TV Sucks today! *shakes cane at the ‘hoodlums’*
It’s six a.m. on a Saturday morning. You’re wide awake sitting on the floor in front of the TV eating something sugary sweet, with a family member (pets included). The sun has barely crested the horizon but you are wound up tighter than a spring and all this for nothing more than a few hours of cheap animation and direct marketing. Yes I am talking about the good old days and Saturday morning cartoons. If you are old enough to read this then you are old enough to remember the glory days of Saturday Morning Cartoons; from Alf to Zazoo U, from Smurfs to Snorks to Scooby Doo. The memories for most of us are more than just cheap cartoons though. It had more to do with a feeling, a feeling of absolute freedom. It was Saturday, we didn’t have to go to school, most of our parents were asleep when the fun started and were happy for the quiet distraction. We were just happy to be distracted from the real world and allowed to live in a fantasy world where we could save the world from all kinds of baddies: Ghosts, Bullies, Warlocks, and Super Villains. And we were happy to be able to laugh at the lovable antics of our ridiculous heroes. It was a time when we could forget that in just a few hours we had chores or homework to do.
History of Saturday Morning Cartoons
Saturday morning became the childrens timeslot in the mid 1960’s and Cartoons took over in the mid 1970’s with shows like ‘The Jetsons’, ‘Pink Panther’, ‘Underdog’, and ‘Scooby-Doo’. At the time there were really only five major television stations; ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and PBS. It was incumbant on these five networks to present programming appropriate for all possible viewers, including children. ABC, NBC, and CBS decided that the best times to show childrens programming would be when parents really didn’t want to watch TV anyway, such as directly after school hours and very early on the morning on weekends. As it turned out Sunday didn’t get many viewers because most families were in church but Saturday morning programming for kids took off like wildfire and advertisers and the networks saw this as an excellent opportunity to plug kids full of direct marketing for candies, cereals and of course toys, toys toys. The networks also saw this as a money making opportunity. They quickly decided that cartoons with minimal movement were the cheapest possible shows to fill these slots and cheaper programming meant more profit, shows by hanna barbera fit this model beautifully. Another very popular choice for the Saturday Morning Cartoons were telecasts of older cartoons originally intended for broadcast in movie theatres such as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons
created by Warner Bros. Most of the live action programming for children was cancelled by the late 1970’s because of the extra cost of producing these shows. Around this same time parent-based watchdog groups began taking an interest in what their children were watching on Saturday morning and demanded programming that nurtured their childrens mind instead of rotting it. This lead to the creation of such programming as Schoolhouse Rock and also the Public Service Announcements that eventually ended up at the end of the shows in the early to mid 80’s. The 80’s were full of raging hormones and bad hair but on saturday mornings not too much changed. We still had Scooby-Doo, we still had Looney Tunes and we still had some of the classic hanna-barbera cartoons only now it seemed like Fantasy and Testosterone were on the mind because show after show featured superheroes (The Superfriends for example) and muscle bound muscle heads like He-Man, or fantastic lands like those of the Smurfs and
the Snorks. The ‘violent’ shows like He-Man and GI-Joe were forced to add little messages at the ends of their shows that kind of summed up the morals that were covered in the show to apease parents who thought that the shows exhibeted and taught bad behaviors. By the late 80’s it seemed as if every movie to come out was accompanied by it’s own animated series and this gave us such great cartoons as ‘Ewoks’, ‘Droids: The Adventures of R2D2 and C3PO’, ‘Teen Wolf’, ‘Real Ghostbusters’ and ‘Karate Kid’. Some television programs that aired throughout the week also got in on the animation craze and got their own cartoons like; ‘Alf’, ‘The Little Rascals’, ‘Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling!’, ‘Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies’, and ‘Fraggle Rock’. They were the glory days of Saturday Morning Cartoons… But they couldn’t last forever.
The Beginning of the end…
(or who killed the cartoons?)
In the early 90’s FOX finally jumped on the saturday morning cartoon bandwagon and began playing cartoons that would be almost instant classics. The only difference with FOX is that from 11-12 they would play wrestling instead of cartoons. The Fox News Company made a joint venture with a company some of us may recognize named Saban entertainment and created ‘Fox Kids’. They aired some excellent programming including ‘X-Men’ and ‘Bobby’s World’, two of my favorite shows. Experts believe that when Fox joined the Saturday morning market they began the decline of Saturday morning television. They opened the door for such companies as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network which many believe are the true killers of the saturday morning cartoon. Who needs to wake up bright and early on a Saturday when you can watch the same shows all week long right? (wrong!) Slowly as cable became more and more popular in homes nationwide saturday morning viewership dwindled from 20million down to less than a million per network. Eventually the networks dropped their programming one by one in favor of infomercials which bring in far more money now that kids no longer wake up early on Saturdays. More factors contributing to the death of the Saturday morning cartoon are believed to be:
- More Active Children
- Divorce (weekend time has become much more precious)
- Change in maturity of America’s Youth
Whatever the real reasons I know I shed a tear every saturday when I wake up and can’t watch some classic toons even at my ‘ripe old’ age.
In closing I think that the day that Saturday Morning Cartoons died we all died a little inside. Just the thought that an entire generation of children will never know the love of the saturday morning cartoon makes me weep inside. I know it sounds like I’m taking this a little too seriously but this was really a ritual for me from as far back as I can remember right up until the cartoons were finally yanked (I was 21). I have included a number of sites below that not only did I get information from but also those that I thought had interesting information and views on this topic. Thank you for reading with me and thank you for being one of the 20 million people who watched these classic cartoons with me.