RIP Saturday Morning Cartoons

There certainly are many things that help shape and define the early boomer years, and near the top has to be Saturday morning cartoons. The tradition began in the 1950s and continued through the 1990s, when things began to change. That means the ritual was part of not only the Baby Boomer experience, but also Gen-Xers and Millennials. Now, in a case of “Say it ain’t so,” word has come that the last network, CW, has abandoned the practice and a full schedule of cartoons broadcast on Saturday mornings are a thing of the past. The culprits that did in this decades-long tradition are said to be cable broadcasting, technology and continued fallout from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ruling in the 1990s that networks had to broadcast at least three hours of educational TV each week, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Yet what a glorious past it was. Parents of boomers didn’t mind their children watching a few hours of cartoons on Saturday mornings at all. In many instances, the TV would serve as the interim babysitter while the parents got a couple of extra hours of sleep. What stands out even more, though, are the quality and memorability of the cartoons themselves.

Ever since the dawn of television, there were people worried about the new medium corrupting America’s moral fiber, and especially our youth. Once regular TV broadcasts came into being after the War, and when the freeze that the FCC imposed on new television licenses was lifted in 1948, this sentiment surfaced even more. There were hearings about violence on TV and the possible effect TV was having on children throughout the early 1950s and ’60s. Nonetheless, after multiple hearings, parental advocacy groups and scientific studies purporting one way or another, Congress only enacted two of the twenty-seven TV content-related bills it put forth during the boomer years. Though violence in cartoons was an issue that was raised over and over, the main discussion on Saturday morning programming centered around advertising to children.

In the early days of Saturday morning cartoons, networks purchased cartoons that were originally made as movie shorts to be shown at theaters between the features. Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker and Felix the Cat were among them. It wasn’t until 1953 when a new version of Felix the Cat was created specifically for Saturday morning TV broadcast. For the next four decades, children would be entertained by cartoon content that was created specifically for them, to be broadcast on Saturday mornings.

Mister Boomer’s personal anecdotal survey has suggested that among boomers, watching Saturday morning cartoons was universal. Virtually every boomer he spoke with shared the experience. Most did what Mister Boomer and his siblings did: woke up the same time as they would during the school week, fixed a bowl of cereal and sat to watch cartoons. Most had parents who slept in while they watched cartoons.

Mighty Mouse selling Colgate Toothpaste in the 1950s.

The list of favorite cartoons goes on and on, and speaks to whether you are an early, middle or later-years boomer. Cartoons that have been mentioned to Mister Boomer include: Felix the Cat, Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, Superman, Daffy Duck, Top Cat, Underdog, Scooby Doo and a host of others. Mister B remembers watching them all, from the early days of Felix the Cat, Mighty Mouse, Looney Tunes and Popeye through Huckleberry Hound, George of the Jungle, Magilla Gorilla, Top Cat and Schoolhouse Rock.

Mister B loved them all, but his favorite can almost not be counted as a Saturday morning cartoon. Rocky & Bullwinkle aired from 1959 to 1964 in various incarnations (Rocky & His Friends, The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, The Bullwinkle Show), but only in its last season was it broadcast on Saturday mornings. He couldn’t wait to see Peabody and Sherman and Fractured Fairy Tales. Rocky & Bullwinkle was shown as after-school content after American Bandstand at first, then as evening family fare like The Jetsons and The Flintstones. As an adult, Mister B still enjoys the cartoon, and especially appreciates the minimal yet stylized backgrounds along with the witty dialogue.

NBC was the first network to stop broadcasting cartoons on Saturday mornings. ABC and CBS soon followed. Fox joined the group in 2008. In place of cartoons, shows intended to relay a teachable lesson to kids were created. They were cheap to produce and helped fulfill the networks’ requirement of supplying educational content.

Mister Boomer wonders what goes on in households these days on Saturday mornings. Do parents sleep in while their kids watch a DVD or are they up at the crack of dawn to take them to scheduled classes of dance, karate, soccer and others? It’s probably a little of each, but Mister B can’t help but think today’s kids are missing out on a great pop culture experience. Saturday morning cartoons helped define us, the first TV Generation, and taught us cultural references and social mores, humor, slang and ways to have fun, even it did involve slapping each other and hitting your brother over the head with a frying pan.

What memories do you have of Saturday morning cartoons, boomers?