Today Was The First Saturday Without Saturday Morning Cartoons
The end of an era.
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.
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.