Today Was The First Saturday Without Saturday Morning Cartoons

The end of an era.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

This was the first Saturday in at least 50 years where one of the broadcast networks didn’t have a block of cartoons on the air:

This past Saturday, the CW became the last broadcast television network to cut Saturday morning cartoons. The CW is replacing its Saturday cartoon programming, called “The Vortexx,” with “One Magnificent Morning,” a five-hour bloc of non-animated TV geared towards teens and their families.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Saturday morning time slots were synonymous with cartoons. Broadcast networks and advertisers battled for underage viewers. But that started to change in the 1990s.

In 1992, NBC was the first broadcast network to swap Saturday morning cartoons for teen comedies such as “Saved by the Bell” and a weekend edition of the “Today” show. Soon, CBS and ABC followed suit. In 2008, Fox finally replaced Saturday morning cartoons with infomercials.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a Saturday morning cartoon viewership could grab more than 20 million viewers. In 2003, some top performers got a mere 2 million, according to Animation World Network.

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and earlier, of course, this is something of the end of an era. Back in the days before the Internet, social media, YouTube, and all the rest, and before Saturday mornings seemed to be taken over by soccer, swim meets and all the rest, the Saturday morning cartoon blocks were the early version of must-see TV. The programs would change from year to year, although there were always a few staples that lasted from year to year like Scooby Doo and whatever version of the Justice League of America they had come up with in a given year. Whatever you watched, though, it was probably at least part of your Saturday every week while you were growing up, and it became a big enough deal for the networks and advertisers that, by the 1980s, there were prime time specials each September previewing the new season of cartoons that would be starting that next Saturday. If you were like me, then you probably didn’t watch everything, probably even skipped a week or two here and there because of other morning activities or, you know, parents who thought maybe you were spending too much time in front of the television. Even if you went away for awhile, though, they were always there when you came back, until they started to fade away in favor of live-action shows, news programming, or as now seems typical for Saturday mornings on local network affiliates, informercials for everything from kitchen products to health remedies. Now, with The CW changing its schedule, they’re gone for good.

As it turns out, the death knell came about thanks in large part to a combination of an increased push for “educational” programming on broadcast television and the rise of cable and the Internet:

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 aFederal 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.

Cultural factors may have also contributed to the decline of Saturday morning cartoons. Gerard Raiti, writing for Animation Network News, said the rising divorce rate put more emphasis on spending “quality time” with kids — doing things other than watching TV.

So is it the end of an era?

“It’s sad, though, that an entire generation of kids is missing out on lazy Saturdays filled with excellent cartoons,” wrotes Jessica Rawden of Cinema Blend. “Replacing them with cheaper, educational content was bound to happen, but a little magic has been lost in the process.”

There’s still cartoon programming to be found, of course. Cable networks like Disney, Nickelodean and The Cartoon Network are full of animated programs for kids, and animation itself took on a whole new life as programming for adults with programs like The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of The Hill, and Futurama. Many of the programs that used to run on Saturday mornings are now available on DVD or on various online streaming services. Nonetheless, as Rawden notes above it does seem like the end of an era even though it’s been something like thirty-five years since I watched any of those shows. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing out on.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education, Popular Culture
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Reading this it just truly occurred to me: I have three kids (17, 14, and 13) and Saturday Morning Cartoons was never a thing for them. That isn’t to say that they didn’t watch cartoons on Saturday morning, but they were on cable (and were ones they could watch other days of the week as well).

    (Of course, they grew up first with videos and later DVRs–indeed, the two youngest can’t remember a time without a DVR).

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    I love Saturday morning cartoons, what classic humour! This is what
    entertainment is all about … Idiots, explosives and falling anvils.”
    — Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

  3. Trumwill says:

    Most of the cartoons I loved as a kid hold up very poorly. So whole I do lament the passing of the tradition, it’s created a better product.

  4. @Trumwill: Oh so very true.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Indeed, my children have no concept of time-bound television. They’re able to watch any program they can imagine at pretty much any time. They have a DVR full of high-definition shows and a BluRay player which can not only show them dozens of movies and cartoon compilations that we own but also stream hundreds of programs via Netflix or Amazon Prime. Watching live television is a quaint anachronism.

  6. @James Joyner:

    Watching live television is a quaint anachronism.

    Yup.

    Sports only around here.

  7. mtnrunner2 says:

    Sniff. Sniff. I can’t believe it.

    “It’s sad, though, that an entire generation of kids is missing out on lazy Saturdays filled with excellent cartoons,” – YES.

  8. MBunge says:

    @Trumwill: So whole I do lament the passing of the tradition, it’s created a better product.

    Better than Jonny Quest? Thundarr the Barbarian? The Smurfs? Scooby Doo? The Flintstones? The Jetsons? There’s good cartoons nowadays but most aren’t any better than Dynomutt or Hong Kong Fooey.

    What this change really marks is the end of cartoons as something you watch for a few years when you’re a kid and then move onto other things. Cartoons are now just another entertainment option for grown ups.

    Mike

  9. ernieyeball says:

    When I was in college in the 60’s the bars in Sleepytown all opened early Sat. morning for Blue Ribbon on tap and The Road Runner on TV.

  10. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Wow! The one morning of the week that I should have sleep in, but loved the cartoons too much! A few years ago I enjoyed the SAVED BY THE BELL: THE NEW CLASS so much I even bought the DVD series. Peter Engel offered these live action shows like SAVED BY THE BELL as an alternative to the cartoons. – Really enjoy those adult cartoons like FAMILY GUY, SOUTH PARK and AMERICAN DAD. There needs to be more of these.

  11. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    Saturdays filled with excellent cartoons

    Which year was that one? I don’t seem to remember it.

  12. Jim says:

    Well, personally I think we have too much access to cartoons today via all the cartoon channels.. Sat morning was a good time to watch them and the kids didnt need to watch them during the week anyway. So today kids can tune in 24 hrs a day to watch cartoon which is not good. Too much of anything is bad for you..

  13. ernieyeball says:

    @Jim:..Too much of anything is bad for you..

    There is no such thing as too much money.

  14. @ernieyeball: If they drop enough of it on your head, sure there is!

  15. munchbox says:

    Must be because all the old classics are Raaacisssstttt! The crap they put out nowadays shows kids how to be disrespectful to everybody, full of indoctrination and hardly ever teach any useful lessons.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..If they drop enough of it on your head, sure there is!

    Tell me where “they” are going to do this.
    You get half to be my stand in.
    I’ll be right around the corner.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @munchbox:

    The crap they put out nowadays shows kids how to be disrespectful to everybody, full of indoctrination and hardly ever teach any useful lessons.

    That’s arguably true of a lot of general entertainment programming aimed at families. Programs especially designed for and aimed a young children, at least, are of immeasurably higher quality now than they were when I was a kid.