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Friday September 29 5:47 AM ET

Good Grief! ABC Nabs Charlie Brown Specials

By Josef Adalian and Michael Schneider

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Good grief! You're switching networks, Charlie Brown.

In an upset of Great Pumpkin-size proportions, ABC has beat out CBS for the rights to the holy trinity of classic "Charlie Brown" animated specials -- putting an end to a 35-year CBS tradition.

ABC locked up the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas half-hours simply by offering more money than CBS, which had the right to make the first offer for the toons, industry insiders said. Financial terms were not disclosed.

ABC's three-year exclusive pact starts next year, allowing CBS one more chance to run "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and the first-ever "Peanuts" TV special, 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

The deal was negotiated quietly several months ago, following the death of "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz. ABC did not plan to announce its purchase until CBS' December broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"We're very excited to have these shows," said Andrea Wong, senior vice president of alternative series and specials at ABC. "They became available and we indicated our interest in them and began negotiations."

Beyond the three holiday-themed specials, Wong said new installments of the long-running specials are possible. "They have some new ideas for new franchises and we're taking a look at them."

While most Hollywood matters are all about the cash, CBS insiders are still smarting that the "Peanuts" camp opted to take ABC's offer of more money rather than keep the specials on their longtime home.

"It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one CBS exec said.

In recent years, CBS programmers had tried to restore a sense of luster to the "Peanuts" specials, particularly the Christmas one. In 1997, the network digitally remastered the latter special and restored more than 2 minutes of footage which had been chopped out of the broadcast in the years following its original Dec. 9, 1965 showing.

At the time, executive producer Lee Mendelson expressed his gratitude toward CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves.

"We've been with CBS for over 30 years, and it's much better now than it has been," he said. "When (CBS chairman) William S. Paley was there, he paid attention to everything, every detail. Les... (has) brought that back."

CBS' loyalty wasn't absolute. While "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was an annual CBS favorite, the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials were only dusted off occasionally.

Wong said she had every intention of airing all three specials throughout the length of the deal.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" continued to pull solid numbers for CBS through last year; the show dominated its time period among adults 18 to 49 and households last December.

CBS insiders, however, said the network "won't miss the ratings. They were pretty modest. It's a matter of tradition."

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