Saturday morning American broadcast TV was once animation's home field. Filling a cereal bowl with artificially colored sugar pebbles and staring at the tube was every kid's weekend plan. Not any more: For the first time in 50-plus years, you won't find a block of animation on broadcast this morning. It's the end of an era.
Yes, The CW, the final holdout in Saturday morning animation, ran its last batch of Vortexx cartoons last weekend. This week, where you once saw shows like Cubix, Sonic X, Dragon Ball Z and Kai, Digimon Fusion, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, you'll instead find "One Magnificent Morning," a block of live-action educational programming.
It's the end of an era, but it's been a long time coming: NBC ditched Saturday morning cartoons in 1992, CBS followed suit not long after, and ABC lost its animated weekend mornings in 2004. The CW, a lower-tier broadcast network, was the last holdout in a game that the Big 3 left long ago.
What killed Saturday morning cartoons? Cable, streaming, and the FCC. In the 1990s, the FCC began more strictly enforcing its rule requiring broadcast networks to provide a minimum of three hours of "educational" programming every week. Networks afraid of messing with their prime-time slots found it easiest to cram this required programming in the weekend morning slot. The actual educational content of this live-action programming is sometimes debatable, but it meets the letter of the law.
But more importantly, with hundreds of cable and satellite channels to choose from that don't have to abide the FCC's guidelines,
whippersnappers kids these days can get their animation fix any day of the week. With the rise of cable and satellite, advertisers no longer had to cram all their kid-aimed commercials into the four-hour Saturday morning block. When the money left Saturday mornings, so did the cartoons.
Add in mobile streaming from Netflix, Hulu, and the like, and you'll realize that the spoiled brats we're raising today don't even need to dash to the TV in time to catch the opening credits. They can just watch whatever, whenever. Sheesh.
Still, there's something a little hollow about the notion that we woke up this morning to an America bereft of broadcast 'toons. I guess we all had to grow up sometime.
GIF via YouTube