Okay, since this week’s big manufactured and not necessarily true internet story is about how yesterday was the first Saturday in more than 50 years with no cartoons, tonight we’ll look at a cool and cheesy compilation of Saturday morning cartoons and commercials from 1964 to 1976.
But we have to be clear about something first. NBC still has a block of children’s programming on Saturday mornings. They carry programming from the PBS channel, Sprout, which is currently being discovered by and disappointing millions of Suddenlink customers who just lost three Nickelodeon channels. Four of these shows are cartoons. So even though it seems like every blogger, web “expert” and click-bait site has jumped all over this story, it simply isn’t true.
Now, traditional Saturday morning cartoons are gone and have been for some time. Years ago the broadcast networks farmed out Saturday morning programming blocks to outside entities for a variety of reasons. There were drastic changes in the regulation of commercials aimed at children and there are requirements for broadcast outlets to devote a certain amount of time each week to “educational” content. Cable is not affected by either of these developments and has owned the pre-teen demographic for more than twenty years.
The days of a producer pitching shows to the major networks for Saturday morning ended a long, long time ago. So these stories are late to the party in that regard. In 1997 ABC turned over their Saturday mornings to The Disney Channel. In 2011 they dumped children’s programming on Saturday mornings entirely. NBC dumped their Children’s programming in 1992, but later added it back by contracting with companies like Sprout, who currently program their line-up. CBS started contracting out to other companies in 1998, beginning with a deal with Nelvana, the Canadian animation studio, and then swtiching to Nickeloden, DIC, and Cookie Jar TV before dumping all their animated programs in 2013.
Fox Kids ended in 2002, when the Fox Network farmed out their programming to 4 Kids TV, and they dumped those shows back in 2008. Fox just started broadcasting children’s programming again this year for the first time since then, but it’s all live-action educational shows.
Which brings us to another point. Many of the most fondly-remembered Saturday morning shows weren’t cartoons in the first place. Who can forget HR Pufenstuf, Shazam, Space Ark, Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, The Hudson Brothers or Lidsville? Plus there were live-action segments in Fat Albert and The Banana Splits. It’s not like Saturday morning was ever wall-to-wall cartoons. Kids today have more choices than ever and they aren’t restricted to one block of programming on one day each week.
So all this internet noise about yesterday being “the first Saturday morning in over fifty years without any cartoons” is nonsense. NBC showed two hours of cartoons.
“The first Saturday morning without cartoons” happened on September 6, 1997, when all three major networks (Fox didn’t broadcast on Saturday mornings at that point) pre-empted their regular programming to cover the funeral of Princess Diana.