Friday, January 31, 2014


From days of long ago............

From uncharted regions of TV channels......comes a legend, the legend of Saturday morning cartoons!

For those of you not old enough to know, cartoons were something that you couldn't just watch any time you wanted. Especially before streaming media came along like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, and such, and even before cartoon network and nicktoons tv, cartoons were rare and could only be seen at certain times of the week. Saturday mornings were the prime time to see brand new cartoons, some of which could ONLY be seen on Saturday mornings.

Keep in mind that Television was set up differently 30 years ago. Nickelodeon was in its infancy and believe it or not, they had none of their own cartoons and very few other cartoons. Cartoon network didn't exist yet so you couldn't just watch cartoons all day. Even after school, cartoons were hard to find. Disney Channel used to have day time cartoons but the big problem here was that the Disney Channel was a pay channel, just like HBO and Cinnemax. If you wanted it, first you had to have cable, THEN you had to order and pay extra just to have it, something not everybody did. Cable was its own thing and not everybody had that. Satellite dishes were all alone and they didn't have companies like Directv or DISH. So where were all the cartoons?

Saturday mornings! If you had cable or not, everyone still got NBC, CBS, and ABC. As for Fox, it wasn't around either but later I'll explain how Fox used cartoons to pol-volt into a major network. For a kid there was nothing better than waking up on your day off from school and watching TV all morning with shows JUST FOR YOU! Kids weren't catered to as much as they are now, like I said before, we didn't even have a network that was just cartoons for us to watch.  Each channel had its own lineup and they all competed for children viewers. ABC is owned by Disney (not sure if you know that) but they had a lot of Disney cartoons that you couldn't find anywhere else.

At the end of each network cartoon morning came a finale show that really just topped off the end of the morning and helped to transition into a slightly older viewing audience. Saved By the Bell was one of these, Pee Wee's Playhouse was another. These live action shows were geared towards kids but they came at the end of a long line up of cartoons.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.....
With NBC, ABC, and CBS all fighting  for ratings a kid has a really tough choice on what to watch. ABC had the upper hand in the Disney shows but that didn't mean NBC and CBS were fighting for second and third place, no, on the contrary, each kid has his or her own preference and in some households you didn't miss a certain show. I would guess that in most houses, like ours, you flipped back and forth to what you liked the best in that time slot, giving you 3 choices. (before FOX)

I'll now take you through a typical Saturday morning in the 1986-1987 season as I chose what to watch. First show of the day was Wuzzles on ABC, a Disney cartoon that was created to help push their stuffed animals, the Wuzzles, although short lived, was a must watch considering the alternatives. Next you had a choice, would it be The Gummi Bears or the Care Bears? Surprisingly the Gummi Bears were on NBC even though it was a Disney cartoon. Disney had two bear cartoon shows on at the same time but on different channels.....genius for marketing, HOWEVER a bad move for ratings because clearly Gummi Bears was a must watch, leaving ABC to pick up the scraps of younger viewers with their Care Bear show. (A year later "Care Bears" was exclusively shown on The Disney Channel, making it inaccessible for us nonpaying customers.)

Next, at 9:00 am things got tough. You really had to put thought into the next one. Smurfs on NBC, Muppet Babies on CBS, and Flintstone Kids on ABC.....shit just got real. I watched all 3 but our house was a Smurf house and you didn't miss the Smurfs in our house. However the Smurfs had an hour and a half block so you could watch the Muppet Babies and when it was over switch back to the Smurfs. None of that mattered because at 10 on ABC came the Ghostbusters and I always wanted to see that. After that you had a toss up between Pound Puppies and Punky Brewster.

By 11:00 am TV was starting to get old and you could really sense an end to your morning cartoon day. This is when Pee Wee's playhouse came on CBS and it was something you didn't want to miss, unless Alvin and the Chipmunks was good. Either way Bugs Bunny and Tweety was just one thing I never cared to watch and although this is a complete guess, it must have been swallowed up in the ratings for that time period.

At 11:30 am I was usually tapping out but CBS did have a cool show they put on here, it was called CBS Story Break, and if I was still watching TV at this time I knew it was the end of my day. It was a cool cartoon show that had a new and different story each week. Like most of these Saturday morning shows, the opening title sequence and theme song was the best and the only part worth watching. Of course this was in 1986-1987, in 1988 CBS Story Break came on at 12:30 and it stayed there for years and remained my clear signal that the cartoon day was over.

In 1988 at 10:30 CBS introduced us to Garfield and Friends, a new favorite and one we never missed. The only thing it was up against was the cartoon Alf, and we all knew that show was a sick joke compared to the true real-life Alf that we all knew and loved. We also got "Hey Vern, It's Ernest!" Which came on at a 11, being a live-action show that signaled the end was near to our cartoon day. My older sister and I were big fans of Ernest and we always enjoyed this one.

In 1989 NBC put Saved By the Bell on at 11:30 and there was NO other choice. One simply did not turn on the TV at 11:30 am and miss Saved By the Bell. Unlike most of the other "end of the dayers" kids actually looked forward to this one. But now we were on the doorstep of the 90's and an end of an era was in sight, although none of us could see it.

By this time adults started to get wise to what kids liked on TV. In 1990 Nickelodeon had exploded in popularity and dubbed themselves, THE FIST NETWORK FOR KIDS. What do kids like? Cartoons, and why wait for Saturday mornings when they could be putting stuff on during the day, after school, AND on weekends? Besides that, there was a new channel in town. FOX.

Fox was a brand new station and needed to play catch up, but instead they decided to turn things upside down by gaining an audience no one else really cared about until now, kids! Fox put cartoons on all morning and right after school, this had our attention and honestly they did have some pretty good shows. So when it came to Saturday mornings, they were already right in the thick of things! And although NBC, CBS, and ABC had far superior cartoon shows, "Bobby's World," a FOX original, was watched frequently in our home.

Although at this point in my life Saturday morning cartoons were seeming less important and other things had my attention, there were some pretty awesome shows that appeared during these years. Some notable ones were "Hammerman," that was M.C. Hammer's superhero cartoon show, "Wish Kid," that was Macaulay Culklin's cartoon show, "Where's Waldo," a cartoon made from the idea of the popular books, and "Back to the Future," a cartoon version of the movies. This was also when you could see NEW episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Saturday line up desperately tried to keep viewers interested but with so many more options during weekdays, the excitement just wasn't there. I would watch the Ninja Turtles 5 days a week after school, why would I want to watch it again on Saturday morning? It's like being forced to finish your ice cream before you can have some cake. Perhaps I was just getting older and cartoons weren't as appealing to me anymore? I think more accurately the face of TV was changing.

 Kids got their cartoon fixes everyday after school and whenever they wanted from Nickelodeon, who, by the way, was starting to make their own brand of cartoons called, "Nicktoons," in 1991. These cartoons were shown at night in prime time instead of Saturday mornings. Then in 1992 the dagger was sunk deep into the heart of Saturday morning cartoons when the Cartoon Network was launched. 24 hours a day of nothing but cartoons made Saturday mornings seem so unimportant and nothing special, and honestly at this point, that was true.

Cartoon Network also was the beginning of the end for the USA Cartoon Express, an idea of putting a block of cartoons on in the early evening. This had always been the odd man out with its strange time slot and bad cartoons but the once odd man out was now becoming the norm and early evening cartoons were being shown on many stations. USA was a cable network so it didn't really have an impact on the early 80's TV audiences. USA lost most of it's Hanna-barbara cartoons when Turner bought them, taking them away from USA and straight to the Cartoon Network.

It was the beginning of the end. In 10 short years there would be a channel souly for Nicktoons, the cartoons made my Nickelodeon and the demise of Saturday morning cartoons would be a distant memory that no one remembered. No longer do kids anticipate Saturdays like they once did. No longer will kids know the excitement of getting to see brand new shows ONCE a week. Saturday morning cartoons will go down in my generation's memories as a thing of the past that was made extinct by technology and changing times. We will always look back fondly on these mornings.

I for one can still remember lying on the living room floor watching the claymation beginning to Pee Wee's Playhouse, enjoying every second of the opening theme song and hearing my dad yell at me to turn off that crap.

Kids today are totally missing out on an event they'll never have the privilege of knowing, but that's just my two cents.

1 comment:

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