March 07, 2020

WELCOME TO THE SENSATIONAL 60s


            With the second decade of Saturday mornings came some significant changes.

Ad for an RCA color television.


Televisions were now in the majority of American households and people were watching; supplanting radios as the main source of entertainment. TV also replaced newspapers as the main source of news; with events like the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, the civil rights movement, Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, and man’s first landing on the moon. Westerns and sitcoms dominated the airwaves, but science-fiction was gradually carving out a niche for itself. Although the DuMont Network didn’t survive the 1950s, ABC, CBS and NBC were still going strong and were soon to be joined by PBS. While destruction of recorded programs still happened, it began decreasing in frequency as a greater thought was given to archiving on the costs of materials lessened. Animation, once regarded as a serious risk, became the preferred format for kids’ shows when it was realized that a cartoon episode could be produced much cheaper than a live-action one. Networks decided to stop hemming and hawing over the concept and finally began broadcasting in full-color, allowing these cartoons to be seen as their creators intended. And, most importantly to us, Saturday mornings began to be taken more seriously.

Comic book ad for CBS' new action-oriented Saturday morning line-up.

            Network executives realized that on weekend mornings when parents tended to want to sleep in, kids would be at home without little distractions like school and homework—meaning there was an entire demographic they could cater to and get advertising revenue for. Fred Silverman was among the first; establishing a long-standing relationship with Hanna-Barbera and giving Filmation Associates their start, allowing both studios to practically dominate the network schedules for years. By the middle of the decade, the Saturday schedules were mostly animated. By the end of the decade, those schedules were full of original cartoons; edging out the prime-time reruns that were used to fill out the time. Saturday mornings were drawing big ratings, and as a result, were turning out to be very profitable for the networks.

Ad for ABC's 1977 preview special.

            To promote their new line-ups, the networks began airing Saturday Morning Preview Specials. These were annual specials aired typically the Friday night before the debut of the new schedule. Hosted by cast members from one or more of the networks’ more popular shows with special guests, they highlighted the offerings that would be hitting the airwaves that Saturday. Sometimes they were done in a variety show format, other times they were given a storyline that would lead the special’s stars to encounter each new show. 

Hanna-Barbera becomes a dominating force on Saturday mornings.

Of course, this decade marked the births of some long-running franchises. Hanna-Barbera created their flagship program, The Flintstones, which became a primetime success and spawned a spin-off Saturday morning franchise in the decades to follow. They also introduced the ever-enduring Scooby-Doo franchise, which continues to this day with new shows, new direct-to-video movies, and the occasional theatrical release. Filmation would begin their Archie franchise based on the comic book characters, as well as introduce the first African American animated character on Saturday mornings in The Hardy Boys. Warner Bros. packaged their theatrical shorts into The Bugs Bunny Show, which would find itself running for the next 40 years under various names.

Peggy Charren in front of her group's logo.

            Unfortunately, with more exposure came a greater chance of criticism. Silverman, inspired by the success of ABC’s Batman series, loaded up the CBS schedule with action-adventure programs while ABC and NBC were showing mostly comedies. When CBS pulled ahead in the ratings because of them, ABC and NBC switched gears and churned out their own action offerings. Original heroes, licensed heroes, pulp heroes, comedic heroes—the only black sheep in the bunch was American Bandstand. All of this action drew the ire of some people like Peggy Charren, Lillian Ambrosino, Evelyn Kaye Sarson and Judy Chalfen who founded the child advocacy group Action for Children’s Television. Their mission was to improve the quality of children’s television, encourage diversity, and to discourage over-commercialization. They targeted the action-heavy Saturday morning programs, leading the networks to cancel all of those shows by 1969 and replace them with more light-hearted comedic fare. 

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