After these messages… we'll be gone, forever
An Ode to Saturday Mornings Past, by JessKat
I'm not quite sure how to explain this… especially to younger viewers who grew up in the 500-channel universe of cable television and satellite services and Netflix streaming… but for those of us old enough (or geeky enough) to watch cartoons over-the-air with a rabbit-ears antenna, Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons after school were the only times when animation fans could watch their favourite shows… especially where cable channels such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, YTV or Toon Disney weren't available.
September 28, 2014 was the day the animation died - ending a long and painful decline on broadcast television in the United States, with The CW (the newest broadcast network) being the final holdout… the last man standing, as it were. This was the final Saturday morning with cartoons in America.
From here on out, animation fans in the United States will have to follow the path their Canadian counterparts took in 2001 to get their animation fix: a cable television or satellite subscription. If there is any consolation, it is that the ecosystem of Saturday morning cartoons seems healthier in Australia and Mexico.
To understand how we got to this point, we'll need to review the chain of events leading to the demise of animation on over-the-air television.
The beginning of the end
In 1984, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to relax limits on advertising that it imposed in the 1950s, allowing infomercials. This immediately inspired the "30-minute toy commercials" that became immensely popular as the decade wore on. These were the Transformers, ThunderCats, G.I. JOE, and He-Man series that parents detested and children loved. The backlash began in earnest against advertising towards children (and the low quality of animated series like Pac-Man: the Animated Series) from groups such as Action for Children's Television.
Viewers were becoming concerned of the increasing levels of fantasy violence in children's television, and by 1990, the Children's Television Act was signed into law by the FCC to address this, limit direct advertising to children, temper action/adventure series' violence and to add educational values, though this was loosely enforced until the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed.
Educational/Informational, or E/I requirements proved to be quite the hassle for animation houses and writers, who then had to shoehorn in educational lessons or content, change their shows entirely, or simply end their series. These requirements (and shows containing them) have simply increased since the late 1990s. With E/I programs having far lower ratings than other children's programming – as kids aren't nearly as interested in learning as their parents want them to be – this hastened the decline of Saturday mornings.
Increased restrictions on how much advertising could be made to children led some animation houses to believe that broadcast television was becoming less lucrative and appealing, and that they would have to move to cable television.
The rise of cable in the 1980s and 1990s is a large factor, with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network offering cartoons practically 24/7 on dedicated channels. Without needing to schedule time for animation, viewers saw less of a need to dedicate Saturday mornings to their favourite shows, and the broadcast networks began to lose their audiences. The popularity of video games and the Internet, especially networked streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, led to further fragmentation.
The final nail in the coffin was media consolidation, with companies buying each other up to become bigger and even more profit-oriented, with the likes of Warner Brothers and Disney starting or buying television networks.
In 1992, NBC was the first network to drop out of animation, switching to airing Saved by the Bell, various other teen-oriented comedies (such as the TNBC block), and a weekend version of the Today Show. Since this point, NBC has been programming its Saturday mornings exclusively with E/I shows alongside its news offerings.
Disney purchased ABC and its network owned-and-operated stations in 1996, replacing most of the existing cartoons and launching their own on the network in 1997, labelled as One Saturday Morning; though this would last until 2001, with animation ending in 2004. With Disney ending its animated line-up in favour of children-oriented comedies like those on the Disney Channel, CTV and Global in Canada followed suit, ending their animation line-ups on Saturday mornings. Disney ultimately ended programming its Saturday morning block entirely, handing it over to Litton Entertainment, filling it with E/I programming starting in 2011.
CBS, along with NBC was one of the first networks to air animated fare on Saturday mornings, inspired to make them as an offshoot of the Saturday matinées movie theatres used to show that featured cartoons and serials. With its vast library of cartoons, ranging from the original Terrytoons (Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, Deputy Dawg) to Fleischer Studios (Betty Boop, Popeye) and to Famous Studios (Felix the Cat, Casper the Friendly Ghost), the network had the largest and most diverse line-up of the three networks well into the 1970s. CBS continued with Captain Kangaroo on Saturday mornings from the 1950s to the mid-1980s, alongside other programs, though its most-popular were the various incarnations of Scooby Doo and The Jetsons', CBS Storybreak, Really Wild Animals, Beakman's World, Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, Garfield and Friends, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987), Marsupilami, Timon & Pumbaa, and Project: Geeker. After E/I rules were tightened and strengthened in 1996, CBS, and the other networks, began changing their tactics. The network continued to air animated fare farmed-out from Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon from 2000 to 2006 after ending its own. From there, it's been exclusively E/I-oriented programming, also from Litton Entertainment.
FOX launched in 1986, but didn't have a real network offering of animation for its first couple of years. In 1988, Disney was preparing to gear its Disney Afternoon line-up into action. The problem was that FOX wanted to air Duck Tales, and later, the rest of The Disney Afternoon on its owned-and-operated stations and affiliates, while Disney wanted it to air on a station it purchased in Los Angeles (KCAL-TV 9) and wanted to air its programs on that station, instead of FOX's KTTV 11. Furious at this betrayal, FOX scrapped plans to air The Disney Afternoon and launched its Fox Kids lineup, spawning popular series like Eek! the Cat, Tiny Toon Adventures, Bobby's World, Power Rangers, and Biker Mice from Mars, but after 1993, some larger affiliates asked to opt out of airing Fox Kids on Saturday mornings in favour of news. When FOX outbid CBS for the NFL television broadcast rights, it hoped to gain further viewers for the games, so it bought New World Communications and its stations shortly after in 1994. They became FOX stations, though few remained interested in airing Fox Kids. As a result, by 1995 FOX left its animation block up to its affiliate stations, or other non-FOX stations in areas where the FOX station passed on airing Fox Kids. In a few cities, a WB or UPN station would air their animation block AND Fox Kids! As a result of these big network shake-ups of 1994, a few of its programs migrated over to the newly-launched WB Television Network, such as Animaniacs. By 2002, Fox Kids would be renamed the Fox Box and its programming was handed over to 4Kids Entertainment, but again, often airing on a CW or My Network TV affiliate, or even an independent station. Three years later, it was renamed once more to 4KidsTV. It would ultimately be merged with the Kids WB on The CW in 2008 to form The CW4Kids / Toonzai.
The WB launched in 1995 to much fanfare, and its Kids' WB lineup on Saturday Mornings and weekday afternoons was legendary. It competed with syndication's Disney Afternoon and various other cartoons with Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Batman: The Animated Series, Pokemon and other franchises from its large library of animation. The WB and UPN would later shut down in 2006, merging into The CW. While much of UPN's general programming was carried over at first, Kids WB was chosen, instead of UPN Kids. Kids' WB still exists as an online-only website-based programming block, having been revived in 2009.
UPN launched in 1995 within a few weeks of The WB, but was never as popular, partially for it airing usually on Sundays, instead of Saturdays. Its weekend-morning offerings were slim and largely forgettable. Its only real claim to fame was how it inherited Disney's One Saturday Morning and shifted it to an afternoon/Sunday mornings format, renaming it "Disney's One Too". This would last from 1999 to 2003.
The CW inherited Kids' WB from The WB in 2006, and would replace it with The CW4Kids in 2008, which would itself be renamed Toonzai from 2010 to 2012. Ultimately, Saban Brands (of Power Rangers fame) would program the children's block on Saturday (or Sunday, depending on station). From 2012 to 2014, this was Vortexx, the lone survivor of Saturday mornings. This too, would end on the weekend of September 27-28, 2014, being replaced with an E/I block by Litton Entertainment (who also program ABC and CBS' blocks) on October 4, 2014.
Syndication had many different shows, such as Double Dragon, James Bond Jr., and M.A.S.K., but arguably the most-famous syndicated shows were the Disney Afternoon block of shows, such as Tale Spin, Goof Troop, Darkwing Duck, and Gargoyles; part of the "Disney Renaissance" of animation of the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparked by their long-awaited successes in theatres with Oliver & Company (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989). The Disney Afternoon started off in 1988 with the launch of Duck Tales, and its 1990 spin-off of Darkwing Duck, later expanding with Tale Spin, Goof Troop, Quack Pack, Gargoyles, Bonkers, and 101 Dalmatians, among others.
The CBC's fare was relatively limited, compared to American and even other Canadian networks (similar to UPN and PAX/ION), but its most popular offering was The Raccoons, which was seen in the United States on the cable network Trio (now Cloo).
BBS and CTV had very similar schedules for Saturday morning programming, mostly from BBS owning several CTV affiliates and a few independent stations, before buying the network entirely in 1998. Its programming was largely identical to ABC's from 1997 to 2002, simulcasting Disney's One Saturday Morning (labelling it as "BBS Master Control"), though airing some CBS programs (Marsupilami, Timon & Pumbaa), and even some older animated shows, such as Marmaduke (based on the comic strip of the same name). Before 1996, BBS and CTV aired identical programs to ABC, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Cro, Free Willy, and Bump in the Night.
Global was a mixture of Fox Kids programs (having supplied Fox Kids with Dog City), as well as European programs like Tintin and domestic (Canadian) animation in the afternoon.
Saturday morning cartoons ended in Canada around 2002, for largely the same reasons as in the United States: cable television competition, as well as the province of Québec's law banning advertising towards children.
Though this may be the end of animation on the airwaves, they will live on in our hearts and memories. So, we want to hear from you about your favourite shows and your fondest memories from Saturday morning (and Sunday morning, and even weekday) cartoons.
While tempted to end with Porky Pig's "That's All, Folks!", I feel it's more appropriate to end on a more sombre note, given the situation:
Farewell, cartoons. We will miss you, and we will never forget you.
Saturday Morning Cartoons, 1960-2014
- Saturday-morning cartoon, Wikipedia
- Saturday Morning Tribute - xreddragonx, YouTube
- The DEATH of Saturday Morning Cartoons - Machinima ETC, YouTube
- Saturday Morning Cartoons Are But a Sweet, Sweet Memory - Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo TV
- The Saturday morning cartoon is officially dead - Peter Weber, The Week
- So, Saturday morning cartoons are dead - Drunk2Society, /r/lewronggeneration, Reddit
- This Is the First Weekend in America With No Saturday Morning Cartoons - Robert Sorokanich, Gizmodo
- Cable, the FCC and streaming killed Saturday morning cartoons - Jon Fingas, Engadget
- Saturday Morning Cartoons Are Officially Dead - Peter Sciretta, /Film
- The 20 Best Saturday Morning Cartoons of All Time - Peter Sciretta, /Film
- Saturday morning cartoons are no more - Gail Sullivan, Washington Post
- What killed the Golden Age of Cartoons? - Rob Bricken, io9