Go out and play: Fox dumps its Saturday morning cartoons for infomercials

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If there was any justice, someone would have blown up my TV with some animated dynamite made by the Acme company. But instead, I read about it in the paper.

Saturday morning cartoons haven't been what they used to be for a long time, but now they're even less so. The New York Timesreported earlier this week that the Fox network has ended its Saturday morning cartoons.

Even as the father of two little girls who love cartoons, I had to shrug. A lot has changed since my generation sat in front of the TV all Saturday morning.

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I had to go look at Wikipedia to see what cartoons Fox was airing, and I'm still kind of clueless since these aren't household names in our house. Some of the cartoons they were airing include: Biker Mice from Mars. Kirby: Right Back at Ya!Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward.

At any rate, according to the Times, Fox executives said that children's programming wasn't viable on network television because of the competition from cable channels. Instead, they're going to air... ugh... infomercials.

While I think that they have a point -- certainly, my daughters are regular watchers of Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Boomerang -- Saturday morning cartoons died along time ago, and from what I can tell, the networks used cable as an excuse. They simply abandoned kids for cheaper programming: the news.

As an amateur Saturday morning cartoon historian, I can tell you that the death knell for Saturday morning cartoons was August 1, 1992, the day that The Today Show began airing its show on Saturdays. Five years earlier, they had started running on Sundays. Saturdays achieved their world domination goal of making every day about Today. I had just graduated from college in the summer of 1992, but I remember that a little part of my childhood died that day.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, Saturday mornings were like Christmas in my household, especially during the fall, when the new cartoons debuted. Literally, my younger brother and I would wake up at 7 a.m.., tear down into the living room and sometimes be glued to the TV until around noon.

Yeah, there's something kind of sick about that, if I think about it too deeply, but it was a fun way to spend a Saturday. Three networks, all showing cartoons and competing for kids' affections. Jabberjaw, Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, the live-action series Shazam!... The All-New Popeye Hour... Fat Albert... Superfriends. They even turned the ABC's sitcom Happy Days into a Saturday morning cartoon.

And lest our minds turn to complete mush, there were the wildly successful Schoolhouse Rock educational cartoons, that taught us how a bill became a law, and about adverbs and other useful lessons. Meanwhile, CBS had a brief news show for kids, crammed in between the cartoons and commercials, called In the News. As author David T. Z. Mindich says in his book Tuned Out, "While millions of kids were being entertained, they were being informed about national politics and world events."

Looking back on it, a lot of effort went into Saturday morning programming. But then, as I said, The Today Show came along and ruined it. (No offense meant to Matt, Meredith, Al, and the rest of the gang.) And five years later, CBS brought in their own Saturday morning news show, and to ABC's credit, they hung on until 2004 and then started running Good Morning America on Saturday mornings.

Not that there aren't some cartoons airing on network television on Saturday mornings. CBS has a block of cartoons airing, including Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears. CW airs cartoons like Spider-Man. ABC has a lot of Disney live-action fare like That's So Raven.

So Fox is going to infomercials now. Fine. Whatever. But it's a decision made by adults, and in my opinion, it has nothing to do with children watching cartoons on cable. If they weren't watching, it was probably due to the type of cartoons that were being aired. So blame the decision to dump Saturday morning cartoons on the economy if you want. Blame it on the changing nature of society. Blame it on the fact that Saturday morning cartoons is no longer a cultural phenomenon, the way it once was. But, please, don't blame it on the kids.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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