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What Happened to Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 5, 2022 3:04 am

What Happened to Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 5, 2022 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Mark McCray is the author of The Best Saturday’s of Our Lives (his website is He’s here to tell us the story of Saturday Morning Cartoons… and answer the all-important question: What happened to them?

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today. This is our American stories and up next, Mark McCray from the Bronx, New York, was a programmer at Cartoon Network. He also was a part of a team that helped launch another Cartoon Network channel, Boomerang. He's now a programmer for another Cartoon Network channel, Adult Swim. Mark McCray is the author of the best Saturdays of our lives. Here he is to tell the story of Saturday morning cartoons and answer the all important question.

What happened to them? Now, I know that many of us have memories of waking up on Saturday morning and with a bowl of cereal and, you know, watching our favorite cartoons. Saturday morning had been around for a long time, you know, really at the beginning of the television age. And the first official Saturday morning cartoon dates all the way back to December 10th, 1955 with the Mighty Mouse Playhouse. Hi, boys and girls.

Here we go. Rocking into a fun filled exciting cartoon show. So these were theatrical shorts featuring Mighty Mouse. CBS had bought the library and repackaged all of these old Mighty Mouse cartoons into a Saturday morning show.

But again, it was 1955 and it wasn't a lot of strategy. And the trend would continue through the 1960s. You had a lot of primetime cartoons like The Flintstones and Top Cat and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

All right now, boys, how about a little dinner music? Some of those shows were not as successful in primetime. And the networks would, instead of just taking them off the air completely, would move those shows to Saturday morning. So in the beginning, Saturday morning sort of became like a dumping ground for the networks. And once those shows were placed on Saturday morning, guess what?

They just became a huge, huge success. Fast forward to the 1966 season and there is a young executive at CBS named Fred Silverman who really wants to make changes. However, you know, CBS is the number one primetime network.

They're number one in the daytime where all the soap operas and game shows are airing. And so the only thing that he was allowed to really fiddle with was Saturday morning. And he knew that the Batman series that was airing over on ABC featuring Adam West was doing huge ratings and that there was this huge superhero trend that was going on. And Fred Silverman knew that creating any type of superhero series and bringing it bringing that series to Saturday morning would would definitely elevate CBS's Saturday morning schedule. So he worked with a fledgling new company called Filmation Associates, and they produced the New Adventures of Superman during the 1966-67 season.

Also airing that same year was Hanna-Barbera Space Ghost series, as well as the Lone Ranger cartoon. The New Adventures of Superman produced huge, huge ratings, bigger ratings than anyone had ever seen previously on Saturday morning. The year before, there was a Beatles cartoon that was based on the famous rock band that had the biggest ratings. But Superman's ratings blew those ratings away and people were just amazed by it. Not only did Superman do really well during this time period, the series created what every network wants, which is a halo effect. So that means that not only did the kids stick around to watch Superman, they watched Space Ghost, they watched the Lone Ranger and the entire CBS Saturday morning schedule, and the network went from number three to number one, sort of upsetting the previous year winner ABC because the ABC had the Beatles cartoon. And so people started thinking, you know what, we can actually start making big money on Saturday morning cartoons. And so the following year you had the industry just grow with Hanna-Barbera producing like six new superhero shows and ABC realizing that they lost to Superman.

There was an executive there. His name was Ed Vane. And Ed Vane, I give props to Ed Vane because Ed Vane immediately commissioned Marvel shows, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four to go up against DC inspired Superman. And in my opinion, that was like the best counter programming move ever from the 1967 season. And then of course, following all of that, you know, the industry started to change and the next thing you know, the Archie's came in and the Archie's, which was based on the Archie comic book series, those ratings outbeat Superman. And the next thing you know, everyone wanted to see teenagers and rock bands on Saturday morning. And then Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby Doo came along and the Jackson 5 following that. Even the Harlem Globetrotters had music associated with Saturday morning cartoons. And then in 1974, you had your first live action superhero series, Shazam, which really drew big ratings. And another company called Sid and Marty Croft Productions, they got into the Saturday morning game with puppetry and live action producing shows such as H.R. Puff and Stuff, Lidsville and The Land of the Lost, which was a huge hit for NBC Saturday morning as well. And so the sponsorships were there, there was scheduling, there was ratings, there was programming strategy, everything that primetime already had on television, everything that regular daytime already had, Saturday morning had finally joined the big time.

And it was wonderful, exciting and fun and animators were being employed and people were working in the industry and everything was just growing and flowing. However, there was also a Saturday morning backlash that occurred. So with all of the superhero programming, a lot of Christian groups and parent groups were concerned that there was too much violence on television. You have to remember, this is the age of Vietnam, the Vietnam War was going on and the Vietnam War was being played on the six o'clock news every night. And people were concerned that kids were seeing the news as well as watching violent Saturday morning cartoons. And so when the Archie's came in and, you know, demonstrated huge ratings, that was sort of the logical answer that things need to be toned down just a bit.

This also sort of created a little bit of censorship on Saturday morning as well, because a group that was created called Action for Children's Television, they sort of became the censorship group, a grassroots group that lobbied in Washington to try to have certain laws changed regarding children's programming. And you've been listening to Mark McCrae talk about, well, the advent and development of Saturday morning programming and Saturday morning cartoons. And by the way, we we tell stories like this all the time, especially art stories, all this creativity often coming from a business environment and a business schematic.

We need to go catch viewers. And the next thing he says, we have animators working, businesses humming. And this is the miracle of free enterprise. And that cuts right to even our sports and entertainment worlds.

And that's why we tell stories about them, because, well, without these opportunities and freedoms, where do these animators get jobs? When we come back, more of Mark McCrae's story about Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday morning television here on Our American Stories. Sometimes we all feel a little foggy in the morning.

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I see those loads all the time. Today, you can purchase all free clear mega packs at your local store today and conquer any laundry load. And we're back with our American stories and Mark McCray telling the story of Saturday morning cartoons. He's also the author of the best Saturdays of our lives. Now, back to Mark with the rest of the story, a group that was created called Action for Children's Television. They sort of became the censorship group, a grassroots group that lobbied in Washington to try to have certain laws change regarding children's programing. And for a long time, they wielded a lot of power over Saturday morning television.

For example, if a story was written for a Saturday morning cartoon, then they had the right to look over the story and make changes before. For example, there was an episode of Josie and the Pussycats where the villain is chasing the pussycats through the kitchen. And the original scene called for their mascot, Sebastian, to hide in a pot. And when Action for Children's Television got a hold of that story, they decided, no, we can't show a cat hiding in a pot because some kid at home might actually try to put their own pet cat in a pot. I don't know if I necessarily agree with that assessment, but anyway, the scene was changed so that when the villain ran in the kitchen, all of the Josie and the Pussycats cast was hiding. And suddenly you see Sebastian jump out of the pot and start to run because the cat thinks it's going to be discovered. So that was the compromise.

The compromise was that Sebastian would already be in the pot when the villain showed up in the kitchen looking for the kids on that particular show. So a lot of this went on for a long time through the 70s and through the 80s, where you had a lot of superhero shows which had a lot of action, but no one could actually throw a punch. And that trend would really continue all the way through the 1990s. But anyway, I'm not trying to jump ahead, but you know, you had all this exciting programming in the 70s and then when you hit the 1980s, things sort of change again.

There's sort of this deregulation during the Reagan era and the toy show is born. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe become huge hits and you're getting first run syndication in the afternoon. The Smurfs also show up on Saturday morning, which was a successful Belgian comic book as well as animated series in the past. And they do huge ratings for NBC.

And the Smurfs actually create a halo effect for NBC Saturday morning after that network was in third place for a long time. So you sort of have this cutesy era happening in the 80s, along with toy shows, along with game shows like Hubert and Donkey Kong being brought to Saturday morning as well. Dungeons and Dragons was a huge, huge hit for CBS that was made in the 80s as well.

And the trend pretty much continued through the early digital age of the 1990s. And so in the fall of 1992, NBC drops out of the Saturday morning game and they decide that they could make more money through advertising and and revenue by having a Saturday morning version of the Today show. This decision was mainly done because there was a new law that was passed called the Children's Television Act. And what this act said, it was an FCC ruling that said that all networks had to have three hours of educational television running on the air. The other ruling also said that the Television Act reduced advertising on the weekend. So during the week, advertising could be like anywhere from 12 minutes. But on the weekend, advertising could only be 10 minutes. And so that meant that was reduced time and for advertisers on the weekend. And that also meant reduced revenue for the networks.

So there were a lot of changes. And for the most part, the networks just ignored the changes. And as NBC exited, Fox Kids came into play by creating their own Saturday morning block.

The block was created by a woman named Margaret Lesh, and she created the X-Men series that premiered in 1992 as well as Power Rangers. And when those shows took off, the next thing you know, Fox Kids is number one and they are also creating a halo effect. And it sort of put CBS and ABC on notice that they need to start readjusting their schedules and getting shows and programming to compete with Fox. So when Fox got into the game, they totally dominated Saturday morning and they created a real destination for kids again.

And so the 90s, in my opinion, was sort of like the last hurrah for Saturday morning. But because of the rules that were imposed by the FCC, it became increasingly harder for networks to compete on Saturday morning. Plus, you know, Nickelodeon had been around for a while with the 24 hour network that was very successful.

In 1992, Cartoon Network launched and they had mostly the Hanna-Barbera MGM and Looney Tunes library. So the competition was getting really tight on the kids side of the business and networks were increasingly being squeezed out of Saturday morning. Because if you're a kid and you can watch cartoons all day, every day, why would you wait just to watch on Saturday morning? It's almost like the appeal of Saturday morning was sort of going away and it was it was becoming an old idea. And the kids growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, they were their viewing habits started to change.

And, you know, so waiting for a show to come on Saturday wasn't that big of a deal. Whereas, you know, back in the day, kids waited all week just to see their Saturday morning cartoons. So we start to roll around the night around the 2000s and Saturday morning is still going. It's holding on by a thread.

And you have a new player enter the game. And it's the WB Network and the WB Network, they also start creating new shows like The Legion of Superheroes. And after the WB's Saturday morning went away, there really hasn't been any Saturday morning again. I mean, I feel like the broadcasters threw in the towel and that was the end. I mean, it was regulation from the FCC with the Children's Television Act, less revenue that can be made on the weekend. Also a sort of destroyed Saturday morning. And the networks not being able to compete with the cable networks that had kids programming on 24 hours a day. So I feel like those are the three things that killed Saturday morning programming.

However, the silver lining is that it wouldn't be a kid's 24 hour kid network unless Saturday morning didn't prove itself as a moneymaking revenue driver, strategy programming, a production on the networks every week for 30 to 40 years. So but these guys, these amazing men and women working in the animation industry still managed to inspire and entertain. And that's why I always take my hat off to them, because they were probably working under the, you know, like crazy conditions. You know, having to deliver a cartoon in a week, you know, like during the theatrical days. So like a Tom and Jerry back in the 1940s, they had a boatload of money to make the cartoon and they had up to a year to make it. These guys didn't have a year to make one cartoon. And so there were a lot of things working against them. And I feel like sometimes when, you know, you don't necessarily have all the bells and whistles to make your creative cartoon or animation.

I feel like it makes you work harder because you have to step up to the challenge and find new ways to tell stories and animation or live action. And great job as always to Greg Hengler and to Mark McCray for telling this story. And by the way, you can go to his Web site.

The initials are, And his book is The Best Saturdays of Our Lives. And what a great story about innovation and creativity during those 30 or 40 years. We got all that content so people could watch it when they want and where they want. You get some good and you get some bad with technology, but we're never going back. The story of Saturday morning cartoons, a great era in American television here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-26 10:56:00 / 2022-12-26 11:03:56 / 8

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