“Saturday morning was their unrestricted television time, and they usually took advantage of it to watch a series of cartoon shows that would certainly have been impossible before the discovery of LSD.”
The Saturday Morning Cartoons were once an almost unstoppable cultural force. From the 60’s thru the early 90’s American kids would attend their own peculiar worship service, huddling around the cathode ray tube with their bowls of sugar frosted diabetes mesmerized by Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and The Superfriends. An obscure Belgian comic strip, The Smurfs, became an international phenomenon in the 80’s ushering in an era of quirky made for toy stores knock offs.
The Saturday Morning Cartoon era began its decline in the early nineties, undercut by competition from cable networks and new regulation from the FCC and the Federal Trade Comission. Considering that a lot of these shows were just crass commercials that bombarded a captive audience to sell them toys, maybe it’s not a bad thing. Don’t feel bad for the toymakers, they moved on to syndicated afternoon blocks in the 90’s aimed squarely at the latch key kids.
What happened? Cable, technology and the FCC.
Broadcast channels faced competition from kid-focused cable and satellite channels such as Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network in the 90s. They offered kids cartoons throughout the week, making the weekend less of a draw. VHS followed by DVD and DVR gave people the option to watch whenever they wanted. Nowadays, you don’t even have to sit in front of a TV to watch cartoons thanks to streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix.
The 90s also saw a shift in the type of TV geared towards kids — thanks to a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring broadcast (but not cable) networks to offer at least three hours of educational programming a week between 7 a.m and 10 p.m. The rule also limited kid-centered advertising during children’s TV programs, which made cartoons less profitable for networks.
The CW was the last holdout, replacing their Saturday Morning lineup with “One Magnificent Morning,” a five-hour bloc of non-animated TV geared towards teens and their families in 2014. Slash Film has a great list of the 20 best shows of the era, many of which are available online. I absolutely agree with their pick for #1
There’s nothing wrong with some rose colored glasses as long as we realize they are on. For folks in my generation bonded over these low definition commercials in a way that today’s kids probably can’t imagine. Do you have a favorite Saturday Morning memory? Drop us a comment or a link!
Tune in next week and we’ll look at today’s cartoon landscape.