Casual commentary about political, cultural and economic issues with a particular interest on the city of Winnipeg by John Dobbin
Saturday, April 27, 2019
Saturday Morning Cartoons in Winnipeg
In 1970 my family moved from a rental property in River Heights to the home my parents continue to live in today. Our TV as I just began school was black and white had CBC and CJAY (later CKY). Cable had started in 1968 but reception was still an issue especially in summer and we had a black and white TV in a large cabinet to boot. Our first priority was a new colour TV but by fall of 1972 my father had broken down and got Videon cable that was priced at $10 to install and $5 a month. That was still pricey for a service that came in fuzzy with bad weather nearly every summer. By the way, the colour TV would have to wait another year.
My first sci-fi was comics and Saturday morning cartoons. It is funny that my first encounter with Star Trek and Planet of the Apes was through their animated shows of around 1973. The Jetsons was also one of the first animation shows totally set in the future. In fact, there were so many shows based on live action TV series such as Addams Family, Brady Kids and Jeannie (which featured the voice of Mark Hamill of Star Wars).
By 1973, all three kids in our family were up at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons before breakfast. Invariably, sports like hockey and soccer would take up chunks of time each weekend but with re-runs, we watched Fat Albert, Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny and its doubtful any episodes were missed over the years.
My passion for sci-fi came about in the 1970s via comics and television programming. Primetime series such as Wonder Woman, Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman as well as Spider-Man were on in the evenings. Saturday morning cartoons introduced me to first space-based series which was Star Trek The Animated Series in 1973. I had never even the live action series as it had not reached syndication in Manitoba yet. I would also go on to see the Planet of the Apes both as a TV series in 1974 and an animated series in 1975 long before I saw the movies. Rounding out my early 1970s Saturday morning live and animated fare was Land of the Lost (1974), Shazam (1974), Isis (1975) and Ark II (1976).
I can honestly say that Space: 1999 was a game changer for me when it came on in 1975. For two years, it showed a near future story that was space-based and full of adventure. I was already sold like much of the population because of NASA, the Apollo missions and the moon landings. A story of a base on Earth's moon was amazing. Having the moon flung out of orbit and from place to place had me enraptured. This program didn't come from from the U.S. networks but on CBC via ITC, a British producer. It featured Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, a married acting couple famous from Mission Impossible. I never did see Mission Impossible till decades later so the two were new to me. Two full seasons of Space: 1999 would be broadcast and I'd see the show over and over which was a good thing since when it was gone, it would a very long time before it would become available on TV or DVD again. It was replaced by Star Trek which would run for year upon year after that. By the time the Star Trek movie came to the screen in 1979, pretty much every kid in Canada would have had seen or known about the show because of CBC.
Kids were only vaguely aware that the shows they were watching were re-packaged programs from prime time 1960s animated shows or Bugs Bunny and Road Runner clips from Warner Bros. for their theatrical releases. It was all new to kids. And even seeing them once, kids were prepared to watch them again and again. This, of course, set up a whole new marketing opportunity for companies producing Flintstones and Jetson's labelled products. Yogi Bear featured on Saturday mornings inspired campgrounds called Jellystone Park which exist to this day.
The 1970s Saturday morning cartoons were filled with superheroes, sci-fi, mystery and music. Bill Cosby, in the days when he was associated with family comedy, was there with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids which was very popular in Canada. There was also a huge amount of programming related to prime time comedy such Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy. Even the Dukes of Hazzard had an animated TV series.
Old programming was still mainstay in the 1980s but Smurfs came to dominate in 1981. Star Wars animated shows also began to appear. However, it was clear that some 1980s programming was aimed at a much younger demographic other than young teens. There were many junior versions of animated characters. Hello Scrappy-Do.
It was safe to say that each generation of kids growing up decade by decade grew up and probably ended up working Saturday mornings, doing sports and activities or found new programming wasn't reaching them as it was aimed at very young kids. Federal rules on what could be broadcast and what commercials could be run began to change the Saturday morning landscape by the 1990s. Syndicated animated programs like G.I. Joe and He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could appear more freely on TV television after 1984 and away from Saturday morning cartoons. This was both a good thing and bad thing as it gave older teens animated shows to watch but it gave pause to the networks to create material for Saturday that was increasingly held to a different standard for education. Moreover, specialty cable channels such Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network grew each year they were on till the dominated Saturday Morning Cartoons.
Add to the mix rental videos and game systems such as Atari, Nintendo and Sega, most networks gave up on doing anything Saturday and by 2002 in Canada, cartoons were dropped, In some cases live programming for young people like Saved by the Bell entered the picture but more and more U.S. networks extended news programming into their weekend shows. The power of the networks ended and with it nearly 40 years of Saturday programming.
Still, this programming today feeds several kids networks as well as adult networks and now gets play as feature films. So what once was old is new again. CBS in the U.S. seems to have re-discovered Star Trek animated material and there are announcements being made almost every week. In Canada the Adult Swim animated channel for older audiences now warrants its own channel.
Some might ask when the golden period of Saturday Morning Cartoons was and for many it will be the time when they were kids. It is safe to say though by the 1990 it was fading fast due to the aforementioned rules in broadcasting as well different entertainment options. The 1950s were still and content still limited. The 1960s were a huge deal with full blocks of programming. That only got bigger in the 1970s. By the 1980s cartoons a mix of old and new but neglected older teens. Syndication in the 1990s brought back the teens but those shows were not seen on early morning TV. By 2000s it was all over.
By virtue of a mix of old and new, the golden era was probably the 1970s.