The Day Saturday Morning Cartoons Died*

Saturday morning cartoons — like payphones, video rental stores, and TV guides — are one of those cultural touchstones that meant so much to older generations, but are as meaningless as a wireless telegraph to younger ones — gone within a lifetime.

The first cartoon to air on a Saturday morning was “Crusader Rabbit,” four-minute-long shorts that spoofed movie serials co-created by Jay Ward, who would become more famous for his later creation “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” This short series, which debuted in 1950, was the first real attempt to create animation for television.

The reasons for the end of the traditional Saturday morning cartoon block are numerous, and they have their roots in parental advocacy groups, who were protesting the amount of time kids spent watching TV by the late ’60s. These groups were concerned about cartoon depictions of violence and stereotypes, as well as the commercialism that has always been a part of TV cartoons. Kids, it turns out, had a difficult time distinguishing the shows they were watching from the ads that ran during them.

Benito Cereno for Grunge explains why and when (September 12, 1992) a generational tradition ended.*

*Or not. See Mike Tiefenbacher’s comment below.

5 thoughts on “The Day Saturday Morning Cartoons Died*

  1. Saturday morning cartoons (which does not include CRUSADER RABBIT–one of my first memories of TV animation, so it was still on circa ’53-’54 no matter what online sources claim–aired in the afternoons during the week as part of hosted TV shows, as it was never programmed as a show of its own. The official first Saturday morning cartoon made for TV was RUFF & REDDY in 1957) lasted well into the ’00s but died completely once cable’s Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Boomerang, which aired (in the latter’s case at least) 24 hours a day obviated any need for kids to get up on Saturday morning for their cartoon fix. Nothing at all to do with ads. And I don’t know what schedules Grunge is looking at, but the last year that a network aired a full slate of cartoons (the CW), including THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, was the 2013-14 season. ABC’s final Disney Channel cartoons were THE EMPEROR’S NEW SCHOOL and THE REPLACEMENTS in the 2010-11 season. But NBC aired its Kids block through 2015-16 featuring cartoons ASTROBLAST, NINA’S WORLD, RUFF-RUFF, TWEET & DAVE, and CLANGERS. It’s all there to be found on Wikipedia.

  2. I get MeTV which has been running a big block of old cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Popeye and such) Saturday mornings and my kids love them. We supplement that with DVDs that my husband and I have collected of the cartoons we were into as kids (Transformers, He Man, GI Joe and all the “toy commercial” shows.)

  3. Also, I kind of wondered whether there could’ve been some kind of happy medium between the glorified toy commercials I grew up with and the “educational” stuff that came after. I was growing out of the target audience but it also felt like the “educational” programming that came later was so darn boring.

  4. Remember a Kids Click block that aired on Sinclair owned stations in 2017-2019? That was an attempt to bring back kids TV.

  5. From very early on in my childhood (Mid-Gen X here) I imbibed cartoons so often that I became a comic strip artist and drew my comics from age 9 up into my 30s. I still watch animated shows made domestically and worldwide even now with happiness and purpose. I witnessed quite a few changes in format and character of the Saturday morning cartoons and for a short time grieved first the demise of “fun” programming which turned educational (but largely devoid of character or depth with a few exceptions) until I saw that there were places I as an adult could access those cartoons I enjoyed anytime I wanted to.

    In fact, now more than ever I can access and enjoy shows with episodes I’d either never seen as a child or did not see since then, not to mention shows that came well before my time I’d never heard of. All that without pushy, manipulative commercials and parent groups!

    So rather than lament the bygone era of programming that had to pass muster with censors and sponsors, I’m celebrating the freedom and gumption to seek out and find cartoons that were otherwise never made available to me when or if I wanted them.

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