lucy certainly on everybody else.

So I think it’s just a repertory company, the Charlie Brown characters, much like Jack Benny was in radio, or any of the great radio shows. Where it’s a group of people, that become real even though they’re fictional.

They’re so much a part of the fabric that a day doesn’t go by where you don’t hear a reference to it, whether it’s on television or in a movie, in a book or on the street where people go “whah-whah-whah.”

And it’s become a part of our daily life. It wasn’t a passing fancy like the hula hoop.

G2M: The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special has been remastered; the picture has been improved, audio has been improved. Was that a challenge getting it through the process? Was it difficult finding source materials?

LM: No, it was remarkably easy as a matter of fact.  The transformation in color and sound has been astounding to us. And it was a fairly routine operation and we were thrilled we were able to do it, whether it was for television or DVD or new media, or whatever. It was no problem.

One of the reasons is we upgraded every five or ten years. So it’s not like we had to start from scratch. No pun intended.

G2M: (laughs)

LM: But no, it really was no problem.

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