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Saturday morning cartoons

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Saturday morning cartoons

A Saturday morning cartoon is the colloquial term for the animated television programming that has typically been scheduled on Saturday mornings in the United States on many major television networks from the 1960s to the present; the genre's peak in popularity mostly ended in the 2000s while the popularity of cable and satellite television, as well as the internet, has provided 24 hour access to cartoons for children.[1] In the United States, the generally accepted times are considered to be Saturday mornings are 8 a.m. to noon Eastern. In addition, until the late 1970s, American networks also had a schedule of children's programming on Sunday mornings, though most programs at this time were repeats of Saturday morning shows that were already out of production.[2][3] Cable television networks have since revived the practice of debuting their most popular animated programming on Saturday mornings, and most of the broadcast networks maintain a limited animated presence to meet federal educational-informational children's programming mandates. In some markets, some shows were pre-empted in favor of syndicated or other types of local programming.[4]


An animated feature film may use 24 different drawings per second of finished film, sometimes even more. Due to lower budgets, Saturday morning cartoons are often produced with a minimum amount of animation drawings, sometimes no more than 3 or 4 per second. In addition, the movements of the characters are often repeated, very limited, or even confined to mouths and eyes only. An exception to the 24-frames-per-second rule is when animation is "shot in twos" in which 12 drawings per second are used and the switch to 24 frames per second is for quick events like explosions or "wild takes".

Early Saturday morning cartoons

Although the Saturday morning timeslot had always featured a great deal of children's fare before, the idea of commissioning new animated series for broadcast on Saturday mornings caught on in the mid-1960s, when the networks realized that they could concentrate kids' viewing on that one morning to appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, limited animation, such as that produced by such studios as Filmation Associates, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, Total Television, Jay Ward Productions and Hanna-Barbera Productions, was economical enough to produce in sufficient quantity to fill the four-hour time slot, as compared to live-action programming. While production times and costs were undeniably higher with animated programming, the cost of talent was far less (voice actors Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray, Mel Blanc and in later years Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen and Tom Kenny became known for their ability to hold several roles at once, sometimes even on the same show) and networks could rerun children's animated programming more frequently than most live-action series, negating the financial disadvantages. The experiment proved successful, and the time slot was filled with profitable programming.

Some Saturday morning programming consisted of telecasts of older cartoons originally made for movie theaters, such as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons, the Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle cartoons produced by Paul Terry's Terrytoons, and Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker cartoons. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon to have animated shorts produced with both film and television in mind (DePatie-Freleng was particularly associated with this business model), so that by selling the shorts to theaters, the studios could afford a higher budget than would otherwise be available from television alone, which at the time was still a free medium for the end-user.[5]

Watchgroup backlash

Parents' lobby groups like Action for Children's Television appeared in the late 1960s. They voiced concerns about the presentation of commercialism, violence, anti-social attitudes and stereotypes in Saturday morning cartoons. By the 1970s, these groups exercised enough influence that the TV networks felt compelled to lay down more stringent content rules for the animation houses.[6][7][8]

In a more constructive direction, the networks were encouraged to create educational spots that endeavored to use animation and/or live-action for enriching content. Far and away the most successful effort was the Schoolhouse Rock series on ABC, which became a television classic; ABC also had several other short-form animated featurettes, including Time for Timer and The Bod Squad, that had long runs. Just as notable were CBS's news segments for children, In the News and NBC's Ask NBC News and One to Grow On, which featured skits of everyday problems with advice from the stars of NBC primetime programs.


The decline of the timeslot began, somewhat, in the early 1990s for a variety of reasons, including:

  • The rise of first run syndicated animated programs, which usually had a greater artistic freedom and looser standards than those that were mandated by a network. These programs included G.I. Joe, The Transformers, ThunderCats, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Ducktales and the first three seasons of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.[9]
  • Increasing regulation of children's programming content, including the Federal Communication Commission's introduction of the E/I mandate in 1990. This required all broadcast networks to air "educational and infomational" children's programs for at least three hours a week. Concurrent with this, the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the advertising of both premium-rate telephone numbers and tie-in merchandise during children's hours. Both these factors limted creative options and cut off large revenue sources for children's programs on network television.
  • The entry of Walt Disney Television Animation and Warner Bros. Animation into the television field in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both companies invested far more money into their productions than Saturday morning cartoons had done up until that point, raising the standards much higher than most television animation companies were able to reach.
  • Network affiliate chains such as Hearst Television and Sinclair Broadcasting Group refused to air programming which was not compliant with E/I rules, such as the Power Rangers franchise, or preferred to air programming from another supplier, such as Cookie Jar Group, due to heavy repetition of children's programming on network blocks.
  • The overreliance on common tropes and clichés. Although this has been common in cartoons since the early days of animation, it became more pronounced by the 1980s; many of the longstanding Saturday morning franchises that had aired since the 1960s, such as Scooby-Doo, were beginning to age and decline in popularity.
  • The rise of cable television networks like Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network, which provided appealing animated entertainment throughout the week at nearly all hours, making Saturday morning timeslots far less important to viewers and advertisers. Cable channels have the additional advantage of being beyond FCC content regulations and do not have to abide by educational or advertising regulations. Currently, there are at least ten channels specializing in children's programming.[10] This development notwithstanding, cable networks directed at children have used the Saturday morning time slot as its version of prime time for its animated series; Disney Channel with "Disney Channel Saturday Mornings", Nickelodeon with "Gotta See Saturdays", Cartoon Network with "DC Nation", and YTV with "Vortex" have emphasized their Saturday morning cartoon programming.
  • The entrance of more adult-oriented cartoons into the mainstream, typified by The Simpsons, which led to cartoons losing much of their family-friendly image.
  • A sudden revival of animated feature films. Although many successful animated feature films were produced in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, later productions became somewhat dormant after the death of Walt Disney in 1966, with newly made animated films bringing back only modest box-office returns during the 1970s. However, beginning in the late '80s, there was a sudden improvement in both writing and animation of films in these categories with such blockbusters as Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995). These films lured children away from their television sets and animation staff were attracted toward higher salaries that were offered by feature film production, thus draining television animation companies of both viewers and resources.
  • The rise of college football on television, which until the NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Oklahoma Supreme Court decision in 1984, had been limited by the NCAA to showing between one and four games per week, none of which aired on Saturday mornings. After the decision, the number of games and game-related shows exploded to become the programming highlight of Saturdays. Through the years, however, broadcast networks have chosen to start football games within Saturday morning as a live broadcast, forcing Saturday morning programming in the western part of the country to be carried in other timeslots.
  • Increased awareness of childhood obesity and lethargy; advocates often targeted Saturday morning cartoons as the culprit.
  • The proliferation of commercial toyline-oriented animated programs in the 1980s also led to advocacy group backlash and a decline in such programming. Many of these programs implemented public service messages at their conclusion to address these criticisms.
  • The increased availability of VHS tapes and later DVDs, Blu-Rays, iTunes and videos on the World Wide Web, which, like cable, allowed children to watch their favorite cartoons at any given time.
  • The development and rapid improvement in quality of video games, both of console and later of online varieties, which gave children alternative activities to do on Saturday mornings other than just simply watching cartoons.
  • An increase in children's participation in Saturday activities outside the home.[11]
  • A 1984 decision legalizing infomercials on American television; profits from Saturday morning infomercials were potentially much more than those from children's programming. Due to child-centered products becoming national chains, as well as their vulnerability as seasonal attractions tied to short-lived fads, children's programming on Saturday mornings brought in limited advertising income. Most commercial breaks were also devoted to fulfilling the station's public service announcement requirements for the week because of the limited advertising income.
  • Television networks becoming part of larger corporations. These networks included ABC (purchased by the The Walt Disney Company in 1996), CBS (purchased by Viacom in 1999, before splitting in 2005) and The WB Network (created by Time Warner in 1995, before merging with UPN in 2006 to create The CW Network). Since the parent companies already owned television animation studios, the networks preferred to air shows from these companies with programming blocks such as "Disney's One Saturday Morning", "Nick on CBS" and "Kid's WB" rather than contracting out independent television animation companies.
  • Many of the same networks that often showed Saturday morning cartoons began airing similar programs on weekday afternoons, usually when most children were out of school already. This practice has been discontinued in recent years, but was common throughout the 1990s.
  • The success of live action teen sitcoms, starting with NBC's Saved by the Bell, which led to the rapid development of more live-action teen programming, with networks slowly squeezing out the cartoons.
  • The gradual loss of most of the American companies which were, at one point, iconic and prolific producers of animated children's shows. Companies that have folded, ceased producing new product or been subsumed into larger companies include Jay Ward Productions and Total Television (both stopped producing new product around 1968), DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (subsumed by Marvel Productions in 1979), Rankin/Bass (folded in 1987), Filmation (folded in 1989), Hanna-Barbera (still active on paper, although its operations were absorbed into Warner Bros. Animation over the course of the 1990s), Marvel Productions (defunct in 1997, properties now owned by The Walt Disney Company), Sunbow Productions (folded in 1998), Walt Disney Television Animation (migrated to Disney Channel in 2002), Film Roman (sold in 2003, now part of Starz Media), Warner Bros. Animation (migrated to Cartoon Network in 2008), DIC Entertainment (defunct in 2008, properties merged into Cookie Jar Group), and Saban Entertainment (spent several years defunct before relaunching as Saban Brands in 2010). Other noted producers such as Ruby-Spears[12] , Jimmy Murakami/Fred Wolf, and Sid and Marty Krofft, while not officially defunct, are far less active than in previous years.
  • Beginning in the late 1990s, television networks began offshoring animation production from the United States to other countries. Currently, one of the leading producers of Saturday morning cartoon programming is Canada's Nelvana, a division of Corus Entertainment. The popularity of Japanese animation, both in its early years (such as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer and Robotech) and during a renaissance of the genre in the late 1990s (Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! being prominent examples) was also a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
  • The 2005 to 2009 decisions by breakfast cereal companies and fast food restaurants to reduce their advertising towards children. Breakfast cereals were major advertised products during Saturday morning cartoon programming blocks; however, nutrition advocacy groups criticized the companies for advertising cereals with high sugar content and low nutritional value, leading groups such as Kellogg's and Quaker Oats to scale back their advertising to children. Similar pressures on fast food restaurants and their high-calorie meals led McDonald's and Burger King to also scale back their fast food advertising towards children.

Current state of Saturday morning cartoons

While animated production is still present on one broadcast network on Saturday mornings (The CW), it has been much noticeably reduced. A 1996 Federal Communications Commission mandate, issued in the wake of the Children's Television Act, requires stations to program a minimum of three hours of children's educational/informational ("E/I") programming per week.

To help their affiliates comply with the regulations, broadcast networks began to reorganize their efforts to adhere to the mandates, so their affiliates would not bear the burden of scheduling the shows themselves on their own time thus eliminating the risk of having network product preempted by the mandates. This almost always meant that the educational programming was placed during the Saturday morning cartoon block. NBC abandoned its Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992, replacing it with a Saturday morning edition of The Today Show and adding an all live-action teen-oriented block, TNBC, which featured Saved by the Bell, California Dreams, and other teen comedies. Even though the educational content was minimal to nonexistent, NBC labeled all the live-action shows with an E/I rating.

CBS followed NBC's example by producing a Saturday edition of The Early Show in the first two hours of its lineup and an all live-action block of children's programming. The experiment lasted a few months, and CBS brought back their animated CBS Storybreak series.

In 2004, ABC was the last of the broadcast networks to add a Saturday morning edition of their morning news program, Good Morning America, in the first hour of its lineup. Prior to that, and particularly in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for affiliates to preempt part or all of ABC's cartoon lineup with local programming.

Fox carried little or no E/I programming, leaving the responsibility of scheduling the E/I shows to the affiliates themselves (although the network did eventually add daily reruns of The Magic School Bus to meet the E/I mandates from 1998 to 2001); since January 2009 Fox carries no children's programming at all. The WB was far more accommodating; for several years, they aired the history-themed Histeria! five days per week, leaving only a half-hour of E/I programs up to the local producers to program.

Boomerang, a spin-off channel of Cartoon Network, currently specializes primarily in reruns of Saturday morning cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s (the majority of which come from Hanna-Barbera, which, like Boomerang, is owned by Time Warner). Hub Network owns the broadcast rights to rerun several of Fox Kids' most popular programs. It is not unusual to see the major networks rotate reruns of older series (usually less than ten years, because of E/I content) instead of airing a new production, since the children who watched them the first time are not the same children who are currently watching Saturday morning cartoons; Cookie Jar Group's programming blocks have made extensive use of this strategy, as do channels that are intended for digital subchannels (e.g. Qubo).

Units of larger entertainment companies

Disney's One Saturday Morning/ABC Kids/Litton's Weekend Adventure

By the mid-1990s, broadcast networks were now becoming units of larger entertainment companies. ABC was bought by The Walt Disney Company in 1996, which began airing all Disney-made programming by 1997 and canceled non-Disney made productions (with the notable exception of The Bugs and Tweety Show, which continued to air until Warner Bros. ended the show in 2000). After being purchased by Disney, ABC began airing their Saturday morning cartoons in a programming block titled Disney's One Saturday Morning before switching to a block of live-action and animated programs titled ABC Kids in 2002. Many of the block's shows were produced by Disney and also aired on Disney Channel or Toon Disney. At one point, only two animated shows aired ABC Kids, while the rest were live-action entertainment shows. By late 2008, all shows featured on ABC Kids were in rerun status, and remained so for the next three years. On September 3, 2011, ABC outsourced its Saturday morning programming and E/I liabilities to Litton Entertainment; Litton now provides ABC stations with Litton's Weekend Adventure,[13][14][15] an educational, infomercial block aimed at teens, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the ABC network itself. In conjunction with the move, ABC sister network Disney Channel launched a Saturday morning block of its popular animated programming, entitled Toonin' Saturdays, in June 2011.

Nick on CBS/Nick Jr. on CBS/Cookie Jar TV/CBS Dream Team

CBS was purchased by Viacom in 2000 and thus aired Nickelodeon-made programming from 2000 until 2006, a year after Viacom was split in two with Nickelodeon going to Viacom and CBS becoming a part of CBS Corporation. The two parties ended the Nickelodeon/Nick Jr.-branded block, which was replaced by the DIC Entertainment (now Cookie Jar Entertainment) produced KOL's Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS in fall 2006. A re-imagining of the block, KEWLopolis, with a greater amount of animation, premiered in fall 2007. On September 19, 2009, KEWLopolis was re-branded as Cookie Jar TV, aimed more at preschoolers.[16][17]

On July 24 2013, CBS announced a programming agreement with Litton Entertainment (which already programs a Saturday morning block for ABC in the form of a syndication package exclusive to the network's stations) to launch a new Saturday morning block featuring live-action reality-based series. As a result, the Cookie Jar TV block was discontinued on September 21, 2013, to be replaced the following week on September 28 by the Litton-produced "CBS Dream Team", that will be aimed at teenagers 13 to 16 years old,[18] making the network's return to live-action programming only since 1998. CBS strictly went to live-action programming from September 1997 to September 1998. This was the second time in at least 50 years that CBS dropped animated cartoons from their schedule, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the CBS network itself.

Fox Kids

From 1990 until 2002, smaller networks like Fox aired child-friendly programming, former ones are Fox Kids, both animated and live-action, on weekday afternoons in the hours after most American children were let out of school (outcompeting the syndicated afternoon children's programming on the remaining unaffiliated channels in the process). Several animated series of note, such as Taz-Mania, Batman: The Animated Series, Eek! The Cat, Bobby's World, and Animaniacs, came out of these afternoon programming blocks, and some later appeared on their networks' Saturday morning programming blocks. Live action shows like Power Rangers, Goosebumps and Big Bad Beetleborgs also aired on the Fox Kids Network. Fox sold its children's division to ABC in 2002.

On December 27, 2008, 4Kids TV ceased airing, and Fox no longer airs Saturday morning cartoons.[19] Fox became the third broadcast network, following PAX and UPN, to completely abandon kids' programming, and has replaced the programming with a two-hour block of infomercials called Weekend Marketplace; several stations, like they did for 4KidsTV, have been allowed by the network to decline to carry it and allowed them to shop it to another station in the market, especially those stations which had never carried Fox Kids to begin with in the Fox affiliate switch of 1994. All children's programming on Fox affiliates is currently arranged by local affiliates (usually through syndication) and not through the network.

Kids' WB/The CW4Kids/Vortexx

Every weekday afternoon since 1995, and sometimes mornings, too, until 2001. During the era of weekday blocks, Histeria! was usually included to provide E/I content. Kids' WB moved, name intact, to The CW when The WB merged with UPN. Kids' WB aired Saturday mornings on The CW, and it aired on Sunday mornings on WUPA in Atlanta. The block ended its run on May 17, 2008, and on WUPA it ended on the next day. A block of programming from 4Kids Entertainment, separate from the Kids block on Fox called: The CW4Kids, replaced it one week later. Toonzai added onto The CW4Kids on August 14, 2010; the block was rebranded as Vortexx once Saban Brands began involvement in the block on August 25, 2012.

Discovery Kids on NBC/qubo/NBC Kids

NBC, which had a partnership with the Discovery Kids network to broadcast the channel's original programming, re-entered the Saturday morning arena with new, original programming in September 2006 as part of the Qubo "edutainment" partnership, which involved numerous parties, including parent company NBCUniversal, Ion Media Networks, Scholastic Press, Nelvana, and Classic Media, all of whom provided the programs for the Saturday morning block. Qubo also airs on Ion Television. A Spanish-language version aired on NBC-owned Telemundo on weekends.

On July 7, 2012, NBC launched a new Saturday morning pre-school block, called NBC Kids, that replaced Qubo on the NBC block. The block now features programming from Sprout, a cable network in which NBC also owns a minority interest.

NBC is the last of the major television networks to have an ownership stake in its children's programming.

Cookie Jar Toons/This is for Kids

On November 1, 2008, This TV launched airing a daily children's programming block called Cookie Jar Toons. Cookie Jar Toons is programmed by Cookie Jar Entertainment.[20][21] In addition, non-E/I programming is aired on This TV called This is for Kids.

Cookie Jar Kids Network

The Cookie Jar Kids Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) is a syndicated children's programming block that airs selected Cookie Jar Entertainment programs on various local Fox, MyNetworkTV, and Independent stations to provide them with a source of Educational/Informational (E/I) programming required by federal law.

See also


External links

  • The Disappearance of Saturday Morning
  • Saturday morning grid of 1967, year of debut of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man
  • TVparty presents the schedules and program profiles for every series the networks broadcast on Saturday Mornings from the mid-Sixties all through the Seventies.
  • St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture: Saturday Morning Cartoons

Template:Children's programming on NBC Template:Children's programming on CBS Template:Children's programming on the American Broadcasting Company Template:Kids' WB

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