|Posted on March 9, 2011 at 1:21 AM|
The Missing Saturday Mornings
You’re eight years old. It’s 7:15 in the morning on a Saturday. You hop out of bed in your pajamas, make yourself a bowl of cereal and a mess while at it, then flip on the television in your living room that you sit only two feet from because remote controls hadn’t been introduced into your house. You turn the knob left and right, crank it through the UHF channels just to see if there’s something on while you wait. Nothing. You take a slurp of soggy cereal.
Then blam! Your channel sits on your favorite cartoon. Your mind races and you’re thrust into a colorful world of comedy, adventure or action. You’re transported to jungles, deserts, New York, space, you name it, you were there comfortably sitting cross-legged in your pajamas, a bowl of cereal and three hours to kill on a Saturday morning.
That would be a typical Saturday morning for most kids for quite a few generations. The Saturday Morning Cartoon first appeared in the 1960s and took off. I was a kid of the 80s so I caught the Saturday Morning wave right at its tail end from about 1984 to 1994. It was probably the most joyous time of any day, especially during the school year where it was a weekend treat for a few hours, then you would run outside and play with friends before lunch.
As mentioned, I was more the tail-end of this era. From about the mid 80s to the early 90s. I watched many that were made during this time, but I also found myself watching older ones they’d replay, so there were a lot crossovers. Favorites included, The Real Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, anything with Scooby Doo (most were repackaged old episodes), Captain N the Game Master, Jem, Muppet Babies, Thundercats (sometimes), He-man (all the time...insert joke here), Voltron (Japanese, I know), the short lived Bill and Ted/Back to the Future shows (of course if you’ve read my articles, you know those movies were near and dear to me), Winnie the Pooh, Eek! The Cat, X-Men, The Tick, Aladdin (which I believe moved to weekdays), Spider-Man and the upstart WB network that did a ton for animation in the early to mid 90s. After that...it was kind of it and by then I had grown out of it. Note, this is only Saturday Mornings, not at all a list of every cartoon I watched.
By the mid-90s, it was over and done with, though. Syndicated cartoons after school took over and cable channels sprung up, notably Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network which all began airing much of the stuff we’d seen on Saturday morning and threw in original shows while doing it. Now it was all the time and whenever you wanted and a plethora of cartoons everywhere. Something had to give...and that something was the Saturday Morning format. They began dying off (eventually the after-school format slowly following suit).
What’s worse, though, is that there was a bit of a standard with those Saturday Morning Cartoons, going back to the 60s. Not all were perfect, but they weren’t half-assed either. There was a certain amount of quality, especially when you compare it to some of the cartoons I stumble across today. Not all, of course, but I’ll see some low-level flash animation quality junk on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon done on some home computer and realize there’s a major loss in quality. As much as I love the fact that animation has gone beyond being “kids” shows and now seen across many media, from anime to adult swim to Fox animation, I feel the kids’ shows were left in the dust and all they have making them now is two people, Adobe Illustrator and ten bucks.
When you had the SMCs going on at the same time with the after school cartoons (about 89 the start of Disney Afternoons to whenever Rugrats and Batman: The Animated Series were at their Emmy-winning heights), you had probably the greatest era of television animation ever where network and syndicated shows just prospered. Once the dedicated channels showed up, and networks began creating sub-networks for their programming (Fox with FX, ABC with Disney and ABC Family etc...) you not only saw a lot of that animation die, but a lot of that quality die as well. Call it competition bringing out the best early on, but networks wanted kids watching their shows and selling ads for toys and games and junk food. For years, it worked wonderfully. Then there were too many outlets and they needed content cheap. Creative didn’t matter, just put something out there.
Yes, animation might have died off for the most part, save for a Samurai Jack or Last Airbender here and there. Now it’s all either cheap American stuff or Anime imports (Japan, still, well ahead of the curve in animation serials). Saturday Morning was the bastion for that in my childhood. But it was the situation more than anything - that time of day when your parents were asleep and it would be just you or your siblings watching cartoons for three hours. That was the time for kids. Most of television was all adults, sitcoms and dramas...Saturday mornings were dedicated to only children.
As an adult, Saturday Mornings don't mean anything to me now. But I do think of what kids today are seeing. It's not pity, mind you. They have everything at their fingertips. Not to sound like a crotchety old man that tells tales of walking to school uphill both ways, today's kids are spoiled. They're missing out on that little factor, one that is of patience and then massive enjoyment from the payoff. Now, all that’s gone and kids today probably can’t even fathom the idea of “waiting” to see a cartoon. That’s as ludicrous as “waiting” to see what new videogames will come out when the next issue of Nintendo Power arrives. But it wasn’t the waiting that made it magical, it was that payoff at the end of each week when your house was perfectly quiet save for your friends on television and the slurping of cereal out of bowls.