Each year when various Charlie Brown holiday specials arrive on ABC Family, I get a bit confused. Not only are they not on CBS, they are missing the “CBS Special” intro that dates from the Lou Dorfsman era.
If you don’t know about the late Lou Dorfsman, he is a great one. Dorfsman was creative director of CBS through its best years, and through it all he nurtured and protected the CBS brand. Once, there was an effort to take away the CBS eye. Some ass thought it would help the CBS brand. Luckily, Dorfsman won. His whole approach was to be clever, beautiful and have good taste. His greatest achievement was saving The Waltons, which holds a special appeal because I am from Virginia.
I don’t know if actually designed the CBS Special logo seen here, but it was part of his work for CBS, and for millions of us 1970s kids, it became part of the Charlie Brown specials.
Sadly, CBS does not show Charlie Brown anymore, and that is a shame. We’ve posted a YouTube montage of some of these intros, of which the CBS intro is one of the better. (The ABC Movie of the Week is a classic too.)
Now, there is no reason to think that ABC would ever give up the rights to Charlie Brown Christmas. And a new generation of children will be forever associating ABC with Charlie Brown, so they would hate to have to switch. That is fine.
Times change. But it shows a problem in branding.
Branding is about habits, and while habits can change, you want to be consistent. For a TV network, its “brand” is its programming and the images that surround that programming. So for a network to change its programming AND images, it changes its whole look. Again, no one would say that CBS cannot change its programming or it cannot changes its intro bumpers. But if you can, you want to keep it consistent. And you want to be careful with what changes. Our brands store things with associations, and if you kill off TWO associations at once, you begin to disconnect. You want to be careful when you disconnect too many things at once.
So here is the message. At a certain point, CBS should have fought to keep the Charlie Brown specials on CBS. Too late, we guess, though if you look at the clip from the YouTube video, they mention an Arbor Day Charlie Brown special, and I had forgotten about that.
CBS ought to use the “CBS Special” intro when it has special programming that interrupts a network schedule. I think folks there at Black Rock (are there still folks at Black Rock?) forget all the great stuff that is in their archives. And CBS well ought to consider creating a new generation of branded Christmas specials, under this most useful network bumper.