Saturday, 11 November 2017

Oh, Those Horrible TV Shows

Pat Boone “is sometimes not suitable for children”

What? Religious, milk-drinking Pat Boone?!

That was the conclusion of one organisation that got bent out of shape over most programming aimed at kids—and some that wasn’t.

Columnist Lawrence Laurent didn’t give the reason for the Boone bash when he reported on the group’s findings in the March 13, 1968 edition of the Washington Post. But he went on to write:
For the last 17 years an evaluation report has been issued annually on television programs for children. The report comes this year from an organization called the National Association for Better Broadcasting (NABB), formerly known as the National Association for Better Radio and Television (NAFBRAT).
Under any name, the organization has found—annually—that most of the programs for children are bad. This year is no exception:
“Television for children, 1968 style, is a mass of incriminate entertainment dominated by some 40 animated program series.” These, in turn, are “dominated by ugliness, noise and violence.”
Kind words are for the “notable exceptions.” The recently issued report by Betty Longstreet and Frank Orme lists those exceptions as “The Funny Company,” “Big World of Little Adam,” “Terwilliger Twins,” “Gumby,” “Casper,” “The Beatles,” “Bullwinkle” and “a few others.”
Most of the animated cartoons, they claim, are “composed of grotesque mindless chance and hit-hit-and-chase cartoons.”
Reports like these caused a sea change at the TV networks when it came to their Saturday morning hours. George Gent at the New York Times reported on March 22, 1968:
A CBS spokesman said Thursday that some of the current cartoon series, such as “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles,” the “Superman-Aquaman” series and “Space Ghost,” will be canceled and others will be shown later for older viewers.
“There’s no question but that some of these change[s] are a response to protests we’ve had about excessive violence from parents and educators,” the spokesman said. “On the other hand, we’re killing programs that have been very successful.”
Yes, out went those horrible superheroes. You know, the ones who stand up for what’s right and triumph over evil? What replaced them? Programming the networks did their best at trying to sell to as non-violent or enlightening.

As a side note, many credit the group Action For Children’s Television with the death of cartoon superheroes in 1969. Afraid not. The group, formed in 1968, was originally more concerned about commercial content on Saturday morning and didn’t issue its proposed guidelines for programming until February 1970. According to a Christian Science Monitor story in December that year, one ACT founder complained about “Josie and the Pussycats” being in Kellogg’s spots, wondering how children knew when the cartoon ended and the commercial began. Evidently she only knew really stupid kids.

Here’s a column from the Monitor of April 6, 1968 outlining the networks’ response to NABB and other whiners.
What about the TV cartoon ghetto?
By Louise Sweeney
New York
A green monster lobster with huge claws that spew death rays. A headless thing wearing a cape fastened with human eyes. Living totem poles. Death mist, deadly sleep mists, paralyzing fogs. A cuckoo clock that tolls bullets. Hot lava traps. A dart game played with hatchets. Giant red-ant invasions. An electric Buddha that short-circuits its victims. A bronze karate robot that crushes its enemies to death.
That’s a random sampling of the free sadism, deformity, and violence available to any child who can turn a TV dial on Saturday morning. That grotesque collection comes from the cartoons offered by ABC, CBS, and NBC on a Saturday like this one. “Spiderman,” “Space Ghost,” “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles,” “Shazzan,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “Super President” (“his power was born in a molecular storm”), “Aquaman,” “Birdman,” “The Herculoids,” “Samson and Goliath,”—these are our national babysitters.
It’s estimated that 10 to 12 million children watch these cartoons, which bring $50 million a year into the three major networks. But recently there are indications that a change may be under way in the profitable cartoon field. Ironically, news of the change came the day after announcement of an $8 million nationwide educational-television nursery school, a series of one-hour programs designed to inform pre-schoolers entertainingly.
Growing criticism
Since the networks do their programing months in advance, they point out that the announcement of their new Saturday rundown was simply a coincidence. But as network officials admitted, the program changes are a response to the growing criticism of excessive violence in children’s shows by educators and parents. NBC announced that it would introduce a new hour-long format next fall in the 10:30-11:30 Saturday morning lineup. It will be a blend of music and comedy with live performers in animal costume, a live-action serial (“Danger Island”), a live-action and animated serial “Shipwreck on Mars,” and a “classic” cartoon based on “The Three Musketeers.” Alternating with this format will be rebroadcasts of five of the excellent “NBC Children’s Theater” specials like “The Enormous Egg,” “The World of Stuart Little,” and “Rabbit Hill.” The Kellogg Company is sponsoring the hour which is estimated to cost between $4 and $5 million.
Wild-life specials
CBS has announced a 2 1/2 –hour change in its Saturday cartoon schedule. It is inserting what the network calls a “comedy block,” from 8 to 10:30 a.m. which will include “The Go-Go Gophers,” “Bugs Bunny,” “The Roadrunner,” a car series called “Crazy Racers,” and “Archie,” a series based on the comic strip. CBS is also toying with the as-yet-unannounced idea of running a series of a half dozen wild-life specials produced by David Wolper on the order of a junior National Geographic show.
Over at ABC, “King Kong” and “The Beatles” are being moved to Sunday morning; they’ll be replaced by “The Adventures of Gulliver” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Ed Vane, ABC vice-president of daytime programing, says that the Gulliver cartoon will be based on the Jonathan Swift classic with a group of lilliputians added like the seven dwarfs for appeal and to stretch the series over 17 films. The “Fantastic Journey” cartoon, based on the film, will be about a group of “humanoids” capable of being miniaturized into any situation—traveling in snowflakes, perhaps, Mr. Vane suggests.
“But there will be no violence as we’ve come to describe it on existing schedules. . . . I don’t know what ‘violence’ means, anyway,” says Mr. Vane. “People say ‘eliminate violence, go back to funny shows for kids’—‘Bugs Bunny,’ ‘Porky Pig.’ But there was a lot of physical violence in those—the animals are tarred and charred, they frequently explode. I’m a little puzzled as to what they want to return to. There’s nothing wrong with telling a story, presenting adventure, conflict, collision....”
Fred Silverman, vice-president, daytime programming at CBS, says, “I don’t think there’s been as much violence as everyone says there is—there are implied threats more than actual ones. There’s nothing wrong with adventure programing, it’s been a staple for years, it goes back to fairy tales. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ is very frightening to children, yet it’s considered a classic.”
Larry White, NBC daytime-programing vice-president, says “Violence . . . I don’t know what it really means any more. Is ‘The Three Little Pigs’ violent? Is ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ violent? I don’t quite understand what you mean by violent. Are these any less ‘violent’ than action-adventure shows? . . . What’s more frightening than ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’?”
Service or disservice
NBC’s Larry White says the network is “broadening the base of its children’s programing”; CBS’s Fred Silverman says the network “by introducing a comedy block on Saturday is providing a service, a balance. It was time for a change.” ABC’s Ed Vane says, “Yes, there are trends on Saturday morning as well as in other programing. The superhero approach that began two seasons ago is now in a natural decline. This means there is a trend toward comedy, toward the lighter approach. It’s still good to tell stories, but the resolutions now are amusing and lighthearted rather than straight dramatic situations.”
The spokesmen for all three networks say there has been relatively little mail from parents to pressure them into making the change. ABC’s Ed Vane estimates “something less than 100 letters a year” from viewers criticizing the cartoon ghetto. But he adds that petitions circulated by ad-hoc committees and mothers’ groups have been especially effective. CBS’s Fred Silverman says, “When you consider that these programs go into 5 million homes, there’s been only a small reaction. We receive only four or five letters a week.” NBC’s Larry White says cartoon mail runs “in the hundreds” there.
Next season, there’ll be an improvement in Saturday morning cartoons. But there are still enough cartoon grotesques on the schedule for a concerned parent to protest about to the networks. As Ed Vane at ABC admits, “Yes, to be candid, if this is the feeling, any network has to be responsive to its viewers.”
This still wasn’t enough for some critics. The Baltimore Sun’s Donald Kirkley, in the paper’s edition of October 26, 1969, objected to The Archies. Not because of the bubble-gum songs or the endlessly reused cycle animation. It was because of the inclusion of Sabrina, the teenage witch. Kirkley actually told his readers “Somebody should inform the children that a witch is a mortal who makes a compact with Satan in which he receives certain malevolent powers in return for her soul. Also, parents who watch and laugh at ‘Bewitched,’ should likewise be informed.” This isn’t tongue-in-cheek. The man was serious. We’ll bet he didn’t let his kids (if he had any) go out on Hallowe’en.

TV networks reacted further. Educational segments, such as Schoolhouse Rock (ABC) and In the News (CBS) were added, and are affectionately recalled by people who were young viewers at the time they aired. And then cartoon characters started pushing “correct” social behaviour.

If the idea was to somehow shield children from violence and nastiness in order to make the world a better place, we know how well that succeeded. And I suspect, even today, most kids would pick Bugs Bunny handing Yosemite Sam a package that blows him up instead of “The Big World of Little Adam.” Or Pat Boone.


  1. And yet at one time Pat Boone was considered rock. (I actually enjoy him, but I'd be the first fan of both him and of rock to draw apples an d oranges between the two-I have an LP of his and I was born 1960, when he WAS still kind of a big deal..Steve

  2. Pat Boone would eventually create his own TV station, KDOC, in Anaheim, California--which aired Uncle Waldo, Space Kidettes and the King & Odie, warping yet another generation of juveniles.
    Let's not even mention his unleashing of Wally George, please.

    1. Oh, learned something new today! Thanks Jay!

      Interesting to see the station never kept a single episode of that talk show apparently.

  3. What was the offending Pat Boone program? It's not mentioned in your excerpts.

    1. The Post says "his syndicated program" before quoting from the report. From what I can tell, it was produced by Filmways and distributed by Firestone. It was a daytimer, available in 60 and 90 minute versions.

  4. Hans Christian Brando12 November 2017 at 06:25

    The great irony is that it's the children of the "Sesame Street"/"Schoolhouse Rock" generation, brought up on "Care Bears," who are graduating high school unable to add or spell (and are using modern technology to torture each other).

  5. There were definitely the anti-violence nanny types well before the 1960s -- the entire opening of Bob McKimson's "A Ham in A Role" was based on the audience already knowing there were people out there in the 1940s loudly complaining about animated cartoons. But as the activist 'responsible children's programming' types became more sophisticated in the 1960s and into the '70s, their ability to force networks and local stations to conform to their beliefs became stronger (and while ACT may not have been at the first wave forefront of the efforts, by the early 70s they had the greatest access to media outlets to proclaim their distaste for how children's programming was being handled and, more importantly, used government regulation to make sure their desires became reality).

  6. Recently saw the the 47 year plus result of these groups recently while in the waiting room of auto repair store. A gentleman a few years my senior and I were tortured to whatever NBC was calling Saturday morning cartoons. Computer generated animals just kind of rambling on and on about nothing. Not even arriving at a point.We looked at each other, and he said " Give Me Bugs Bunny any day of the week ". It was a great ice breaker and we lamented about the condition of current Saturday morning programming. Being the only ones in the waiting room at the time, we asked for..and got the channel changer.

    1. At least 10 years ago, NBC was running cartoons that were a bit more entertaining, like the Big Idea shows (VeggieTales, 3-2-1 Penguins, Larryboy), Weta's "Jane and the Dragon," and some nelvana-produced shows.
      Seems like the bulk of kid shows now run on weekend mornings are E/I animal shows and travelogues...hardly any cartoons.

    2. Nice to know some people do care about what we once had. It's true what it has come to these days.