If in theatres the short cartoon was developed for a general audience, after the graphic films were leased for television programming the focus changed. By the early fifties, the film cartoon was scheduled almost exclusively on children’s shows, usually those hosted by an adult. Routinely dropped in a multipurpose format, which fused many elements too costly to produce locally as separate programs, the cartoons were seen between the games, songs, story-telling, crafts and contests. From the sandbox set to the bubblegum brigade, the simply defined characters, broadly played slapstick, fantasy action and visual pizazz enthralled juveniles in droves. Nothing that would unduly tax the interest or attention span of the viewer, cartoons were staple programming throughout the country on such programmes as the “Captain Bob Show” in Buffalo, “Banjo Billie’s Funboat” in Miami, “Uncle Willie’s Cartoon Show” in Beaumont, Texas, and Uncle Dudley, Uncle Don and Uncle Al programs by the score. With only a few animated film packages in distribution, the cartoons were repeated again and again. But programmers soon discovered children derived very real pleasure encountering something recognizable by its repetition and, moreover, were apt to stay with it.
Long before network executives succumbed to the philosophy, program managers of local stations were unswayable converts to the idea that “cartoons were for kids.” The concept was reinforced in later years by audience measurement. In 1953, one industry survey showed 20 to 25 stations regularly running cartoon shows, the majority of which were receiving high ratings. Some of the vintage films were of poor print quality and of questionable taste for a juvenile audience by today’s standards. But despite their age and content few could deny animated films were a potent children’s programming device, and in the fifties the demand and price for cartoons began to escalate, stimulated by television’s growth to more than 400 operating stations by January 1, 1955.
Studio package deals
To finance large screen spectacular entertainment, and induce customers to return to the theatres, the struggling film industry began the proliferation when the economic rewards became attractive in 1955-1956. Among the larger packages, the pre-1948 library from Warner Brothers and films from Paramount-Fleischer¬Famous Studios deluged local daytime and early evening hours with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Superman, Little Lulu and other cartoon stars enjoying new life entertaining children. While the earlier “Terrytoons” were seen on “Barker Bill’s Cartoon Show” (CBS, 1953-1956), the first weekday afternoon network animated program, the more recent cartoons released through Twentieth Century-Fox arrived in late 1955, when CBS bought producer Paul Terry’s studio (for $3.5 million). That December, they launched “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” (CBS, 1955-1966), the initial Saturday morning network cartoon show, and in summer 1956, “CBS Cartoon Theatre” hosted by Dick Van Dyke, the first prime-time network series with animated fare.
Retaining control over his library, Walt Disney premiered in 1954 with “Disneyland”, ABC’s first major hit, periodically presenting some of his films, like “Alice in Wonderland” (Nov 3, 1954), the first animated feature seen on TV, and the first hour of shorts on “The Donald Duck Story” (Nov 17, 1954). The following season, “The Mickey Mouse Club” (ABC, 1955-1959) burst onto home screens weekdays featuring his most tenured cartoon star. With the exception of portions of the Disney library, MG M’s “Tom and Jerry” package and several theatrical series still in production, by the end of 1960 nearly all the major and independent studios had released their films to television.
Made for TV
Largely a story of syndication, the first made-for-TV cartoons debuted in late 1949 with the trail-blazing, serialized “Crusader Rabbit”, whose format was copied by producers into the sixties. Even more significant between 1958 and 1963 were Hanna¬
Barbera’s “Huckleberry Hound”, “Quick Draw McGraw” and “Yogi Bear”, which introduced three cartoons in each half-hour program, attracting national sponsors. For the next ten years, almost every subsequent development for the syndication market was implicit in the format, characters and style of these three series. Since the characters did not have to be paid, except for limited voice residuals, the all-cartoon show in part sealed the fate of the local hosted children’s programs. Another contributor in the late sixties were such Japanese series as “Marine Boy”, “Speed Racer” and “Kimba, the White Lion”, which filled local hours with economical imports. By the early seventies, spiralling production costs and wages, the availability of off-network packages, and pressure by Action for Children’s Television, which resulted in a new code addition by the National Association of Broadcasters, banning commercials delivered by both live and cartoon hosts of children’s programs, nearly ended the local genre after more than a quarter century.
Notable also among the network pioneers were “The Gerald Mc-Boing¬Boing Show” (CBS, 1956-1958), which presented children in part with the first new cartoons including some educational films made for the network by UPA, a major cartoonery; “The Ruff and Reddy Show” (NBC, 1957-1964), the first hosted all¬ new Saturday morning show (3); “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales” (CBS, 1963-1966…), the first entertaining-educational series; and “The Flintstones” (ABC, 1960-1966…), the first and last series to invade prime-time viewing hours successfully. Yet almost from the start, adolescents and children under twelve saved the caveman comedy from cancellation, providing the show’s largest block of viewers, a fact ABC recognized when it moved the program from 8:30-9:00 PM Friday to 7:30-8:00 PM Thursday in 1963.
Ironically, even before the end of its night-time run, “The Flintstones” demographics validated that old adage about cartoons being the paramount province of children and hardened the philosophy among network hierarchy. Of the eleven animated series introduced in the faddish rush to network prime-time between 1960 and 1966, only four lasted more than one season and of the total, three entered syndication and eight were rescheduled on Saturday mornings.