March 24, 2008

Retro Cartoons

Saturday Morning:
1960 to 1964

By: Richard Keller

Saturday mornings. For nearly thirty years this small window of time was considered paradise for millions of children across America. With the parents snug in their beds, and a big bowl of sugary cereal precariously placed on the carpet, it was the only time -- long before the invent of 24-hour cable networks -- that children's shows ruled the airwaves. No karate/ballet/piano/soccer lessons back then; parents were lucky to get their kids to go for bathroom breaks during that period of time. For many it's a time of very fond memories. Some recall radio favorites like Sky King and The Lone Ranger going from their imagination to the small screen. Others remember their first introduction to Space Ghost or Scooby-Doo. Still others, like myself, recall the latter days of Saturday morning programming with shows like The Smurfs, Dungeons & Dragons and Saved by the Bell.

It was a time of decoder rings, breakfast cereals, and 30-minute long animated commercials for a company's toy of the moment. A time we look back at and smile, yet realize that some of the product produced during that time was plain dreck. A time when a number of fledgling animation companies became household names to us in a few weeks.
Sadly, as the cable networks grew in popularity and the networks needed to trim costs, much of the Saturday morning programming we remember was replaced by morning news programs and syndicated fare that catered to a very select group of viewers. However, that doesn't mean that we can't remember many of the good times. Thanks to the giant attic that is the internet, and sites like our very own TV Squad, we can bring back some of those lost childhood memories. And, that's what I'm going to do right now.

I'm going to begin in the period between 1960-61 and 1964-65 seasons. You're probably asking why I'm starting with this time frame. Well, like anything in television, there's a period of trial and error, of growth, when trying something new. This five-year span was that time.

For the most part, the Saturday morning schedules of 1960 and 1961 were heavy on live-action programming and light on the animation. In fact, most of the morning schedule was filled with repeats of series that had aired previously in primetime. Some examples were the Western series Fury, the Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy, and The Lone Ranger. The only animated shows on the schedule at that time were the Mighty Mouse Playhouse on CBS and King Leonardo and his Short Subjects on NBC.

It wasn't until the 1962-63 Saturday morning schedule that the networks began to get serious about their programming. While there was still a good amount of live action shows, more animated fare began to pop up -- most of them series that aired previously in primetime or in syndication. For example, Hanna-Barbera's Top Cat, which aired on ABC's 1961-62 primetime schedule, moved to the late Saturday mornings along with former weeknight partner The Bugs Bunny Show. Over on CBS The Alvin Show, which aired for one year in primetime, moved over to Saturday morning as well.

By the fall of 1963 more original animated series were added to the Saturday morning schedules along with primetime "rejects" like Hanna-Barbera's The Jetsons. Over at ABC The New Casper Cartoon Show began a seven year run with new Casper The Friendly Ghost episodes. Over on CBS Tennessee Tuxedo (voiced by Get Smart's Don Adams) and his best friend Chumley joined Mighty Mouse, Alvin and the return of Quick Draw McGraw. Meanwhile, over at NBC, which was a bit slow to catch up to Saturday morning programming, the first Supermarionation program appeared on American television in the form of Fireball XL5.

As the 1964-65 season rolled around the networks were finally coming to the realization that Saturday mornings could be programmed fairly inexpensively with a mix of new and reconstituted animated programs. They also devised a schedule of airing most of their animated programs in the morning hours, while they aired their older-kid, live-action programs in the early afternoon. For instance. The CBS Saturday morning schedule featured animated programs, including the new Linus the Lionhearted, while the first 90-minutes of the afternoon featured repeats of shows like Sky King and My Friend Flicka.

In addition to Linus, two additional cartoons premiered on the Saturday morning schedule in 1964. One was Hoppity Hooper, a Jay Ward production featuring the adventures of a talking frog, and the other everyone's favorite super dog -- Underdog. Voiced by actor Wally Cox, this shoeshine-boy-turned-superhero would be a staple of the Saturday morning schedule during the mid-60's.

Courtesy of Richard Keller at

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