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Saturday morning cartoon

Saturday morning cartoon is the colloquial term for the typical television animation programming that was typically scheduled on Saturday mornings on the major American television networks since the mid 1960s.

Although Saturday morning had always featured a great deal of children's fare before, the idea of commissioning animated television series for broadcast really 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 the kind produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, was economical enough to produce in sufficient quantity to fill the four hour time slot, as compared to live-action programming. The experiment proved successful, and the time slot was filled with profitable programming.

Unfortunately, although this broadcasting convention meant steady work for animation companies, most animation fans consider the resulting cost to American animation to be ruinous to the art. In their view, this programming block ghettoized animation programming and severely harmed the artistic reputation of American animation, portraying it as a substandard art fit only for children. They cite the fact that children, specifically ages 6-11, were not considered an attractive audience demographic by the networks due to their obvious lack of disposable income. As a result, the programming presented in that time had typically low budgets, which critics complained meant poor production values and animation. They also complained that network practises aggravated the situtation by typically only commissioning or renewing their series at the beginning of the year, which meant a 6 month schedule at best to produce hours of animated programming. The critics conclude that this tight schedule allowed for extremely little time for refinement, let alone experimentation in the material. The result, in their opinion, was rushed and often poorly written and animated productions.

Another damaging factor to the artistic quality critics cite was the growing influence of concerned parents lobby groups like Action for Children's Television. These groups appeared in the late 1960s to complain about their concerns about the presentation of 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 even more stringent content rules for the animation houses. Critics have complained that this proceeded to the point where the very depiction of conflict and jeopardy, the basic element of drama and suspense, was severely restricted and the artists were left with few avenues of expression. Even more disconcerting to detractors was that the prohibition against the depiction of anti-social elements often prompted conformist stories, such as in the Smurfs series where almost any individual initiative often resulted in trouble for group, and therefore had to be avoided.

As a result of these factors, Saturday morning animation programming was restricted to certain clearly defined types of shows:

The decline of the timeslot began in the mid 1980s due to a variety of factors. Among them was the rise of first run syndication animated programs, which usually had a greater artistic freedom and production values (such as GI Joe, Robotech and Ducktales). There was also the rise of home video; this made quality animated productions (like the Walt Disney Company's classic animated features) easily accessible, which encouraged unfavourable comparisons with typical television animation. Finally, there was the rise of cable TV channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network which provided appealing children's entertainment throughout the week, making Saturday morning timeslots far less important to viewers and advertisers.

In current times, while animated production is still present on many regular TV networks on Saturday mornings, it has been noticeably reduced. NBC abandoned its Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992, replacing it with The Today Show and teen-oriented shows like Saved by the Bell (they have since replaced the teen-oriented shows with kid-friendly live-action programming from the Discovery Channel). CBS eventually followed suit, programming The Early Show in the first two hours of its lineup. As of this writing (July 2003), ABC and Fox Network are the only holdouts. ABC runs a full lineup of animated shows produced especially for them by corporate parent Disney. Fox, instead, airs the Fox Box, a partnership between itself and 4Kids Entertainment.