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.