Flashback: Let’s Talk Saturday Morning Cartoons.
(AfroGamers.com) It’s 6AM, Saturday morning. You’ve got your favorite cereal ready, the house is quiet and the sun is just peeking through the curtains. The hardest decision today is which of the network channels you’re going to watch for the next four hours. You might channel flip but you know you’ve been waiting all week for your favorite shows. Saturday morning cartoons were an entirely different thing in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Weekday Crew
I’m a 1990s kid, anything from the 1980s was on syndication in the 1990s before Cartoon Network burst onto the scene in 1994. When you got home from school after 3PM there were cartoons on a few of the broadcast channels: FOX (which was originally where The CW is here in the Magic City) and UPN (now My Network TV).
Actually, they were on in the morning before school as well. The morning weekday crew of shows was my first exposure to anime series. In 1995 the only anime on TV if you didn’t have cable was Dragon Ball upon until the end of the Pilaf Saga, Samurai Pizza Cats, Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, G-Force (Battle of the Planets in the 1970s, Eagle Riders on Cartoon Network, and Gatchaman). and…Teknoman (Tekkaman Blade).
It was a dark age for anime in some ways but it opened my eyes to there being other stuff out there. However, that is a discussion for another post. The weekday shows were mostly comedy shows with a few superhero team toons thrown in. I don’t mean Fantastic Four or anything, that came on UPN on Saturdays with Iron Man.
No, I mean Gargoyles, Mummies Alive!, Street Sharks, Stunt Dawgs, Stone Protectors–those shows. Fun shows that I definitely ran home to see but they had nothing on what came on Saturdays. You also had stuff like The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Eek the Cat which I hated mixed in with the fun Tiny Toons, Freakazoid!, Taz-Mania, and Animaniacs. Those shows along with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Batman–which ended the cartoon block on FOX–held the weekday block down.
The Saturday Wrecking Crew
To show you how special the Saturday morning shows were, every broadcast channel had a cartoon block on Saturday. Well CBS had a weak block. You usually got their own Saturday Afternoon Special to compete with ABC’s which was much better. I mean how can How to Eat Fried Worms and Charlotte’s Web compete with The Mouse and the Motorcycle? A kid eating bugs and a book on summer reading lists I avoided like racing missions in Grand Theft Auto against a mouse on a motorcycle. C’mon now.
Anyway, the cartoons on Saturday didn’t play around. ABC made sure to do a “Saturday Morning Preview” between Family Matters and Step by Step during TGIF. It’s wrecking crew included Cowboys of Moo Mesa, Flintstone Kids, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, S.W.A.T Kats, Bump in the Night, Beetlejuice, Reboot, Recess, and Pirates of Darkwater.
The show that really stood out was Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic SATM (Saturday morning).
This show explained things that only the Archie comic book did. I mean seriously, the instruction manuals to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 explained very little story-wise. Sonic just ran through awesomely designed stages getting power ups and banging up Robotnik’s toys like a hard-headed cousin. It was also bleaker compared to the other Sonic show that aired on UPN. Not that “dark and bleak” makes for a better cartoon but this was something with a continuous storyline in a world oppressed by Robotnik and everything in the games made sense.
NBC had something resembling a cartoon block on Saturday but its peak period for Saturday morning was the 1970s and 1980s. The 1990s was the ABC, FOX, WB, and UPN showcase. On FOX you had Bobby’s World, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Tick, and Beast Wars. Of course, Power Rangers was in the mix along with re-runs of some of the weekday crew.
UPN was basically the network for dubbed anime and tokusatsu shows. Dragon Ball Z debuted out of nowhere, Voltron was in the house, Beast Wars, VR Troopers, Robotech, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, Masked Rider, G-Force, and some scrub shows like Zorro.
I use “scrub shows” purely because I’d go outside and play when they were on. I’m sure some folks enjoyed them. Basically, it was anything Saban got from Toei.
There was more bad than good on TV during the time but the pacing was perfect. Something like Dragon Ball Z only came on Saturdays: last week’s new episode and the new episode when 1997 rolled around. Of course, you had to deal with constant restarts because whole sagas weren’t dubbed or something with distribution deals. Again, that’s for another discussion!
The main thing is that for the most part, cartoons were completely different depending on whether they aired during the school week or on Saturday. Even the Sunday shows were different…because they were C-shows. No one was waking up to see Dennis the Menace reruns and The Littles. No one even discussed them Monday. It was all air Kamehamehas or Morphin’ Time.
I think about those cartoon blocks often when I my kids enjoy cartoons now. While there are cartoons on Saturdays, there are no Saturday cartoons. Cartoon Network used to even have specific cartoons shown in blocks with Toonami during the week, Cartoon! Cartoon! Fridays, Saturday Afternoon Adventures and Super Chunk , and Mysteries Inc. on Sunday evenings.
Cartoons aren’t even bad now, they’re actually really fun to watch it’s just…ridiculously lazy blocks where one cartoon is spammed for hours. Who can forget the summer of 2007 where Camp Lazlo and My Gym Partner’s A Monkey was spammed nonstop until Adult Swim. As a matter of fact, the blocks got so bad on Cartoon Network that Adult Swim was moved to an earlier time twice.
These are the times we’re living in.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.