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Pulp Culture
It's the end of Saturday
morning as we know it


January 31, 2002
By Franklin Harris

The Saturday ritual was so commonplace it became a cliché. You woke up at dawn, poured a bowl of cereal and plopped in front of the television for four hours of cartoons.

There were only three channels, so you and your friends, in separate living rooms across town, watched all the same shows: "Scooby-Doo," "The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Show," "Tarzan and the Super Seven," "Smurfs," etc. Across America, everyone else your age watched the same cartoons, too.

This was America's last great Shared Cultural Experience, because now Saturday morning as we knew it is gone, killed by cable TV, misguided legislation and the passage of time.

Recently, Fox leased its Saturday-morning schedule to 4Kids Entertainment, ending the Fox Kids lineup that dominated Saturdays for most of the '90s.

4Kids, which produces the English-language version of "Pokémon," will fill the void, so Saturday cartoons aren't vanishing. They're becoming something different.

CBS, once home to Bugs Bunny, leases its Saturday mornings to its corporate cousin, Nickelodeon, which re-airs its Nick Jr. programs for preschoolers.

Disney owns ABC. So, the network that once had "Superfriends" is now a Disney-only zone, sharing cartoons with the Toon Disney cable channel.

Poor old NBC doesn't even have cartoons anymore. After a few years of broadcasting horrible, live-action teen comedies, NBC is leasing its airtime to the Discovery Channel.

Ironically, the last major player in the network cartoon business is The WB. And even it has started cross promotions with its corporate cousin, Cartoon Network, to split costs.

All this happened because the networks simply aren't drawing the viewers they once did. New channels like Fox, The WB, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network fractured the audience. With the increased competition, it was inevitable that some of the old dinosaurs would evolve or fall to extinction.

And Congress helped. The Children's Television Act of 1990 was the beginning of the end. It required that a certain amount of children's programming be "educational." In practice, that meant retooling cartoons to impart moral lessons and ditching cartoons that critics viewed as 30-minute toy commercials. Never mind that some of those "30-minute toy commercials" are among Generation X's most fondly remembered cartoons.

The act exempted Fox, which was a fledging network at the time, and didn't apply to cable channels.

Children aren't stupid. They spend five days a week enduring what the government considers education. The Saturday-morning exodus began — first to Fox, and later to The WB and cable.

Of the Big Three, only ABC has survived, because of the powerful Disney brand name.

This change isn't necessarily a bad thing. My generation would have loved to have the choices children have now. They don't have to wait for Saturday morning. Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Toon Disney make cartoons a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week viewing option.

But a cultural phenomenon has passed. Future generations won't grow up watching all the same cartoons at the same time while eating their Frosted Flakes. And that, in and of itself, is worth noting.

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