This past Saturday, the CW became the last broadcast television network to cut Saturday morning cartoons. The CW is replacing its Saturday cartoon programming, called “The Vortexx,” with “One Magnificent Morning,” a five-hour bloc of non-animated TV geared towards teens and their families.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Saturday morning time slots were synonymous with cartoons. Broadcast networks and advertisers battled for underage viewers. But that started to change in the 1990s.
In 1992, NBC was the first broadcast network to swap Saturday morning cartoons for teen comedies such as “Saved by the Bell” and a weekend edition of the “Today” show. Soon, CBS and ABC followed suit. In 2008, Fox finally replaced Saturday morning cartoons with infomercials.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a Saturday morning cartoon viewership could grab more than 20 million viewers. In 2003, some top performers got a mere 2 million, according to Animation World Network.
What happened? Cable, technology and the FCC. ...
When I broke into the animation business, Saturday morning cartoons were what fueled the majority of animation employment. Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and the other TV animation studios relied on network orders to keep the doors open. What got picked up? What didn't? There were months of nail-biting, each and every year.
John Kimball related:
Most of us in animation in the sixties and seventies worked in t.v. You got used to a rhythm: Six to eight months of employment, then four to six months off while the networks made up their minds which shows they'd pick up. You would maybe pick up some freelance work, do some commercials. And save your money until the new season started. ...
For decades, that was the way things worked, but nothing is forever. Filmation broke out of the Saturday morning strait jacket by doing big orders of syndicated cartoons, much of it tied to toys. He Man and She Ra were designed to boost the toy market, and did. Then Disney stormed into t.v. animation and initiated a syndicated block of shows called "The Disney Afternoon."
After that, cable animation took off, and now here we are ... in the Netflix era. Nothing stays constant for very long.
So it was probably inevitable that Saturday morning cartoons were, at some point, going to vanish. Maybe the amazement is that they lasted as long as they did.