If you're a kid these days and feel the urge to watch some cartoons, be they Anime or Western Animation, 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's always On-Demand services, DVDs, and, of course, online streaming via Disney+, YouTube, Netflix, etc.
It wasn't always this way, as your family members who were born in the mid to late 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 to change channels), getting your cartoon fix was a lot harder. The "Saturday-morning cartoon" format arose in The '60s as advertisers and networks realized the potential of an all-but-captive audience of schoolchildren who 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.
This was an evolution of the "weekend matinee" blocks that movie theaters ran in the first half of the century, which ran back-to-back cartoons, serial cliffhangers, and news bulletins on a continuous loop throughout the day before the feature films proper were screened in the evening. One could attend for the price of a single ticket, arriving at any point in the cycle and leaving once one got back to where they started. Saturday mornings thus constantly saw cinemas packed with rowdy Free-Range Children while their parents shopped and ran other errands... until TV arrived.
Limited Animation made it cost-effective for the networks to fill the entire time-frame 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: many networks would even devote a Prime Time evening slot in early fall to promoting their new Saturday morning lineup for the coming school year. As parents' groups began to flex their influence, the content of the shows began to become notoriously restricted until by The '80s they severely restricted the very basis of conflict and almost unconsciously attacked the value of individualism in favor of groupthink. Ironically, at the same time lax oversight of the commercial exploits corporations were engaging in led to a constant stream of "30-minute toy commercials," peppered with actual commercials promoting various other toys, candies and sugar-laden cereals. In a more constructive direction, 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 slow decline began in The '80s 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 home video and cable networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network that shared the same demographic. Cartoons also competed with video games for screen time among younger people. By the Turn of the Millennium, the advent of such video-on-demand streaming formats such as the aforementioned YouTube, Netflix and Hulu are likely what hammered in the final nail in the coffin for these blocks.
Over this same time, changing cultural norms around parenting in America also kept more kids away from TV on Saturday mornings. There was increasing social disapproval in the middle class toward children watching Merchandise-Driven TV for hours on end, and with the increase in households with both parents working as well as single parenthood, parents wanted to spend more "quality time" with their children, which often meant more activities outside the home on weekends. Colleges also began to factor extracurricular activities in admissions, which meant that parents who wanted their kids to get into a good university would enroll them in activities like sports, as youth sports leagues tend to have competitions on Saturdays.
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. Nat Geo Wild also has a Saturday morning children's block, but it is educational and not all the programming is animated.
A bit of interesting trivia: In The '70s 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 cartoons like Rocket Robin Hood or Spider-Man (1967) on Sundays. 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. Back in the early to mid 80s, Sunday morning syndication might run live action children's shows like Big Blue Marble. Also, some one shot and unsold cartoon pilots might make their way to the early sunday morning timeslot. These shows had a fair amount of viewers in places like California and the East Coast Tri State Area where a significant amount of the population is Jewish, secular, or otherwise has religious services on a day other than the traditional Christian sabbath. However, Sunday morning for many children of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was just a good time to play with your toys if you weren't taken to church services.
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: The Series 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.
Other western countries during more or less the same epoch dedicated their weekend slots in a similar way Saturday being reserved for children's (and teenager's) programming, with in addition to the cartoons listed here locally produced ones, and Sunday depending of the channel for either religious programming or also for shows for children. As in US it began to fade away in the '90s being replaced by adult-oriented related programming such as news, reruns, live-action series, infomercials, etc. and programming aimed at children-aimed being moved to channels that specialized in it.
In recent years, The CW discontinued Vortexx, the last traditional Saturday morning block, on September 27, 2014. Almost three years later, on July 1, 2017, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group launched a new program block called KidsClick, which was broadcast on This TV and Sinclair-owned stations. KidsClick aired seven days a week, including Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, thus becoming the first program block to air non-educational cartoons on weekdays since Kids' WB! discontinued their weekday blocks in 2001 and 2005. Unfortunately, Sinclair saw very little value in KidsClick and abruptly canned the block at the end of March 2019.
On the other hand, the past few years have seen Disney Channel running a very respectable Saturday morning animation block with such shows as Big Hero 6: The Series, DuckTales (2017), Amphibia, Big City Greens, and the Mickey Mouse (2013) shorts, as well as older series like Phineas and Ferb and Gravity Falls.
In 2020 METV announced a new weekday and Saturday morning block showing classic animation, aimed at all ages and intended to be a nostalgic throwback to the Saturday mornings of old.
For some off-the-net reading, check out Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up with Cartoon Culture (1998), by Timothy Burke.
- Action-Hogging Opening: When the opening of a show has way more action than the show really has.
- Amusing Injuries: Injuries that are Played for Laughs.
- Animated Adaptation: The animated version of a pre-existing, usually live-action, franchise.
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: That last-second Aesop Tag at the end of a cartoon.
- Band Toon: A TV series, often animated, featuring a famous music act.
- Colossus Climb: When a small character climbs a big character to attack their lofty weak point.
- Denser and Wackier: A series installment is made crazier.
- Edutainment Show: A work that both entertains and educates.
- Episode Title Card: The title of the episode displayed onscreen.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: An episode that ends with everyone laughing.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: No real guns on kids' shows, but there's plenty of laser guns, phasers, and blasters.
- Flintstone Theming: When a single, pervasive concept that is basic to the show is used repeatedly for as many jokes as it can possibly yield.
- Free-Range Children: Children and preteens in fiction wandering about with little to no adult supervision.
- Gasp!: Gasping for added drama.
- Gratuitous Animal Sidekick: The insertion of an animal sidekick into a property that normally wouldn't be expected to have one.
- Harmless Villain: A villain who poses no real threat.
- Kid-Appeal Character: A character whose existence relies on appealing to children.
- Kid Detective: A detective who's a child or preteen.
- Kid Hero: A hero or heroine who's only a child or teen.
- Laugh Track: Synthesized laughter used to denote the parts the creators or writers think you should laugh at.
- Lighter and Softer: When a work that started out as Darker and Edgier is reworked to be more "family-friendly".
- Limited Animation: Reusing the same animation frames for certain sequences (such as a walk cycle) as opposed to redrawing new ones for each frame to save on time and/or cash.
- Merchandise-Driven: A show made to sell the product that it's based on.
- Never Say "Die": "Die" is such a strong word that it is in need of a euphemism.
- Nobody Can Die: Death is portrayed as impossible or incomprehensible to make a work more family-friendly.
- Product-Promotion Parade: A scene or sequence where various characters/toys are introduced in rapid-fire succession. This will usually include a brief description or a short demonstration of each character/toy's abilities/gimmicks.
- Recycled: The Series: When a movie's premise is turned into a weekly television series.
- Ring Around the Collar: Still characters are easier to animate talking when the head and body are separated by neckwear.
- Saturday Morning Kids’ Show: A Variety Show aimed at children.
- Scooby Stack: A group peeks around a wall with all their heads inexplicably in a column.
- Sidekick Creature Nuisance: A small critter sidekick who gets on everyone's nerves.
- Slapstick: A comedy genre centered around Amusing Injuries.
- Slice of Life: A work focusing on day-to-day life.
- The Smurfette Principle: All the main characters are male...except for one, whose femininity is treated as her character trait.
- Spin-Off Babies: Spin-off where the characters are all babies or young children.
- Teenage Mutant Samurai Wombats: A team of heroic non-humans fighting crime in a modern setting. Feared by all but a few human friends, they must stay in hiding.
- You Meddling Kids: It's acknowledged that the villain would have gotten away with a crime if it hadn't been for some nosy youngsters.
- Zany Cartoon: An animation genre with a heavy focus on slapstick humor and Toon Physics.
- 101 Dalmatians: The Series
- The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo
- The Addams Family (1992)
- The Beatles, the first ever Band Toon.
- Beany and Cecil
- The Brady Kids
- The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show/The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show
- Bump in the Night
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command
- Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels
- Care Bears (1980s)
- The Cattanooga Cats
- Darkwing Duck
- Disney's Doug
- Dragon's Lair
- Dumb and Dumber
- Dynomutt, Dog Wonder
- The Fantastic Four (1967) (the Hanna-Barbera series)
- The Flintstones
- The Flintstone Kids
- The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang
- Free Willy
- The Funky Phantom
- Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles
- George of the Jungle
- Goldie Gold and Action Jack
- Goober and the Ghost Chasers
- Goof Troop
- Hercules: The Animated Series
- Hong Kong Phooey
- House of Mouse
- The Jackson 5ive
- Jungle Cubs
- The King Kong Show
- Laverne & Shirley in the Army
- The Legend of Tarzan
- Lilo & Stitch: The Seriesnote
- Linus the Lionhearted
- Little Clowns of Happytown
- The Little Rascals (the Hanna-Barbera series)
- Little Wizards
- The Littles
- Lloyd in Space
- Magilla Gorilla
- Mary Kate and Ashley in Action!
- Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series
- Mighty Orbots
- Milton the Monster
- Mork & Mindy
- Mrs. Munger's Class
- My Pet Monster
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- The New Casper Cartoon Show
- The New Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show
- The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries
- Nightmare Ned
- The Oddball Couple
- Pepper Ann
- The Pirates of Dark Water
- Pound Puppies (Hanna-Barbera)
- A Pup Named Scooby-Doo
- The Real Ghostbusters
- Richie Rich (1980)
- Rubik, the Amazing Cube
- Sabrina: The Animated Series
- Schoolhouse Rock!
- Science Court
- Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo
- The Scooby-Doo Show
- Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM)
- Spider-Woman (1979-80)
- Street Sharks
- Tales From The Cryptkeeper
- Teacher's Pet
- Teamo Supremo
- The Tom and Jerry Show
- Thundarr the Barbarian
- The Trouble With Miss Switch
- Uncle Croc's Block
- The Weekenders
- What-a-Mess (1995 cartoon by DiC)
- Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa
- Will The Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down
- The Wizard of Oz
- Yogi's Gang
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
- The Adventures of Batman
- The Adventures of Hyperman
- The All-New Popeye Hour
- Aladdin: The Series
- The Alvin Show
- The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan
- The Archie Show
- Back to the Future
- Baileys Comets
- The Beagles
- The Berenstain Bears
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures
- Black Star
- Blaster's Universe
- Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
- The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show
- Clue Club
- Conan and the Young Warriors
- Drak Pack
- The Dumb Bunnies
- Dungeons & Dragons (1983)
- Fievel's American Tails
- Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles
- Galaxy High
- Garfield and Friends
- The Get Along Gang
- Gilligan's Planet
- The Harlem Globetrotters
- The Hair Bear Bunch
- Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater
- The Herculoids
- Josie And The Pussy Cats
- The Kwicky Koala Show
- The Little Mermaid (1992)
- Filmation's The New Adventures of The Lone Ranger
- The Mask
- Meatballs and Spaghetti
- The Mighty Heroes
- Mighty Mouse
- Mother Goose and Grimm
- Muppet Babies (1984)
- Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend
- The New Adventures of Superman
- Noonbory and the Super 7
- The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show
- Pole Position
- Project Gee Ke R
- Rescue Heroes
- Rude Dog and the Dweebs
- Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies
- Santo Bugito
- Saturday Supercade
- Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
- Skeleton Warriors
- Space Ghost and Dino-Boy
- Speed Buggy
- Ruby-Spears Superman
- Sushi Pack
- Filmation's Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle/Tarzan and the Super 7
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
- Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales
- Timon & Pumbaa
- The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show
- The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat
- Valley of the Dinosaurs
- Wacky Races
- What's New, Mr. Magoo?
- Wild CATS 1994
- Wildfire (Hanna-Barbera series from 1986)
- The Wuzzles
- Filmation's Zorro
- The Addams Family (1973)
- The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
- Adventures of the Gummi Bears
- The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends
- ALF Tales
- Alvin and the Chipmunks (1980s version)
- The Atom Ant Show
- Baggy Pants and the Nitwits
- The Banana Splits
- The Barkleys
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids
- Birdman and the Galaxy Trio
- CB Bears
- Camp Candy
- Captain N: The Game Master
- Casper and the Angels
- The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley
- Cool McCool
- Doctor Doolittle (the De Patie Freleng Enterprises series)
- The Fantastic Four (1978) (the DePatie-Freleng Enterprises series)
- The Gary Coleman Show
- The Godzilla Power Hour
- Gravedale High
- Here Comes the Grump
- The Houndcats
- Inch High, Private Eye
- The Jetsons
- Justin Time (2011) (Educational)
- King Leonardo and His Short Subjects
- Lazer Tag Academy
- The Legendof Zelda 1989
- Mister T
- The Pink Panther (AKA The New Pink Panther Show)
- Raw Toonage
- Return to the Planet of the Apes
- The Roman Holidays
- Sealab 2020
- The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty
- Secret Squirrel
- Shirt Tales
- The Smurfs (1981)
- The Snorks
- The Space Kidettes
- Space Sentinels
- Space Stars
- Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
- Sport Billy
- Star Trek: The Animated Series
- The Super 6
- The Super Globetrotters
- The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
- Super Mario World
- Super President
- Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch
- Wish Kid
- Yogi's Space Race
- Young Samson and Goliath
- Yo Yogi!
- The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police
- Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
- Batman: The Animated Series
- Beast Machines
- Bobby's World
- Dog City
- Eek! The Cat
- Godzilla: The Series
- Life with Louie
- Little Shop
- Mad Jack the Pirate
- The Magician
- The New Woody Woodpecker Show
- Oggy and the Cockroaches
- Sonic X
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series
- Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire
- The Tick
- Tiny Toon Adventures
- During its first year, Plucky Duck centric shorts and episodes aired on Saturday mornings as "The Plucky Duck Show"
- Tom & Jerry Kids
- Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?
- X-Men: The Animated Series
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)
Kids' WB! note
- The Batman
- Batman Beyond
- Channel Umptee-3
- Cubix: Robots for Everyone
- Earthworm Jim
- Jackie Chan Adventures
- Johnny Test
- The Legend of Calamity Jane
- Legion of Super Heroes
- Loonatics Unleashed
- Men in Black: The Series
- ˇMucha Lucha!
- The New Batman Adventures
- Ozzy & Drix
- Phantom Investigators
- Pinky and the Brain
- Pokémon: The Series
- Road Rovers
- Skunk Fu!
- Static Shock
- The Spectacular Spider-Man
- Superman: The Animated Series
- The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries
- Teen Titans
- Tom and Jerry Tales
- What's New, Scooby-Doo?
- World of Quest
- X-Men: Evolution
- The Zeta Project
- Bureau of Alien Detectors
- The Incredible Hulk (1996)
- The Mouse And The Monster
- Jumanji: The Animated Series
- Space Strikers
- Conan the Adventurer
- Dennis the Menace (1st season)
- Double Dragon (1993)
- Extreme Dinosaurs
- Extreme Ghostbusters (Depending on the region—some stations aired this at night)
- Inspector Gadget (2nd season only)
- King Arthur & the Knights of Justice
- The Marvel Action Hour:
- Mighty Max
- Mr. Bogus
- Stone Protectors
- Street Sharks
- Super Sunday
- The Transformers
- Ultra Force