Wednesday, September 24, 2003

What the hell happened to Saturday morning TV?

I remember growing up watching Saturday morning TV. Five or six hours filled with cartoons and live-action shows from Sid & Marty Krofft. There was Scooby Doo (before that little insurgent, Scrappy, showed up!), The Superfriends, Space Ghost (and Dynomut), and Hong Kong Phooey for crying out loud. We also had Dr. Shrinker, Big John/Little John , The Lost Saucer, and who could forget Sigmund the Sea Monster and Pufnstuf?

I remember the broadcast stations holding prime-time preview shows for Saturday morning television. Me and my two siblings held the television hostage just to find out what we were going to be watching over the weekend.

We'd get up, kick on the TV, grab a bowl of cereal and veg out on the sofa (more likely the floor) in our pajamas until it was noon and the sports shows came on. Those were the days.

Now you kick on the TV on Saturday morning and get news... more news... news for kids... infomercials (ARGH!!)... and a morning magazine show. They don't even have reruns of Looney Toons! What's wrong with these people? Didn't they have a childhood!?

I'll tell you what happened: Action figures. That's right, action figures. Those stupid little 3-inch molded plastic action figures. In 1982, after a 4-year hiatus, Hasbro introduced G.I. JOE, A Real American Hero in a new 3-3/4-inch size. They also launched a popular G.I. JOE licensing program with Marvel Comics. Suddenly, there was a tie-in to the cartoons and comics. Within two years, G.I. JOE brands sells over $150 million and $50 million in licensed product. (source)

The public panicked. Mothers and fathers who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons saw their snot-nosed little brats throw tantrums for the latest G.I. Joe, Transformers or He-Man figures. They realized there would be no market for these toys, that they must buy, if the cartoons didn't exist. Conversely, the shows that had no marketing tie-ins flopped. The kids just didn’t want to watch them. The realization that kids are not watching cartoons, they’re watching half-hour commercials hits home.

A public outcry against feature-length commercials reached the government. In 1990, Congress passed the Children's Television Act. Saturday morning cartoons were attacked as "junk food for the mind," and television stations were required to run a minimum amount of educational programming, and report on the content of their children's programming to the federal government. (source)

One theory is that "What's dying is the institution of Saturday mornings, not cartoons for kids, which are more vigorous than ever, just spread all over the dial and at all times during the week. The only thing kids today have lost is the central unifying ritual of getting up at 6 a.m., getting sugary cereals, getting totally hyper and watching the same programs 50 million other kids are watching." (same source)

But I know it was those damn action figures. Pardon me while I go pour myself a bowl of chocolate frosted sugar bombs.

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