A sad occasion will occur tomorrow: it will be Saturday morning, and no broadcast television network will be showing cartoons. Last weekend the CW — whatever that is — became the last network to broadcast what used to be a staple of TV programming.
This is unthinkable to those of us in our 50s, who fondly recall a classic weekend ritual that brilliantly communicated that the school week was over and the weekend truly was here. UJ and I would sit in front of the TV on Saturday mornings for hours, eating our cereal and howling as animated creatures were decked by anvils or blasted by shotguns.
We loved the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and its Fractured Fairy Tales and Sherman and Peabody, Tennessee Tuxedo, Space Ghost, The Jetsons, and Underdog, and we watched the new shows the networks would roll out each year, but our favorite show was the Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Hour. After a hard week in the schoolroom, a few hours of animated high jinks was just what the doctor ordered. And then we might switch to a UHF station and watch The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye. As the morning ended, stoked by sugary cereal and inspired by what we had watched, we were ready to run around outside with our friends, happily committing random acts of mayhem.
The death of Saturday morning cartoons has been a long time coming and was caused by lots of different factors. One of them was a Federal Communications Commission rule that required broadcast networks to show three hours of educational programming (yawn!) a week between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and that limited kid-oriented ads during children’s programming. The national nannies wouldn’t consider a Bugs Bunny cartoon that was based upon a Rossini opera to be sufficiently educational, and the rule meant that advertisers couldn’t use the cartoon shows as a platform for commercials for great new cereals or the coolest new toy, like Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. As a result, the networks pulled the plug on a great Saturday morning tradition.
America is all about change, socially and culturally, and there’s no reason to think that a one-time institution like Saturday morning cartoons should be unaffected. Still, those shows made Saturday morning a fun time to be a kid. I’ll always treasure my memories of sitting cross-legged in front of the TV in my PJs, watching them.