What happened to Saturday mornings?

If you are like me and grew up during the pre-cable 70’s and early 80’s then you probably have fond memories of beautiful Saturday mornings completely wasted sitting in front of your television set watching a parade of shows requiring the intellectual depth of carpet lint to enjoy. If you’ve bothered to check out Saturday morning television lately then you’re aware that those party-like days of children’s programming are no more. Two of the original Big Three Networks no longer air any kids shows on Saturday mornings and lately I’ve been wondering what it was that had changed. So it was a bit of serendipity that I should come across this article at Animation World Magazine as I was just discussing the sorry state of cartoons on Saturday mornings this past weekend.

In a time not so long ago, Saturday mornings were indicative of one and only one pastime for children—watching cartoons. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC dominated the Saturday morning airwaves by inundating children with cartoons. Cartoons on these networks used to earn ratings of more than 20 million viewers. Today, network Saturday morning cartoons only exist on ABC Kids, FOX Kids and Kids’ WB!, the latter two networks either did not exist or did not air cartoons two decades ago. Current successful cartoons on FOX Kids or Kids’ WB! can garner a mere two million viewers. That statistic does not even take into consideration that the population of children in the U.S. has increased by approximately ten percent over the last 20 years. Due to this precipice in viewers, network cartoons are left struggling to make money while advertisers remain befuddled without a mainstream channel to promote new toys and products to children. Why have children stopped tuning in on Saturday mornings to network cartoons and what are the ramifications of this change?

The article goes on to talk about the various factors that have contributed to the demise of the Saturday morning cartoon-fest one of which is the cable TV revolution. With the advent of channels like Cartoon Planet you can watch cartoons 24 hours a day 7 days a week so for kids that were born after the hey day of Saturday mornings it’s an odd concept to think of there being one day out of the week to look forward to watching your favorite ‘toons. Why wait till Saturday when you can watch them right now?

Most of the factors listed are things I already knew, but didn’t really connect as being part of the “why” behind the demise of Saturday mornings. Thinking about it now it makes perfect sense. One thing that I hadn’t realized, however, is that the reasons behind the demise of cartoons on Saturday are also the same reasons for the diminishing amount of family-oriented programming in Prime Time, which is another trend I had noticed lately. Anyway, it made for some interesting reading so I thought I’d share it.

7 thoughts on “What happened to Saturday mornings?

  1. and have you seen some of the crap that is on saturday mornings? stuff like fighting foodons. what the flying hell is this shit?…lol

  2. Okay, as an animator for kids cartoons, I can give you one big hint—Advertisers.  When the cable channels started to pop up, advertisers had a demographic built in, although you might be able to see this as a ‘chicken and the egg’ sort of situation.  If you want to advertise to a preschool crowd (apparently a huge untapped segment of the population during the network days, given PBS’s hold on that market) then something like Nick’s preschool scheduling (Dora the Explorer, etc) delivers that market ready-made.  Same for middle school kids, preteens, etc.  Sadly, kid’s commercial programming is now all about building market shares, and doing that in a way that pinpionts kids of specific age groups.  The Saturday morning network kids shows could never have this kind of effect, because they were trying to draw a more general audience. 
    On the other hand, the network shows from the late 70’s and early 80’s were truly awful in most cases, as I remember.  And kids TV has always been about selling stuff. To the parents out there I give you this warning—marketers have been working very HARD for 20 some years to target your pups.  If you’re concerned about your kids being indoctrinated into consumer culture before they’ve even entered kindergarten, be a little careful about what they’re watching on the tube.  Lots of smart people have made careers out of figuring out ways to make pre-schoolers omnivorous consumers.
    My 2 cents.

  3. maryh, your an animator? I am SO jealous! When I still believed that I could become anything I wanted to be animator was my goal.

  4. Oh, Eric, you’ve made my day.  I can’t tell you how rare it is for a person over the age of 9 to be even the least bit impressed by my lowly occupation… Other cartoonists have told me that they consider this occupation lower on the showbiz ladder than (gasp) radio guys.  But that’s still higher than crack dealers, right??

  5. Animation when done right is some of the best entertainment available (he said as the 3rd season of Futurama played behind him on the TV). Pretty much everyone can remember the cartoons from their youth and remember them fondly. Before ILM the only place to go for the downright fantastic was animation, where else could a coyote be compressed into a slinky or a duck have his bill blown off his face by a shotgun blast to end up perched on his head like a hat? Nowhere, that’s where!

    Fully half of my DVD and video collection is animation, I bought an Amiga computer (back in 1988) because I wanted to work in CG since a multi-plan camera was a little out of my price range. Radio guys and crack dealers, feh. Animation should be considered a high art form and it’s creators respected artists.

  6. I’ve also been an animator (CGI) for several animation companies in the past….and was OUTRAGED to have have recently found out from having to re-convert back to OTA (Over The Air/Broadcast) after years of being literally spoiled from satellite (but EAT up from the price as most people eventually will) that the Networks had literally killed Saturday morning animation lineups. And while all this is an excuses…poor kids wanna watch shit too don’t they. How unfair right! This also made me do some research into the situation to find that what KILLED most of it wasn’t JUST advertising (which did play a lot into it) but let’s face it…if there’s an audience there…there’d be someone selling something. The FCC rules now state that broadcaster MUST show several hours of “education” programs a week….BOOM! this took up most of the time slots in which cartoons we’re shown. WOW…
    Now this is my option. As prices increase ( and trust me they will… I recently killed my DirecTV bill because of the 80 dollar a month price tag) OTA could see and increase again in popularity. I also notice broadcast stations now can have multiple channels (up to 4) on which one though they usually show a whole “syndicated” channel. I personally think this would be a PRIME opportunity for someone to offer an all “cartoon” styled network. I think the time for FREE TV is resurfing and it’s time to bust out with something fresh like that.

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