Saturday Morning Cartoon

If you're a kid these days and you feel the urge to watch some cartoons, you don't have to wait. Cable and satellite TV offer a smorgasbord of animated options from Nickelodeon to Cartoon Network to Disney XD, which can be watched at any time. If none of these are to your liking, there is always On-Demand service, legal DVDs, illegal DVDs, and, of course, online via torrents, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming websites.

It wasn't always this way, as your family members who were born in the mid-20th century might tell you.

Back when televisions were rounded instead of flat, unseemly large and heavy, had antennae on top to pick up one of three or four networks or the local independent station(s) (and little knobs for which you physically had to go over to change channels), getting your cartoon fix was a lot harder. The "Saturday-morning cartoon" format arose in the 1960s as advertisers and networks realized the potential of an all-but-captive audience of schoolchildren could camp out in front of the TV and veg out on three to four hours of animated goodness, enjoying a morning off from both school and church, while Mom and Dad were catching up on sleep lost during the work week.

Limited Animation made it cost-effective for the networks to fill the entire timeframe this way, with the occasional live-action show here and there. Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and other theatrical cartoon shorts, originally aimed at an adult audience, experienced a renaissance this way. (See also the Saturday Morning Kids Show.) It was a big deal: Networks would devote a prime-time evening slot in early fall to promoting their new Saturday morning lineup. As parents' groups began to flex their influence, the content of the shows began to become notoriously restricted until by the 1980s they severely restricted the very basis of conflict and almost unconsciously attacked the value of individualism in favor of groupthink. In a more constructive direction, the networks began commissioning educational spots of which the best were entertaining as well such as Schoolhouse Rock for ABC, Ask NBC News for NBC, and In the News for CBS.

However, the format's decline began with the rise of cartoons produced to run in syndication (usually in short blocks aired before or after school hours and with more artistic freedom to be wilder than the TV networks dared to be), as well as the rise of cable networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network that shared the same demographic.

ABC, CBS, CW, and NBC affiliates have since acquired syndicated Saturday morning lineups dominated by Edutainment Shows (E/I), in order to be compliant with FCC regulations. ABC started this trend in the fall of 2011 when they ceased its Saturday Morning lineup and bought a syndicated block supplied by a distribution company, Litton. CBS and CW affiliates also began carrying Saturday E/I blocks, also supplied by Litton. Fox ceded their time to a two-hour block of infomercials that kids (and any adult 77 or younger) avoid like crazy, though some of their affiliates and O&Os have also bought up syndicated educational blocks. NBC was the last network to carry anything close to a traditional Saturday-morning block,note  though in October of 2016, NBC discontinued this for a joint-venture Edutainment block with, once again, Litton. As it is, only Cartoon Network appeared to have a major showing on Saturday mornings, and even then, only action/superhero cartoons are shown. However, even that was discontinued for Teen Titans Go! reruns.

A bit of interesting trivia: In the 1970s and '80s, Saturday-morning TV was a veritable cornucopia of cartoons, so many you had to pick which ones you wanted to see... however, just 24 hours later, Sunday morning was kind of frustrating for the kids who weren't church goers. Either the channels, across the board, would have programming so dull that kids wouldn't watch itnote  or, if you were lucky, you got some Religious Edutainment show like Davey and Goliath, sometimes locally produced. The big networks, then and now, ran very grown-up news-and-politics Talk Shows on Sunday morning—This Week, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, and so on. If you were really lucky, you got an animated show or two—often religious in nature, unless you lived in a market with a station that carried The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera. It was a little better in Canada or with local syndication stations, although those tended to stick to Canadian-made (and sometimes horrible) cartoons like Rocket Robin Hood or Spider-Man (1967) on Sunday. The sole exceptions in most markets were USA Network's Cartoon Express block in the 1980s, which consisted mostly of reruns of various H-B, Ruby-Spears, DiC, and Filmation cartoons, and in the 1990s the first run of Nicktoons, which originally ran in the Sunday morning slot. However, Sunday morning for many children of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was just a good time to play with your toys.

Many early Saturday-morning cartoons are closely associated with the Animation Age Ghetto. Many later ones were actually anime imported to the United States, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! being prime examples. The Japanese equivalent of the timeslot is Sunday mornings, and unlike in the west, is still going strong.

On September 27, 2014, The CW discontinued its Saturday-morning animation block, the last of its kind on American broadcast TV.

R.I.P. Saturday-morning cartoons 1960–2014. May you never be forgotten.

For some off-the-net reading, check out Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up with Cartoon Culture (1998), by Timothy Burke

Common tropes:






Kids' WB! note 

The CW



"Am I destined to draw upon his darkness in the future?" — Astral, Yu Gi Oh Zexal, "Darkness Dawns" — the last lines of the last Saturday morning cartoon ever broadcast note 

Alternative Title(s): Saturday Morning Cartoon Show