November 04, 2017


            In 1995, Disney had purchased their own television network: ABC. They were looking to revitalize a lot of the network's programming with original productions, particularly on Saturday mornings. Fortunately for them, Peter Hastings had recently left Warner Bros. Animation after being frustrated by the new management’s meddling in the programs he worked on. 

            Disney hired Hastings to revamp their Saturday line-up, and he came up with the concept of Disney’s One Saturday Morning. He visualized the days of the week as buildings, with Saturdays being represented by a steampunk building and large cartoon number one. He pushed for live-action hosting segments throughout the block and the use of virtual sets--a technology that was in its infancy at the time and which he knew little about. For that reason, he took on Prudence Fenton as a consulting manager and together they settled on the technology of Accom ELSET to bring the sets designed by Fenton to life.

Most of the block's line-up.

            One Saturday Morning was broken up into two parts. One part was the actual programs airing during the block. The initial line-up featured 101 Dalmations: The Series, Recess, Pepper Ann, the newly-acquired Doug, The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show (the only non-Disney series to be carried over from the old ABC line-up) and Schoolhouse Rock! The second part was a series of interstitial segments that was shown between the shows and the commercial breaks. The whole thing would be hosted in wraparound segments by at first a woman named Charlie (Jessica Prunell), and later MeMe (Valarie Rae Miller), with the help of an elephant named Jelly Roll (Brad Garrett). To further emphasize the block’s educational content in compliance with FCC mandates, a CGI lightbulb would appear with an announcer saying “Illuminating television” before being clicked on and leaving the screen in a variety of manners (such as blasting off like a rocket ship or exploding into fireworks).

Manny on the scene.

            The block’s segments included: Manny the Uncanny, which had Manny (Paul Rugg) visit and learn about an unusual job; Great Minds Think For Themselves, where Aladdin’s Genie (Robin Williams) would talk about famous figures that went against conventional wisdom; How Things Werk, which explained American engineering in a 1950s comic book style; Mrs. Munger’s Class, which was performed with a syncro-voxed page from an actual elementary school yearbook and had the people pictured interacting with each other within their photo borders (sometimes leaving them and disappearing off the page); Find Out Why!, which had the Lion King’s Timon (Quinton Flynn) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) answering scientific questions; The Monkey Boys, where Buddy & Hodge-Podge silently acted out a different job; and Tube Dwellers, which featured workers that lived inside viewers’ televisions and were responsible for keeping the show running. Because permission wasn’t granted for the likenesses used in the Mrs. Munger segment, some of the people featured filed suit against Disney. It was settled out of court and the segment was replaced by the similar segment Centerville, which was set outside a school setting.

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            The block made its debut on September 13, 1997. Originally, it was intended to begin on September 6 but was delayed when the networks simulcasted the funeral of Princess Diana of Wales, who was killed in a car crash the week prior. Despite the heavy infusion of educational content, the block and its various programs were a success due to their strong writing. In 1999, a spin-off block, Disney’s One Too, began airing on UPN as part of a time-lease agreement with Disney. It showed reruns of the One Saturday shows either on Sunday mornings on during the week.

            By 2000, however, the ratings began to decline. The shorts and live-action segments were dropped in favor of simple commercial bumpers and program promotions. In 2001, a sub-block called “Zoog Hour” (taken from Disney Channel’s weekend programming block’s name, “Zoog Disney”) was added to show live-action Disney Channel original sitcoms Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens. Following Disney purchasing assets from Fox Family Worldwide, they decided to rebrand their Saturday morning block in 2002. It was called ABC Kids after their acquired Fox Kids brand.

            Despite the block’s overall short run, it had a lasting impression on the fans of its programs. As 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the block, we’re going to take a look at some of the shows that made it what it was. 

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