The End Of Saturday Morning Cartoons

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.

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Looney Tunes And The Gateway To Classical Music

This morning I had my Ipod on “Shuffle Songs” and the Overture to The Barber of Seville began playing.  As I listened to the music I immediately thought of . . . Bugs Bunny.  Yes, I thought of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs and Elmer have an encounter in a barber shop, chasing each other with axes, applying hair restorer, and engaging in other tomfoolery while snippets from the score of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville played.  The actual cartoon is here:

It made me think about how much I learned about classical music, and for that matter a bunch of other things, when UJ and I sat in front the TV on Saturday mornings, watching the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck comedy hour as we ate our bowls of cereal.  For me, at least, Bugs Bunny cartoons were a gateway to the world of classical music.  I would hear a portion of, say, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as background music during a thunderstorm scene and think that it sounded pretty good.  Later, when I began to try to find those pieces and started to regularly listen to classical music, I was amazed at how many portions of classical pieces I had heard before — in cartoons, as theme music for news shows, as music in a commercial, or in some other form of popular culture.  The painless exposure to the songs through popular culture, as opposed to being dragged as a kid to some concert hall, had conditioned me to enjoy and appreciate classical music.

The downside, of course, is that I can’t hear the Overture to The Barber of Seville without thinking of Bugs Bunny, but I suppose that is a small price to pay.