A Brief History of Saturday Morning Cartoons

In elementary school when you woke up on a Saturday morning, you would come downstairs for breakfast and then, for the average American kid, sit down and watch Saturday morning cartoons. There was usually nothing educational about these shows, but they were always entertaining. From Looney Tunes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Smurfs, these cartoons captivated thousands of kids.

Although they appeared on television earlier, Saturday morning cartoons grew in popularity in the 1960s. Networks saw this time slot as an advertising gold mine. Companies began to view cartoons as a way to advertise to kids watching at that time, and cereal commercials in particular frequently punctuated the beginnings and endings of programs.

The decline of Saturday morning TV began in the 1990s.  There were several reasons for the decline of this time slot, with the most prominent being the Federal Communication Commission’s mandate in 1990 of educational and informational programs. This caused great strain on networks to comply with the regulations and still retain the viewership their advertisers wanted. This requirement for an educational and informational element to cartoons really limited creative options for writers and networks.

Around the same time, there was a rise in cable television networks like Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. These channels offered cartoons at almost all times of the week, making Saturday morning cartoons less desirable. The cable networks also benefited from not having to comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s regulations; this gave the cable channels the edge over the cartoons.

Additionally, with an increased awareness of weight gain, Saturday morning cartoons were directly linked to childhood obesity. Emphasis was placed on the idea that sitting around on a Saturday watching television will lead to obesity. More and more kids started to participate in activities outside of the home on Saturdays, resulting in fewer children sitting in front of the TV watching network cartoons.

On September 27th, the CW, formerly known as the WB in their prime of Saturday cartoons, aired the last of these Saturday morning programs. PBS still airs their educational and informational TV shows on Saturdays, but they are the last channel to do so. All other networks have moved on to Saturday morning talk shows, such as NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. These channels are now geared towards adults and no longer cater to kids’ Saturday mornings.

This article originally appeared in The Alethea.