We grew up in a golden age of cartoons. “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold,” “Jimmy Neutron” and many others populated our childhoods.
Today’s youth are not so lucky.
Oct. 4 was a historic day. For the first time in over 50 years, Saturday morning cartoons were absent from the broadcast networks.
The demise of the Saturday morning cartoon has been a long time coming. According to Gizmodo, NBC abandoned cartoons in 1994. CBS did the same soon after, and ABC deserted animated programming in 2004.
According to Gizmodo, “the CW, a lower-tier broadcast network, was the last holdout.”
Cable and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ushered in the end of the Saturday morning cartoon.
In the 1990s, the popularity of channels such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network drew children towards cable. With more options, advertisers stopped spending their money on Saturday morning ads with the networks.
Broadcast network stations didn’t air kids’ shows for the benefit of the children: they showed cartoons to make money. Money is all that matters in television.
Around the same time, the FCC began to strictly enforce its rule mandating that broadcast networks air at least three hours of educational programming each week. The networks dropped cartoons and filled Saturday mornings with educational programs.
Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu accelerated the process, giving kids unprecedented access to their favorite shows.
The death of Saturday morning cartoons coincided with the decline of the quality of animated shows.
The options were endless for Millenials growing up in the ‘90s. Shows such as “Rocket Power,” “CatDog,” “Pokemon” and “Dexter’s Laboratory” filled the airwaves.
Many of these classics survive only in our memories and on YouTube. Some, such as the “Fairly OddParents,” have survived and continue to air.
The cartoons that have been born since pale in comparison.
A few new animated series aren’t awful. “The Regular Show” and “Phineas and Ferb” are at least watchable. Most of the other “popular” shows, such as “Annoying Orange” and “Uncle Grandpa,” are simply annoying.
I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m not the best authority on current cartoons. Allow me to turn to one objective way to evaluate cartoons: their appeal to wide audiences.
The true genius of a masterful cartoon show is its ability to entertain a wide audience. Children often watch shows with their parents, babysitters, etc. The best programs, such as “SpongeBob” and “Scooby-Doo,” keep adult audiences captivated, too. Catchy jokes and memorable characters are important, but appeal is critical.
New shows just don’t have the same appeal. We can’t stomach turning on Nick or Cartoon Network: it just isn’t the same.
A lack of cartoon show options won’t negatively impact childhood. The steady decline of cartoons won’t result in a deprived childhood. The quality of parenting has far more impact on children than a simple cartoon show.
At the same time, I feel sad that my children won’t have the same experiences I did.
Saturday morning cartoons weren’t always a ritual for me, but they were certainly a treat. Even during the week, I looked forward to my daily dose of cartoons. When I was small, I couldn’t wait for “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Blue’s Clues” (Steve was better than Joe). As I aged, I was all about “Arthur,” “Doug” and “Recess,” among others.
It’s unlikely that my kids will have the same wealth of awesome cartoon shows to watch. Hopefully, YouTube and Netflix will still be around so I can relive my childhood with my kids.
In the meantime, take some time to enjoy the glory days. I know I will. As Patrick Star once said, “Being a grown-up is boring. I never got free-form jazz anyways.”