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A Saturday morning cartoon is the colloquial term for the animated television programming that has typically been scheduled on Saturday mornings in the United States on many major television networks from the 1960s to the present; the genre's peak in popularity mostly ended in the 2000s while the popularity of cable and satellite television, as well as the internet, has provided 24 hour access to cartoons for children. In the United States, the generally accepted times are considered to be Saturday mornings are 8 a.m. to noon Eastern. In addition, until the late 1970s, American networks also had a schedule of children's programming on Sunday mornings, though most programs at this time were repeats of Saturday morning shows that were already out of production. Cable television networks have since revived the practice of debuting their most popular animated programming on Saturday mornings, and most of the broadcast networks maintain a limited animated presence to meet federal educational-informational children's programming mandates. In some markets, some shows were pre-empted in favor of syndicated or other types of local programming.
An animated feature film may use 24 different drawings per second of finished film, sometimes even more. Due to lower budgets, Saturday morning cartoons are often produced with a minimum amount of animation drawings, sometimes no more than 3 or 4 per second. In addition, the movements of the characters are often repeated, very limited, or even confined to mouths and eyes only. An exception to the 24-frames-per-second rule is when animation is "shot in twos" in which 12 drawings per second are used and the switch to 24 frames per second is for quick events like explosions or "wild takes".
Although the Saturday morning timeslot had always featured a great deal of children's fare before, the idea of commissioning new animated series for broadcast on Saturday mornings caught on in the mid-1960s, when the networks realized that they could concentrate kids' viewing on that one morning to appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, limited animation, such as that produced by such studios as Filmation Associates, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, Total Television, Jay Ward Productions and Hanna-Barbera Productions, was economical enough to produce in sufficient quantity to fill the four-hour time slot, as compared to live-action programming. While production times and costs were undeniably higher with animated programming, the cost of talent was far less (voice actors Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray, Mel Blanc and in later years Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen and Tom Kenny became known for their ability to hold several roles at once, sometimes even on the same show) and networks could rerun children's animated programming more frequently than most live-action series, negating the financial disadvantages. The experiment proved successful, and the time slot was filled with profitable programming.
Some Saturday morning programming consisted of telecasts of older cartoons originally made for movie theaters, such as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons, the Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle cartoons produced by Paul Terry's Terrytoons, and Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker cartoons. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon to have animated shorts produced with both film and television in mind (DePatie-Freleng was particularly associated with this business model), so that by selling the shorts to theaters, the studios could afford a higher budget than would otherwise be available from television alone, which at the time was still a free medium for the end-user.
Parents' lobby groups like Action for Children's Television appeared in the late 1960s. They voiced concerns about the presentation of commercialism, violence, anti-social attitudes and stereotypes in Saturday morning cartoons. By the 1970s, these groups exercised enough influence that the TV networks felt compelled to lay down more stringent content rules for the animation houses.
In a more constructive direction, the networks were encouraged to create educational spots that endeavored to use animation and/or live-action for enriching content. Far and away the most successful effort was the Schoolhouse Rock series on ABC, which became a television classic; ABC also had several other short-form animated featurettes, including Time for Timer and The Bod Squad, that had long runs. Just as notable were CBS's news segments for children, In the News and NBC's Ask NBC News and One to Grow On, which featured skits of everyday problems with advice from the stars of NBC primetime programs.
The decline of the timeslot began in the early 1990s for a variety of reasons, including:
While animated production is still present on one broadcast network on Saturday mornings (The CW), it has been much noticeably reduced. A 1996 Federal Communications Commission mandate, issued in the wake of the Children's Television Act, requires stations to program a minimum of three hours of children's educational/informational ("E/I") programming per week.
To help their affiliates comply with the regulations, broadcast networks began to reorganize their efforts to adhere to the mandates, so their affiliates would not bear the burden of scheduling the shows themselves on their own time thus eliminating the risk of having network product preempted by the mandates. This almost always meant that the educational programming was placed during the Saturday morning cartoon block.
NBC abandoned its Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992, replacing it with a Saturday morning edition of The Today Show and adding an all live-action teen-oriented block, TNBC, which featured Saved by the Bell, California Dreams, and other teen comedies. Even though the educational content was minimal to nonexistent, NBC labeled all the live-action shows with an E/I rating.
CBS followed NBC's example in the late 1990's by producing a Saturday edition of The Early Show in the first two hours of its lineup and an all live-action block of children's programming. The experiment lasted a few months, and CBS brought back their animated CBS Storybreak series.
In 2004, ABC was the last of the broadcast networks to add a Saturday morning edition of their morning news program, Good Morning America, in the first hour of its lineup. Prior to that, and particularly in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for affiliates to preempt part or all of ABC's cartoon lineup with local programming.
Fox carried little or no E/I programming, leaving the responsibility of scheduling the E/I shows to the affiliates themselves (although the network did eventually add daily reruns of The Magic School Bus to meet the E/I mandates from 1998 to 2001); since January 2009 Fox carries no children's programming at all. The WB was far more accommodating; for several years, they aired the history-themed Histeria! five days per week, leaving only a half-hour of E/I programs up to the local producers to program.
Boomerang, a spin-off channel of Cartoon Network, currently specializes primarily in reruns of Saturday morning cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s (the majority of which come from Hanna-Barbera, which, like Boomerang, is owned by Time Warner). Hub Network owns the broadcast rights to rerun several of Fox Kids' most popular programs. It is not unusual to see the major networks rotate reruns of older series (usually less than ten years, because of E/I content) instead of airing a new production, since the children who watched them the first time are not the same children who are currently watching Saturday morning cartoons; Cookie Jar Group's programming blocks have made extensive use of this strategy, as do channels that are intended for digital subchannels (e.g. Qubo).
By the mid-1990s, broadcast networks were now becoming units of larger entertainment companies. ABC was bought by The Walt Disney Company in 1996, which began airing all Disney-made programming by 1997 and canceled non-Disney made productions (with the notable exception of The Bugs and Tweety Show, which continued to air until Warner Bros. ended the show in 2000). After being purchased by Disney, ABC began airing their Saturday morning cartoons in a programming block titled Disney's One Saturday Morning before switching to a block of live-action and animated programs titled ABC Kids in 2002. Many of the block's shows were produced by Disney and also aired on Disney Channel or Toon Disney. At one point, only two animated shows aired ABC Kids, while the rest were live-action entertainment shows. By late 2008, all shows featured on ABC Kids were in rerun status, and remained so for the next three years. On September 3, 2011, ABC outsourced its Saturday morning programming and E/I liabilities to Litton Entertainment; Litton now provides ABC stations with Litton's Weekend Adventure, an educational, infomercial block aimed at teens, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the ABC network itself. In conjunction with the move, ABC sister network Disney Channel launched a Saturday morning block of its popular animated programming, entitled Toonin' Saturdays, in June 2011.
CBS was purchased by Viacom in 2000 and thus aired Nickelodeon-made programming from 2000 until 2006, a year after Viacom was split in two with Nickelodeon going to Viacom and CBS becoming a part of CBS Corporation. The two parties ended the Nickelodeon/Nick Jr.-branded block, which was replaced by the DIC Entertainment (now Cookie Jar Entertainment) produced KOL's Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS in fall 2006. A re-imagining of the block, KEWLopolis, with a greater amount of animation, premiered in fall 2007. On September 19, 2009, KEWLopolis was re-branded as Cookie Jar TV, aimed more at preschoolers.
On July 24, 2013, CBS announced a programming agreement with Litton Entertainment (which already programs a Saturday morning block for ABC in the form of a syndication package exclusive to the network's stations) to launch a new Saturday morning block featuring live-action reality-based series. As a result, the Cookie Jar TV block was discontinued on September 21, 2013, to be replaced the following week on September 28 by the Litton-produced "CBS Dream Team", that will be aimed at teenagers 13 to 16 years old, making the network's return to live-action programming only since 1998. CBS strictly went to live-action programming from September 1997 to September 1998. This was the second time in at least 50 years that CBS dropped animated cartoons from their schedule, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the CBS network itself.
From 1990 until 2002, smaller networks like Fox aired child-friendly programming, former ones are Fox Kids, both animated and live-action, on weekday afternoons in the hours after most American children were let out of school (outcompeting the syndicated afternoon children's programming on the remaining unaffiliated channels in the process). Several animated series of note, such as Taz-Mania, Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men: The Animated Series, Eek! The Cat, Bobby's World, Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Animaniacs, came out of these afternoon programming blocks, and some later appeared on their networks' Saturday morning programming blocks. Live action shows like Power Rangers, Goosebumps and Big Bad Beetleborgs also aired on the Fox Kids Network. Also, some japanese animated series were aired on the network, like Digimon and Transformers: Robots in Disguise. Fox sold its children's division to ABC in 2002.
On December 27, 2008, 4Kids TV ceased airing, and Fox no longer airs Saturday morning cartoons. Fox became the third broadcast network, following PAX and UPN, to completely abandon kids' programming, and has replaced the programming with a two-hour block of infomercials called Weekend Marketplace; several stations, like they did for 4KidsTV, have been allowed by the network to decline to carry it and allowed them to shop it to another station in the market, especially those stations which had never carried Fox Kids to begin with in the Fox affiliate switch of 1994. All children's programming on Fox affiliates is currently arranged by local affiliates (usually through syndication) and not through the network.
Every weekday afternoon since 1995, and sometimes mornings, too, until 2001. During the era of weekday blocks, Histeria! was usually included to provide E/I content. Kids' WB moved, name intact, to The CW when The WB merged with UPN. Kids' WB aired Saturday mornings on The CW, and it aired on Sunday mornings on WUPA in Atlanta. The block ended its run on May 17, 2008, and on WUPA it ended on the next day. A block of programming from 4Kids Entertainment, separate from the Kids block on Fox called: The CW4Kids, replaced it one week later. Toonzai added onto The CW4Kids on August 14, 2010; the block was rebranded as Vortexx once Saban Brands began involvement in the block on August 25, 2012.
NBC, which had a partnership with the Discovery Kids network to broadcast the channel's original programming, re-entered the Saturday morning arena with new, original programming in September 2006 as part of the Qubo "edutainment" partnership, which involved numerous parties, including parent company NBCUniversal, Ion Media Networks, Scholastic Press, Nelvana, and Classic Media, all of whom provided the programs for the Saturday morning block. Qubo also airs on Ion Television. A Spanish-language version aired on NBC-owned Telemundo on weekends.
On July 7, 2012, NBC launched a new Saturday morning pre-school block, called NBC Kids, that replaced Qubo on the NBC block. The block now features programming from Sprout, a cable network in which NBC also owned a minority interest before purchasing it outright.
NBC is the last of the major television networks to have an ownership stake in its children's programming.
On November 1, 2008, This TV launched airing a daily children's programming block called Cookie Jar Toons. Cookie Jar Toons is programmed by Cookie Jar Entertainment. In addition, non-E/I programming is aired on This TV called This is for Kids. This block was discontinued on November 1, 2013, This TV no longer airs children's programming on Saturdays.
The Cookie Jar Kids Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) was a syndicated children's programming block that aired selected Cookie Jar Entertainment programs on various local Fox, MyNetworkTV, and Independent stations to provide them with a source of Educational/Informational (E/I) programming required by federal law. This block ended on September 18, 2011.