Saturday, July 10, 2004

Sunday Morning Cartoons

I hope you'll forgive me, but my mind is still stuck on the cartoons that aired on the broadcast networks. Namely, I remember that at one time there weren't just cartoons on Saturday mornings, but on Sunday mornings as well. Yes, that's right. At one time Sunday morning TV schedules weren't just filled with news shows and religious shows. There was a period when kids could watch cartoons and other children's programming on Sunday mornings as well.

Ironically, ABC, the last network to start programming on Saturday mornings, was the first to start programming children's fare on Sunday mornings. I am not real sure as to when they started, but it seems to me that it was either 1964 or 1965 (I was still in diapers, so I only have secondhand accounts on which to rely). Regardless, in that first season of Sunday morning cartoons, ABC aired two of the all time classics--Beany and Cecil and The Bullwinkle Show. I am not certain as to when CBS followed suit, but I am thinking that it was either in 1966 or 1967. I am also not absolutely certain, but I do believe that Mighty Mouse Playhouse, the first Saturday morning cartoon, spent its final season on a broadcast network there. I do know that in 1967 CBS started running the old Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts on Sunday morning. As to NBC, oddly enough, I don't think they ever followed the other two networks' lead and aired any kind of children's programming on Sunday mornings, let alone cartoons.

While the Saturday morning cartoon schedule eventually grew to a staggering 6 hours in length, the Sunday morning cartoon schedule on both ABC and CBS tended to be a bit more modest. I seem to recall that at their height ABC aired about two hours worth of children's fare on Sundays, while CBS tended to a more modest one hour schedule. For the most part, Sunday morning was where Saturday morning cartoons went to die. Indeed, the web site TVparty refers to it as the "Sunday morning boneyard!" The Sixties version of Spider-Man, the Sixties version of The Fantastic Four, King Kong, The Beatles, Aquaman, and The Groovy Ghoulies all spent their last days as part of a Sunday morning lineup. For the most part, the ratings for the Sunday morning cartoons were much lower than that of Saturday morning cartoons. The audience may have been smaller because many children (like myself) went to church with their parents. Too, many affiliates simply pre-empted the cartoons in favour of religious programming. As a result, a cartoon on Sunday mornings could at best hope to remain on the air for a season or two.

That is not to say that all cartoons and other children's fare airing on Sunday mornings suffered a swift death. Some prospered there. The Bullwinkle Show spent nine years on the ABC Sunday morning lineup. Tom and Jerry lasted five years as part of the CBS Sunday morning schedule. Linus the Lion-Hearted managed to last three years, killed only because of a FCC ruling that banned cartoon characters from appearing in commercials. Since Linus the Lion-Hearted relied on the Post Cereals characters, it was pretty much history. Other cartoons managed to return from the Sunday morning schedule to the Saturday morning schedule. Underdog aired on CBS on Sunday mornings during the '67-'68 season, only to return to Saturday morning on NBC during the '68-69 season. It lasted another four years there. ABC moved The Bugs Bunny Show to Sunday mornings with the '67-'68 season. It returned to the Saturday morning schedule on CBS in the '69-'70 season.

More often than not, however, the cartoons that wound up on the Sunday morning schedule were ones that either had run their course or simply were not successful from the start. Spider-Man had been fairly successful upon its debut in 1967. In 1970 it spent a final season on Sunday mornings. A smash hit in the '65-'66 season, The Beatles found its ratings declining in the face of such competition as Johnny Quest. ABC moved it to Sunday mornings beginning in September 1968 and it had its last network broadcast in September 1969. At least both Spider-Man and The Beatles had their day. Both Kid Power (based on the Wee Pals comic strip) and The Osmonds spent one season on Saturday mornings during the '72-'73 season before ABC moved both shows to Sunday mornings in the '73-'74 season where they each lasted one more year.

By now you have probably realised that there was very little in the way of original programming for children on Sunday morning network schedules. An exception was a show called Make a Wish, which aired on ABC from 1971 to 1976. With a five year run, it was also one of the most successful Sunday morning kids' shows. This live action, educational series featured Tom Chapin (brother of Harry Chapin) and would explore a different topic each week. And each week Chapin would sing one of his original, folksy tunes. The series was a favourite of adults and kids alike. Make a Wish was part of a trend towards more educational programming for children in the Seventies and many educational shows found themselves in the "Sunday morning boneyard." The Curiosity Shop was an educational series produced by animator Chuck Jones, which debuted as part of ABC's Saturday morning lineup in 1971. It was a combination of live action, puppets, and animation. An hour in length, it explored science, mathematics, and other subjects. With the '72-'73 season, it moved to Sunday mornings for one last season. Kids Are People Too debuted on ABC on Saturday mornings with the '78-'79 season. Kids Are People Too was a news magazine for kids. It featured a number of different guests, from Steven Speilberg to Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. Those Amazing Animals debuted on ABC's prime time lineup in 1980 and later showed up on its Sunday morning lineup.

I am not sure when ABC and CBS stopped airing children's programming on Sunday mornings. I think CBS ceased airing kids' fare first, probably around the '78-'79 season. I also seem to recall that ABC followed suit not long afterwards, perhaps around the '81-'82 or '82-'83 seasons. More than likely, they simply found Sunday mornings, even when filled with reruns, simply were not profitable. This was probably made worse by the fact that many affiliates pre-empted the networks' Sunday morning lineups anyway. In recent years I do believe Fox, the WB, and UPN have all made attempts at children's programming on Sunday mornings. Insofar as I know, none of them have been successful. I am not sure that any of these networks are currently airing anything for kids on Sunday mornings.

In a way the dearth of children's programming on Sunday mornings does make me a bit sad. Part of it is simply nostalgia. I can remember at five years of age watching Aquaman and The Beatles before church on Sunday mornings. They are among some very happy memories for me. I must also admit that I have to feel sorry for those kids who do not have access to Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network on Sunday mornings. At the mercy of their local stations, they are faced with nothing to watch on Sunday morning. Okay, ABC and CBS's Sunday morning lineups were mostly reruns. But at least they were something a kid could watch.

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