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A Saturday morning cartoon is the colloquial term for the animated television programming which was typically scheduled on Saturday mornings on the major Americanmarker television networks from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the United Statesmarker, the generally accepted times considered to be Saturday mornings are 8 a.m. to noon Eastern. In addition, until the late 1970s, American networks also had a schedule of children's programming on Sunday mornings, though most programs at this time were repeats of Saturday morning shows that were already cancelled, out of production or both.

In some markets, some shows were pre-empted in favor of syndicated or local programming.


An animated feature film may use 24 different drawings per second of finished film, sometimes even more, if several characters are on the screen simultaneously. Due to lower budgets, Saturday morning cartoons are often produced with a minimum amount of animation drawings, sometimes no more than 3 or 4 per second. In addition, the movements of the characters are often repeated, very limited, or even confined to mouths and eyes only. An exception to the 24-frames-per-second rule is when animation is "shot in twos" in which 12 drawings per second are used and the switch to 24 frames per second is for quick events like explosions or "wild takes".

Early Saturday morning cartoons

Although the Saturday morning timeslot had always featured a great deal of children's fare before, the idea of commissioning new animated series for broadcast on Saturday mornings really caught on in the mid-1960s, when the networks realized that they could concentrate kids' viewing on that one morning to appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, limited animation, such as that produced by such studios as Filmation Associates and Hanna-Barbera Productions (the predecessor to Cartoon Network Studios), was economical enough to produce in sufficient quantity to fill the four hour time slot, as compared to live-action programming. The experiment proved successful, and the time slot was filled with profitable programming.

Some Saturday morning programming consisted of telecasts of older cartoons originally made for movie theatres, such as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons produced by Warner Bros..

Watchgroup backlash

Parents' lobby groups like Action for Children's Television appeared in the late 1960s. They voiced concerns about the presentation of commercialism, violence, anti-social attitudes and stereotypes in Saturday morning cartoons. By the 1970s, these groups exercised enough influence that the TV networks felt compelled to lay down more stringent content rules for the animation houses.

In a more constructive direction, the networks were encouraged to create educational spots that endeavored to use animation and/or live-action for enriching content. Far and away the most successful effort was the Schoolhouse Rock series on ABC, which became a television classic. Just as notable were CBS's news segments for children, In the News and NBC's Ask NBC News and One to Grow On, which featured skits of everyday problems with advice from the stars of NBC primetime programs.


The decline of the timeslot began in the late 1980s for a variety of reasons, including:
  • The rise of first run syndication animated programs, which usually had a greater artistic freedom, and looser standards (not mandated by a network) such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, ThunderCats and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The increasing popularity of imported Japanese animation such as Robotech also contributed to this.
  • Increasing popularity of home video; this made quality animated productions (like the Walt Disney Company's classic animated features) easily accessible, which encouraged unfavourable comparisons with typical television animation. The advent of the DVD format provided access to entire seasons of previously aired cartoons or live-action TV shows.
  • The rise of cable TV channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network which provided appealing children's entertainment throughout the week at nearly all hours, making Saturday morning timeslots far less important to viewers and advertisers. Currently, there are at least ten channels specializing in kids programming.
  • The proliferation of the commercial toy or toyline-oriented animated program in the 1980s also led to advocacy group backlash and a decline in such programming. Many of these programs implemented public service messages at their conclusion to address these criticisms.
  • Increased popularity of video game consoles.
  • Many of the same networks who often showed Saturday morning cartoons began airing similar programs in the afternoons during the weekdays, usually when most children were out of school already. This practice has been discontinued as of late, but it was common throughout the 1990s.
  • An increase in children's participation in Saturday activities outside of the home.
  • The success of live action Saturday morning programming for kids and teens (such as NBC's Saved by the Bell) which led to the development of more live action shows and teen programming, squeezing out cartoons.
  • The gradual loss of most of the American companies which were at one time, iconic and prolific producers of children's television shows. For example: Filmation, Hanna Barbera, Ruby-Spears, Sunbow Productions, DIC Entertainment, Saban Entertainment, Marvel Productions, and Rankin/Bass, all of which are now defunct.

Current state of Saturday morning cartoons

While animated production is still present on most broadcast networks on Saturday mornings, it has been noticeably reduced. Because of FCC-mandated regulations that began in the mid-1990s, broadcast stations were required to program a minimum of three hours of children's educational/informational ("E/I") programming per week.

To help their affiliates comply with the regulations, broadcast networks began to reorganize their efforts to adhere to the mandates, so its affiliates wouldn't bear the burden of scheduling the shows themselves on their own time. This almost always meant that the educational programming was placed during the Saturday morning cartoon block. NBC abandoned its Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992, replacing it with a Saturday morning edition of The Today Show and adding an all live-action teen-oriented block, TNBC, which featured Saved by the Bell, California Dreams, and other teen comedies. Even though the educational content was minimal to nonexistent, NBC labelled all the live-action shows with an E/I rating.

CBS followed NBC's example by producing a Saturday edition of The Early Show in the first two hours of its lineup and an all live-action block of children's programming. The experiment lasted a few months, and CBS brought back their animated CBS Storybreak series.

In 2004, ABC was the last of the broadcast networks to add a Saturday morning edition of their morning news program, Good Morning America, in the first hour of its lineup. Prior to that, especially through the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for ABC affiliates to preempt part or all of ABC's cartoon lineup with local news programming.

Fox carried little or no E/I programming, leaving the responsibility of scheduling the E/I shows to the affiliates themselves. The WB was far more accommodating; for several years, they aired the history-themed Histeria! five days per week, leaving only a half-hour of E/I programs up to the local producers to program.

Units of larger entertainment companies

Disney's One Saturday Morning/ABC Kids

By the mid-1990s, broadcast networks were now becoming units of larger entertainment companies. ABC was bought by The Walt Disney Company, which began airing all Disney-made programming by 1997 and cancelled non-Disney made productions (with the notable exception of The Bugs and Tweety Show, which continued to air until 2000). After being purchased by Disney in 1996, ABC began airing their Saturday morning cartoons in a programming block titled Disney's One Saturday Morning before switching to a block of live-action and animated programs titled ABC Kids. Many of the block's shows are produced by Disney and also air on Disney Channel or Toon Disney. Only two animated shows currently air on ABC Kids, while the rest are live-action.

Nick Jr. on CBS/Cookie Jar TV

CBS was purchased by Viacom in 1999 and thus aired Nickelodeon-made programming from 1999 until 2006, a year after Viacom was split in two with Nickelodeon going to Viacom and CBS becoming a part of CBS Corporation. The two parties ended the Nick Jr.-branded block, which was be replaced by the DIC Entertainment (now Cookie Jar Entertainment) produced KOL's Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS in fall 2006. A reimagining of the block, KEWLopolis, with a greater amount of animation, premiered in fall 2007. On September 19, 2009, KEWLopolis was re-branded as Cookie Jar TV.

Fox Kids/4Kids TV

From 1990 until 2008, smaller networks like Fox aired child-friendly programming, former ones are Fox Kids and Fox Box (later 4Kids TV), both animated and live-action, on weekday afternoons in the hours after most American children were let out of school (outcompeting the syndicated afternoon children's programming on the remaining unaffiliated channels in the process). Several animated series of note, such as Digimon, Batman: The Animated Series, Eek! The Cat, Bobby's World, and Animaniacs, came out of these afternoon programming blocks, and some later appeared on their networks' Saturday morning programming blocks. Live action shows like Power Rangers, Goosebumps, VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs also aired on the Fox Kids Network.

On December 27, 2008, 4Kids TV ceased airing, and Fox no longer airs Saturday morning cartoons. Fox became the third broadcast network, following PAX and UPN, to completely abandon kids' programming, and has replaced the programming with a two-hour block of infomercials called Weekend Marketplace; several stations, like they did for 4KidsTV, have been allowed by the network to decline to carry it and allowed them to shop it to another station in the market, especially those stations which had never carried Fox Kids to begin with in the Fox affiliate switch of 1994. They plan to also fight the FCC mandated rule of showing E/I programming, in hopes of a repeal.

Kids' WB/The CW4Kids

Every weekday afternoon since 1995, and sometimes mornings, too, until 2001. During the era of weekday blocks, Histeria! was usually included to provide E/I content. Kids' WB moved, name intact, to The CW when The WB merged with UPN. Kids' WB aired Saturday mornings on The CW, and it aired on Sunday mornings on WUPAmarker in Atlanta. The block ended its run on May 17, 2008, and on WUPA it ended on the next day. A block of programming from 4Kids Entertainment, separate from the Kids block on Fox called: The CW4Kids, replaced it one week later.

Discovery Kids on NBC/qubo

NBC, which had a partnership with the Discovery Kids network to broadcast the channel's original programming, reentered the Saturday morning arena with new, original programming in September 2006 as part of the qubo "edutainment" partnership, which involves numerous parties, including parent company NBC Universal, ION Media Networks, Scholastic Pressmarker, Nelvana, and Classic Media, all of whom providing the programs for the Saturday morning block. qubo also airs on Ion Television. A Spanish-language version airs on NBC-owned Telemundo on weekends.

Cookie Jar Toons

On November 1, 2008, This TV launched airing a daily children's programming block called Cookie Jar Toons. Cookie Jar Toons is programmed by Cookie Jar Entertainment.

Cookie Jar Network

The Cookie Jar Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) is a children's programming block that airs selected Cookie Jar Entertainment programs on local Fox, MyNetworkTV, The CW and Independent stations to provide them with a source of Educational/Informational programming required by federal law.

See also


  1. 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript, Seeking Alpha, November 10, 2008

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