Pressure groups act
In the late sixties, the cartoon formats featuring fantastic super beings engaging grotesque monsters in colourful mayhem, aroused alarmed citizens groups. Also in their competitive zeal, Saturday morning advertisers were making the most of their liberal commercial time with pitches for everything from sugar-coated vitamins to outrageously expensive toys, some of which bordered on outright deception, and delivered in many instances by the program’s cartoon characters or performers. The incidents of gratuitous violence and patent abuse of children-orientated advertising prompted the formation of such watchdog groups as the Boston-based Action for Children’s Television (ACT), which petitioned Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission for reforms. Brought on by such pressure groups as ACT, the networks in a self-policing move appointed vice presidents to supervise and tranquilize children’s programming; engaged educational consultants and psychology professionals; set new standards; banned cartoon characters and selling hosts for children’s commercials; toughened their code for advertisers; and gradually reduced commercial time from sixteen to nine-and-a-half minutes on weekend daytimes, between January 1, 1973 and January 1, 1976. Silverman scheduled the first all-cartoon line-up of six hours on Saturday morning in 1968-1969 and subsequently introduced some novel animated programming concepts. The Messiah of the Saturday morning rating wars in the sixties, and pater familias of animated comic book stars, minority characters and pro-social programs, Silverman not only changed the look of children’s programming but the destiny of the TV film cartoon. Except for new standards and formats, which toned down violence and provided greater diversity, since his changes Saturday morning network schedules remain much the same.
Due to the loss in commercial revenue in the mid-seventies, the networks increased live-action programming for children on Saturday, culminated by six half-hours back-to-back on NBC in Fall 1976. The dismal ratings, and new contracts with Hollywood trade unions which escalated costs of live-action shows, fomented a return to all animated cartoon schedules, essentially, in the late seventies.
Still populated by hundreds of curious creatures, androgynous talking animals, flying heroes and caricatures from prime’-time shows, the animated cartoon series dominates weekend children’s television.
1) We Present Television, John Porter field and Kay Reynolds, editors, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1940, p. 156; “The Mummy Case to Ben Casey,” by Edward T. Ewen, New York Times Magazine, August 25, 1963, p. 46. Although there may have been some other animated cartoons televised in the United States prior to May 3, 1939, Donald’s Cousin Gus appears to be the only one with substantial documentation.
2) Possibly “Pete the Pup” (1926-1927), a silent series released through Pathe Film Exchange, although there is no documentation. The DuMont network was terminated in 1955.
3). “The Ruff and Reddy Show” was also the first animated cartoon series telecast in colour, beginning in June 1959. (Part I, p. 244)
4) There have been three related network prime-time series since
1966. “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (NBC, 1968-1969) was a live-action and animation series; “Where’s Hurdles?” (CBS, 1970/1971) was seen only during the summer months: and “Jokebook” (NBC, 1983) was a three-episode limited series aimed at adults. The three programs were from Hanna-Barbera Productions.
5) “The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Shows”, each with three separate components, were programmed back-to-back between 9:30-10:30 AM on the NBC Saturday schedule. They were the precursor of the hour-long “packaged program,” which concentrated on holding viewer interest by offering a number of elements under an umbrella title. When modified and extended later, the format would drastically alter children’s network cartoon programming in the mid-seventies. (Part 1, p. 28)
6) The six superhero cartoon series fostered and purchased by Fred Silverman for CBS in 1966-1967 were:
9:00-9:30 AM Mighty Heroes
10:00-10:30 Frankenstein Jr. and The lmpossibles
10:30-11:00 Space Ghost and Dino Boy
11:00-11:30 The Adventures of Superman
11:30-12:00 The Lone Ranger
All were new except “Underdog”, which had run on NBC (1964-1965), but which incorporated some new films. The Lone Ranger presented the masked man as a superhero in the Old West, and in story and graphic style was based on the popular TV series, “The Wild Wild West” (CBS, 1965-1970).
Prime Time on the U.S. networks ranged generally from 7:30 to 11:00 PM until 1971-1972 when moved back to 8:00 to 11:00 PM, except on Sundays 7:00 to 11:00 PM. A regular season is mid-September to mid-May, shortened in recent years.
7) NBC ousted ratings leader CBS by 1982 with “The Smurfs” and others.
This article was reprinted by permission of the author from “Children’s Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946-1981 Part I: Animated Cartoon Series, copyright © 1983 by George W. Woolery, published by the Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, New Jersey and London.
Printed in Animator Issue 11 (Winter 1984)