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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 tbsool.com). 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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Now I know that many of us have memories of waking up one Saturday morning with the cold cereal and watching our favorite cartoons morning have 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 1955, with the mighty mouse playhouse here we go. Exciting cartoon show. So these with theatrical shorts featuring mighty mouse CVS up what the library and repackaged all of these old mighty mouse cartoons into Saturday morning show. But again, it was 1955. It was a lot of strategy and the trend would continue through the 1960s. You have a lot of time. Cartoons like tomcat and Alvin and the Chipmunks right now. Boy, how about a little dinner you some of those shows were not successful in prime time and the networks would just taking them off the air completely move those shows two Saturday morning. So in the beginning Saturday morning sort of became like a dumping ground for the networks and 1 Social Pl. 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 CVS named Fred Silverman who really wants to make changes. However, CVS is the number one prime time network their number one in the daytime world the soap operas and game shows 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 bring it bring that series of Saturday morning would definitely elevate CBS's Saturday morning so you worked with a fledgling new company called Filmation Associates and they produce 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 move those ratings away and people were just amazed by not only did Superman do really well during this time. It the series created whatever network wants which is a halo effect so that means that not only did the kids stick around to watch Superman. They watch space ghost.
They watch the Lone Ranger and the entire CVS Saturday morning schedule and the network went from number three to number one sort of upsetting the previous year winter ABC because ABC had the Beatles cartoon and so people started thinking you know why we can actually start making big money on Saturday morning cartoons 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 Superman. There was an executive.
There is man with everything and may I give props the everything because everything immediately commissioned model shows Spider-Man, the fantastic four to go up against DC, inspired Superman in my opinion, that was like the best counter programming move ever from the 1967 season and cause following all of that, you know they the industry started to change. And next thing you know the Archie's came in and in the Archie's which is based on the Archie comic book series those ratings out Superman in 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 five.
Following that even the Holland Globetrotters had music associated with Saturday morning cartoons and then in 1974. You had your first live action superhero series shazam which which really grew big ratings and another company called Sid and Marty Croft productions they gotten to the Saturday morning game with puppetry live-action producing shows such as HR, puff and stuff. Let's fill and the land of the loss which was a huge hit for NBC Saturday morning as well and so the sponsorship for their there was scheduling there was ratings. There was programming strategy. Everything that prime time 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 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 in the Vietnam War was being played on the 6 o'clock news every night and people were concerned that 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 change regarding children's programming and you been listening to Mark McRae talk about well the advent and development of Saturday morning programming and Saturday morning cartoons. By the way we tell stories like this all the time, especially art stories.
All this creativity often coming from a business environment and business schematic. We need to go catch viewers in the next thing he says we have animators working businesses, humming, and this is the miracle of free enterprise and it cuts right to even our sports and entertainment worlds.
That's why we tell stories about them because well without these opportunities and freedoms where these animators catch up when we come back more of Mark McRae story about Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday morning television here on our American shores. Sometimes we all feel a little foggy in the morning. We forget our phone at home or leave a cup of coffee on the roof of our car in driveway. That's what junk sleep will do to you. It's that tossing and turning all night.
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They wielded a lot of power over Saturday morning television, for example, if a story was written for 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 and the original scene called for their mascot, Sebastian to hide in a pot and when asked for children's television got a hold of that story. They decided no we can't show Hiding in a pot because some kid at home might actually try to put their own pet cat in and upon I don't know if I necessarily agree with that assessment. But anyway the scene was changed so that when the villain ran all Josie and the pussycats have was hiding and suddenly you see Sebastian jump out of the hot and the Catholics is 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 to the 70s and through the 80s we had a lot superhero shows which had a lot of action but no one can actually touch and that trend would really continue all the way through the 1990s, but anyway, not trying to jump ahead but you know you have all this exciting programming in the 70s and 1980s. Think sort of change again. This sort of this deregulation during the Reagan era and the toy show is on he-man and the masses of universe G.I. Joe. It and you getting first one 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 ratings family. See you in this most actually create a halo effect for NBC Saturday morning. After that network was in third place for a long time so you saw to have this cutesy error 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 & Dragons was a huge, huge hit for CBS that was made in 80s as well and the trend pretty much continue 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 decided it they could make more money through advertising and and revenue by having a Saturday morning version of the today show. This decision was mainly gone 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 television act reduced advertising on the weekend so during the week advertising could be like anywhere from 12 minutes but on the weekend.
Advertising can only be 10 minutes and so that meant that was reduced time for advertisers on the weekend and that also meant reduce revenue for the networks so there were a lot of changes and for the most part the networks just ignore 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 Lesch and she created the X-Men series that premiered in 1992, as well as Power Rangers and Windows show took off. The next thing you know Fox kids is number one and they are also creating a halo effect and it sort of puts UBS and ABC on notice that they need to start readjusting the schedules and getting shows and programming to compete with fa soma Fox got to the game. They totally dominated Saturday morning and they created a real destination for kids again so the 90s. In my opinion was sort of like the last Saturday morning, but because of the rules that were imposed by the FCC became increasingly harder for networks. On Saturday morning. Plus you know you had the day but you know Nickelodeon have 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 Saturday morning because if you're a kid 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 was it was becoming an old idea and the kids growing up in the 1990s and early 2000. They were there viewing habits started to change, and it also waiting for children to come on Saturday wasn't that big of deal whereas you know back in the day. Kids waited all week just to see that Saturday morning cartoon so we start to roll around the night around 2000 and Saturday morning is still going and holding on by a thread.
Can you have a new player into the game and the WB network and the WB network. They also start creating new shows like the Legion of superheroes and after the WB 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 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 the kids 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 animation industry still managed to inspire and entertain. And that's why always take my hat off to them because they were probably working on the you know my crazy conditions.
You know having to deliver a cartoon in a week. You know like dark during the theatrical days like a Tom and Jerry back in the 1940s. They had a boatload of money to make the cartoon in the hat up to a year to make it. These guys didn't have you 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 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 all live-action and great job as always to Greg Hendler and Mark McRae were telling the story.
By the way, you can go to his website. The initials are TB school.com TBS OL.com in his book is the best Saturdays of our lives.
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 to get some good and he gets in bed with technology that were never going back story of Saturday morning cartoons a great era in American television here on our American stores