How about an early Christmas gift? A Charlie Brown Christmas will air for free on broadcast TV after all. Back in October, many fans were unhappy to learn that the trio of popular Peanuts holiday specials was moving to the pay streaming service Apple TV Plus. Even though each show would offer a few days of free viewing on the platform, fans expressed their dismay about not being able to watch on broadcast TV, as they'd been able to do for decades. But thankfully, Apple later announced a deal with PBS to air ad-free broadcasts of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on both PBS and the PBS Kids website.
Here's how to tune in to the 1965 Christmas special that reminded viewers about the true meaning of Christmas, and that a simple, spindly Christmas tree can be just as special as a giant pricey evergreen.
When to watch the show
Got Apple TV Plus?
Apple TV Plus subscribers can watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on that streaming service as part of their paid-for plan beginning Dec. 4.
Don't have Apple TV Plus and want to watch on broadcast TV?
If you don't subscribe to Apple TV Plus, you can watch the Christmas special on PBS and the PBS Kids website on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. local time/6:30 p.m. CT.
Don't have Apple TV Plus and want to watch online?
A Charlie Brown Christmas will also be available for free on Apple TV Plus from Dec. 11 through Dec. 13. You don't have to subscribe to watch.
You can either watch in your browser or on the Apple TV app. To watch in your browser, go to tv.apple.com. Otherwise, download the Apple TV app and watch on your choice of screen, including iPhone, Amazon Fire, Roku and more. Again, it's only free during that brief period from Dec. 11 through Dec. 13.
Give the gift of DVDs
If watching in your browser or on the app isn't for you, there's still another solution: Buy the DVD or Blu-ray version. A Charlie Brown Christmas is sold by itself ($10 at Target and available plenty of other places as well) or as part of The Peanuts Holiday Collection ($30 at Best Buy, again, also sold elsewhere). Then you'll have the special -- or all the holiday specials -- for as long as your DVD player holds out.
Why it's so beloved
A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts holiday special, and back in 1965, the New York Times wrote that lifting the popular characters from the newspaper comics section to the small screen was "a big gamble." For one thing, fans who were accustomed to hearing the characters' voices in their own heads now would have to adjust to actors' voices. And the special was breaking boundaries in other ways. The kids were voiced by kids, not trained adult actors. There was no laugh track. The jazz soundtrack wasn't for everyone. And Linus delivers a biblical passage from the book of Luke about the birth of Jesus, which creator Charles Schulz insisted upon, but which unnerved some TV bosses.
Programming executives didn't expect much, but as Smithsonian magazine reports, over half of US TVs tuned in, and the very elements that scared the industry suits endeared the show to regular Americans. Now, it's hard to imagine December without the show airing -- which is why so many strongly objected to the show moving off regular broadcast TV and on to Apple TV Plus only. The change offering a PBS showing didn't come in time for Halloween's It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but did make it in time for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and now for A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Even after the holidays, Apple TV Plus will continue as the home for new Peanuts shows, including the second season of the Snoopy in Space series, plus new specials that will mark Mother's Day, Earth Day, New Year's Eve and going back to school.