'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

Charlie Brown (left) turns to Linus to learn the meaning of Christmas in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at 7 p.m. on ABC.

Not every Christmas television special holds up for more than half a century. First broadcast on CBS on Dec. 9, 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-G) remains one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday specials.

“Charlie Brown” debuted on CBS opposite “The Donna Reed Show” on ABC and “Daniel Boone” on NBC, popular series that left the air in 1966 and 1970, respectively, relics of another era.

The week “Charlie Brown” aired, the No. 1 song in America was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds. Written by folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, it was adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes, making it a rare pop hit with lyrics taken from the Bible.

Perhaps there was something in the air in December 1965, as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” also lifted biblical lines when Linus quotes from the Gospel of Luke.

The makers of the Christmas special delivered their production at the last minute, so network big shots and sponsors couldn’t change it. Some anticipated controversy or disaster.

Any worries that the special’s biblical references would offend or divide viewers were brushed aside when it attracted a 45 percent share of all working TV sets and near unanimous critical acclaim.

Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram called Linus’ invocation of the Nativity scene “the dramatic highlight of the season.” So “Charlie Brown” has endured more than 50 years after that paper ceased publication in 1966.

Wholesome yet neurotic, celebratory and deeply sad at the same time, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is not without some irony. Famous for its characters’ disillusionment with a commercialized Christmas, the animation style for this special was first developed for use in advertisements for the 1961 Ford Falcon compact car.

It’s a Commercial, Charlie Brown!

Other highlights

  • The Tennessee Titans host the Jacksonville Jaguars in “Thursday Night Football” (7 p.m., Fox) NFL action.
  • A shopping obsessive is locked overnight in a department store in the 2018 holiday comedy “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas” (7 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
  • “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” (8 p.m. ABC, TV-PG) returns for a fourth season.
  • Contestants travel to Churchill Downs to prepare a feast for 200 Kentucky Derby attendees as “Top Chef” (8 p.m., Bravo, TV-14) returns for a 16th season.
  • Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Margo Price and others perform at Nashville’s 2018 AmericanaFest (8 p.m., CMT).
  • “Baroness von Sketch Show” (8 p.m., IFC, TV-14) compares work friends and social media friends.
  • Detectives hunt down evidence to convict a known serial killer as “Cold Valley” continues (8 p.m., ID, TV-14).
  • A child taken from her parents at the border lands in a prostitution ring on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
  • New evidence inspires a theory about alien life on “Nightflyers” (9 p.m., Syfy, TV-MA).

Cult choice

Hopeless cowpokes (Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy) seek their fortune in a gold mine in the 1937 comedy “Way Out West” (11:30 a.m., TCM).

Series notes

Sheldon consults someone who knows him best on “The Big Bang Theory” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Amy and Jonah undergo management training on “Superstore” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14) ... Lives change on “Supernatural” (7 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... The birth of “Bazinga” on “Young Sheldon” (7:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Outer-body experiences offer insights to Michael and Janet on “The Good Place” (7:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

Bonnie helps Tammy celebrate her new freedom on “Mom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... To land a shallow man, Will consults Jack for tips on “Will & Grace” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) ... A major milestone on “Legacies” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Corky guilt-trips Murphy into adopting a dog on “Murphy Brown” (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Emet puts on a festival of (gas)lights on “I Feel Bad” (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... Stolen DNA evidence on “S.W.A.T.” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

Late night

Julia Roberts is booked on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” (10 p.m., Comedy Central) ... Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Emma Willmann are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Jason Momoa, J.K. Simmons and Joe Machi on “The Tonight Show” (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Gwen Stefani and Jimmy Tatro appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (10:35 p.m., ABC).

Alec Baldwin, Bazzi and Nikki Glaspie visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Jennifer Aniston, Dolly Parton and Leon Bridges appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:35 p.m., CBS).

© 2018 United Feature Synd.