Peanuts characters have appeared in animated form on television numerous times. This started when the Ford Motor Company licensed the characters in 1961 for a series of black and white television commercials for the Ford Falcon. The ads were animated by Bill Meléndez for Playhouse Pictures, a cartoon studio that had Ford as a client. Schulz and Meléndez became friends, and when producer Lee Mendelson decided to make a two-minute animated sequence for a TV documentary called A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963, he brought on Meléndez for the project. Before the documentary was completed, the three of them (with help from their sponsor, the Coca-Cola Company) produced their first half-hour animated special, the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was first aired on the CBS network on December 9, 1965.
The animated version of Peanuts differs in some aspects from the strip. In the strip, adult voices are heard, though conversations are usually only depicted from the children's end. To translate this aspect to the animated medium, Meléndez famously used the sound of a trombone with a plunger mute opening and closing on the bell to simulate adult "voices". A more significant deviation from the strip was the treatment of Snoopy. In the strip, the dog's thoughts are verbalized in thought balloons; in animation, he is typically mute, his thoughts communicated through growls or laughs (voiced by Bill Meléndez), and pantomime, or by having human characters verbalizing his thoughts for him. These treatments have both been abandoned temporarily in the past. For example, they experimented with teacher dialogue in She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown. The elimination of Snoopy's "voice" is probably the most controversial aspect of the adaptations, but Schulz apparently approved of the treatment.
The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas was the impetus for CBS to air many more prime-time Peanuts specials over the years, beginning with Charlie Brown's All-Stars and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in 1966. In total, more than thirty animated specials were produced. Until his death in 1976, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi composed musical scores for the specials; in particular, the piece "Linus and Lucy" which has become popularly known as the signature theme song of the Peanuts franchise.
Schulz, Mendelson, and Meléndez also collaborated on four theatrical feature films starring the characters, the first of which was A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969). Most of these made use of material from Schulz's strips, which were then adapted, although in other cases plots were developed around areas where there were minimal strips to reference. Such was also the case with The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, a Saturday-morning TV series which debuted on CBS in 1983 and aired for three seasons.
By the late-1980s, the specials' popularity had begun to wane, and CBS had sometimes rejected a few specials. An eight-episode TV miniseries called This is America, Charlie Brown, for instance, was released during a writer's strike. Eventually, the last Peanuts specials were released direct-to-video, and no new ones were created until after the year 2000 when ABC obtained the rights to the three fall holiday specials. The Nickelodeon cable network re-aired the bulk of the specials, as well as The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, for a time in 1997 under the umbrella title You're on Nickelodeon, Charlie Brown. Eight Peanuts-based specials have been made posthumously. Of these, three are tributes to Peanuts or other Peanuts specials, and five are completely new specials based on dialogue from the strips and ideas given to ABC by Schulz before his death. The most recent, He's a Bully, Charlie Brown, was telecast on ABC on November 20, 2006, following a repeat broadcast of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Airing 43 years after the first special, the premiere of He's a Bully, Charlie Brown was watched by nearly 10 million viewers, winning its time slot.
Specials featuring the Peanuts comic characters created by Charles M. Schulz include:
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown The Big Stuffed Dog A Boy Named Charlie Brown (TV special) Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz A Charlie Brown Celebration A Charlie Brown Christmas A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving A Charlie Brown Valentine Charlie Brown's All-Stars Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales Good Grief, Charlie Brown: A Tribute to Charles Schulz Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown He's a Bully, Charlie Brown Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown It's an Adventure, Charlie Brown It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown It's Magic, Charlie Brown It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown It's Your 20th Television Anniversary, Charlie Brown It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown Play It Again, Charlie Brown She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown Snoopy!!! The Musical (TV special) Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown Snoopy's Reunion Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown! What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? Why, Charlie Brown, Why? You Don't Look 40, Charlie Brown You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (TV special) You're in Love, Charlie Brown You're in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown