Saturday morning cartoons didn’t so much die as fade away – the victim of cable, computers, government meddling and competition.
But what’s that you say? Cartoons aren’t dead. They’re everywhere – even Saturday mornings – with any number of cable channels devoted to their continued existence.
True. But what no longer exists are the big network’s lineup of in-house cartoons made specifically for Saturday mornings; an unprecedented toon cavalcade that brought uninterrupted bliss to kids everywhere.
Everyone who grew up in the sixties to the nineties knows what I’m talking about. We all spout the same, familiar tale of how we would sneak downstairs and park ourselves in front of the TV at the crack of dawn and wait for the test pattern to give way to hour-upon-hour of network toonage:
The cartoons were a mix of classics like Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle and Yogi Bear, and new network shows with weird names like Hong Kong Phooey, The Funky Phantom, The Oddball Couple, and Josie and The Pussycats. There were so many, you could be selective – cherry-picking your animated programs based on personal preference:
Heck, even the Saturday morning commercials were animated and over-the-top:
The networks knew they had a young consumer audience – so they put full effort into their Saturday morning programming. They even promoted their cartoons with splashy primetime specials that preceded the season launch. Like this one – which marked the only screen appearance of Superman, Batman, Lassie and Rick Springfield:
Or this strange entry with Jimmy Osmond singing and sharing the stage with Johnny Whittaker and fast-quipping sea monsters:
It was a golden age for cartoons – though not always good cartoons. To be honest, many were bad – with weak animation, weaker writing and a premise that exploited some current product (Gummi Bears/Prostars/Teddy Ruxpin) or some kid-friendly celebrity such as these forgotten moptops:
But quality wasn’t the point. Saturday mornings were our time. It was that one moment in the week when the kids ruled the tube; when every program was geared towards entertaining you and you alone. No adults allowed. And it would continue unabated through the 80s and 90s – as did the all-star network promo specials. Did ALF just make an Oliver North joke? Yes he did:
But as the number of cable channels grew, so did the proliferation of cartoons. What was once a one-time-a-week treat became a daily, 24 hour thing. Special became routine.
As well, the networks no longer felt the need to make new programs. Instead, they just re-aired old programs airing on their own offshoot cable networks like Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. It was cheaper and, and what the heck? The kids won’t notice…
Add to that a 1997 FCC rule calling for 3 hours of educational programming for children per week, and the death of Saturday morning cartoons seemed inevitable. Who wants to watch educational dreck or old cartoon reruns from Japan or Disney? Especially when you can watch far edgier and entertaining cartoons on cable.
A quick glance at the 2012 Saturday morning TV schedule reveals nothing but weekend news programming, reruns, and infomercials. Heck, Fox – whose animated The Simpsons practically made that network – doesn’t even air Saturday morning cartoons anymore.
Still, it’s somewhat pointless to lament the passage of time or wallow in nostalgia (Wait! Aren’t I doing that right now?). What is gone is gone.
Besides, if I really want a Saturday morning fix, all I got to do is get up at the crack of dawn, fix myself a bowl of Honeycomb, go to my computer and dial up Youtube.
Sounds like fun. Except that crack of dawn thing. What was I thinking? I ate way too much sugary cereal back in the day. Let’s aim for noonish.