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R.I.P. Saturday Morning Cartoons

Throughout the past weekend, I couldn't escape the Gizmodo story that so many people around my age were posting: for the first time in over a half decade, Saturday morning was devoid of cartoons.

Upon hearing this, I felt extremely bad for today's youth. Sure, they may not be old enough to truly appreciate the awesomeness that is Saturday morning cartoons now...and their age (not to mention instant access to any entertainment they want) may cause them to not really give a sh*t about losing such a staple of weekend television, but...

Wait, why exactly am I feeling bad for these little brats again?

Anyway, I suppose I can be thankful for the fact that Saturday morning cartoons existed during my own childhood. Each and every Saturday morning, I would wake up early (something which I was inexplicably incapable of doing on schooldays), pour myself a glass of Pepsi (or Crystal Pepsi, during those wonderful few years in the early 1990's), help myself to a slice of pizza leftover from the previous night's treat, and switch on the TV. 

My tastes in programming that age were all over the map, so my preferred lineup extended across multiple TV networks and even multiple forms of presentation; after all, not everything back then was animated. Shows came and went, but my attention was always full, something which no doubt pleased the plethora of advertisers looking to bleed out parents out of whatever money they didn't spend on pizza.

Here is a list--which is by no means complete--of some of the programming I indulged in as a young-un.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Well before producers decided to reboot the Eastman/Laird comic book characters 9,000 times and give them the Michael Bay treatment, we had the original cartoon series, which debuted in 1987. Not only were syndicated episodes airing after school five days a week, but brand new episodes were aired on Saturday mornings until the series was officially cancelled in 1996. I joined Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael 52 times a year as they embarked on new--and often ridiculous--adventures under the streets of New York City.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse

A rare live-action programming option in a sea of 2D animation, Pee-Wee's Playhouse helped Paul Reubens' ridiculously popular alter ego define the late 1980's era after a smashing debut in Tim Burton's 1985 Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Right up until that fateful night in the Sarasota, Florida adult movie theater, CBS gave us kids everything from life lessons to decades-old cartoons via this program. And parents all across the country (such as mine) bemoaned each episode's insistence that you scream really loud each time the "secret word" is said. 

The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show

The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show wasn't so much a show as it was just a compilation of old Warner Bros. cartoon shorts bookended by stock footage of two of the studio's most popular animated characters. We kids didn't care: we would tune in to this hour-long programming block religiously, hoping that our favorite characters would make an appearance. Personally, I remember jumping for joy every time Mel Blanc's name was omitted from the cartoon's opening credits; he was the cartoons' resident voice actor and thus his absence meant that the next 7 minutes were going to be filled with the relatively silent Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.

Captain N and The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3

This cartoon served as a bonus accompaniment to The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, which aired in syndication during the week and featured a "Where has my career gone?" Captain Lou Albano as Super Mario. Airing as a bundle package, Captain N: The Video Game Master featured the title character engaging in adventure with several popular Nintendo characters. The latter program naturally covered the hottest game title of the day, introducing Mario and Luigi to King Koopa's seven kids and a host of new enemies and worlds. It was blatant Nintendo marketing in the scope of The Wizard and we guzzled it up like Pepsi.

Super Mario World

Airing as a standalone program, Super Mario World continued Mario and Luigi's adventures in the televised version of the Mushroom Kingdom (or, in this case, the Dinosaur World). Yoshi, the Jar-Jar Binks of the Super Mario Bros. cartoon franchise, was introduced in this one, as were new, wacky, and sadly non-playable situations for our favorite plumbers.

Garfield and Friends

Well before the Internet made cats cool, we had Garfield, the lasagna-chomping, sarcastic feline who enjoyed nothing more than loafing around and remarking on his dimwitted owner Jon and his even more dimwitted pet companion Odie. Since an animated series of a three-panel comic strip can't exactly make it all the way to a full half-hour, producers coupled this with U.S. Acres, fulfilling the "and Friends" part of the title. The adventures of characters like Wade Duck, Orson the pig, and Sheldon, a chicken who has yet to hatch from its egg, signified that it was time to change the channel to something more entertaining than a phoned-in Animal Farm rip-off.

In addition to these tentpole series, which ran for years and years, Saturday morning was also the temporary home for flash-in-the-pan programs that attempted to capitalize on whatever was popular at the time. It became apparent like 6 episodes into most of these series that certain characters, movies, and the like simply weren't meant to have weekly half-hour stories. Here are some that come to mind.

Camp Candy

SHORT SUMMARY: John Candy runs a summer camp, as he is the ideal representative of outdoor activities.

Wish Kid

SHORT SUMMARY: After exploding into superstardom with the success of Home Alone in 1990, everyone wanted a piece of Macaulay Culkin. Since he still had a few years before puberty and a career slump in the mid-1990s, some producer out there decided to capitalize on the blond tyke's fame and create Wish Kid. Culkin stars as Nick McClary, a boy who has a magical baseball glove that allows his wishes to come true every week. While he was busy using his wish power to battle bullies and plunge deeper into materialism, sadly Nick forgot to wish for a second season.

Where's Waldo?

SHORT SUMMARY: Forget Harry Potter. Waldo was the original bespectacled British book character who turned into a worldwide sensation. As he branched out of his eye-straining books that required you to find him, he made his way into all media, including a Saturday morning cartoon series. And before you ask: yes, at some points in the episode, viewers were challenged to find Waldo in a still image. Come on up to the screen, kids, and press your eyes against it! Where's Waldo was likely brought to us by sponsors like Lenscrafters and Lasik.

Hey Vern! It's Ernest

SHORT SUMMARY: The local-commercial-pitchman-turned-movie-character attempts to address either we young viewers or his friend Vern (we're still not sure who, exactly) for a half hour.


SHORT SUMMARY: Let's follow up the Tim Burton film of the same name by having the young disturbed Goth teen Lydia interact with "The Ghost with the Most" and his cavalcade of dead buddies.


SHORT SUMMARY: M.C. Hammer is popular. Let's give him a cartoon series.

Dumb and Dumber

SHORT SUMMARY: Let's turn a PG-13-rated movie geared towards adolescents into a cartoon geared toward people who still believe Santa Claus is real. Trivia: Bill Fagerbakke, the guy who voiced Harry Dunne (originally popularized by Jeff Daniels) went on to much bigger notoriety as the voice of Patrick in Spongebob Squarepants.

The Mask

SHORT SUMMARY: Continuing on the Jim Carrey movie streak, this cartoon was actually relatively long-lived (meaning it lasted longer than 6 episodes) and stayed true to the spirit of the original Mask comic book.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

SHORT SUMMARY: We get it. Jim Carrey is a living cartoon so we should make each and every one of his characters into one.  I'm still patiently awaiting The Cable Guy Animated Series and the Adventures of Bruce Almighty.

Of course, not a single Saturday morning cartoon--not even the short-lived ones--would be complete without commercial after commercial after commercial. Chock full of bright colors, quick cuts, catchy jingles, and the like, Saturday morning cartoons invoke feelings of nostalgia like nothing else really can. Sure, as impatient ten-year-olds, we hated seeing the Sunkist fruit snacks commercial come on for the umpteenth time; we know that child actors and animatronic dinosaurs like fruit snacks, but we just want to get back to Wish Kid already!

Today, however, as responsible adults, we pump YouTube views into the thousands/millions for these very same ads. Yes, we, a culture that actually developed a "skip" button on remote controls to eliminate commercials from our DVR'd shows, consciously watch 25-year-old spots for sugary drinks, sodas, tampons, etc.

We'll leave you with just a handful of these messages.

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pikachulover Posted on Oct 10, 2014 at 03:27 AM

The 4Kids block started the year I started college. So that was like a ceremonial ushering in of things. I don't know some of the 4Kids shows were watchable. I really liked the Winx Club, Fighting Foodons, Kirby, and Dinosaur King. ABC ran some decent cartoons for a few years in the early 2000s like Filmore.

Sometimes when I'm feeling nostalgic I watch old Saturday morning cartoon commercial blocks on youtube. Sometimes I use them for article research.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Oct 09, 2014 at 11:48 PM

Good stuff, Mike. It's crazy that the syndicated cartoons in the morning and afternoons co-existed for so long with the Saturday Morning cartoon block, but I suppose this was inevitable. That said, you hit on some of my favorites: Beetlejuice, Camp Candy and those Sunkist commercials are instant nostalgia for me. As for some of the others, I have a Hammerman VHS tape packed away somewhere (yes, it's terrible) and I bought the complete series of Hey Vern, It's Ernest for $5 at Wal-Mart a while back, I like to put it on while I'm cleaning the house on Saturday mornings.

Benjanime Posted on Oct 09, 2014 at 05:26 PM

i have to agree with vapor, i think that pretty much when 4kidsTV came around, you just knew that the common pasttime of saturday cartoons just had to go. poorly edited anime, american girl cartoons that just try too hard to do the whole princess/fairy thing, and television producers that just like to put contests in the sweepstakes meat grinder.

speaking of which, i remember when they had a contest for a chance to win a copy of shadow the hedgehog, an edgy sonic game that used minor explicit words, but i guess they missed that because of the E label on the esrb rating for it.

Vaporman87 Posted on Oct 09, 2014 at 04:57 PM

Much as it does suck for it to become official, the truth that we all never really accepted was that Saturday Morning Cartoons died a long time ago.

And by that, I mean they died when the 3 (and then 4) major networks got out of the SMC business. Smaller networks like CW may have carried the torch on for a bit longer, but not everyone gets a CW channel, and even if they do, fewer actually watch it.

No my friend, Saturday Morning Cartoon had one foot in the grave for a long time. It's just really hard to accept the whole truth of it when it becomes official. Apparently we nostalgia nerds aren't the only ones who felt that way either, as I noticed a plethora of articles on the subject that headlined the largest sites on the net, including Yahoo!.

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