Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Birth of Saturday Morning Cartoons

There are people who take it for granted that Saturday morning television was always a land of cartoons, and how dare it not be that way today.

Well, of course, that wasn’t always the case. Like weeds choking a garden, cartoons slowly took over the Saturday morning landscape until they killed kids hosts like Shari Lewis and tired old filmed programmes like Fury.

Television was still developing in the early 1950s. The FCC had imposed a freeze on construction of new stations in 1948 because it had to sort out things like channel assignments, interference, and colour systems. The bureaucrats took their sweet time and lifted the freeze on April 14, 1952, though the colour battle continued. More stations meant more people watching. Networks were now being able to tell ad agencies and potential sponsors there were more eyes on television, and coax them into buying time periods that were comparatively dirt cheap—like Saturday mornings.

The reason the networks didn’t fill time with cartoons in 1952 is simple—there weren’t any available. Syndicators had snapped up as many cartoons as they could buy—either made by long-dead ‘B’ studios like Iwerks or silents with stock music added to them, like the Farmer Alfalfa cartoons—and had sold them on a station basis. Some were even running on Saturday mornings. However, a break came in a few years to one network. CBS had purchased the Terrytoon studio—it had been running Terry cartoons on its Barker Bill show twice weekly starting in November 1953. Now it went through with plans for a new show called Mighty Mouse Playhouse, which debuted at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 10, 1955. For the record, the cartoons were “The Uninvited Pest,” “The Exterminator” and “Svengali’s Cat.” The show was moved to 11 a.m. the following Saturday, then to 10:30 the following April 7th.

So, yes, Mighty Mouse was the first Saturday morning network cartoon show, even though the cartoons on it had been shown in theatres for a number of years. Some may argue that Winky Dink and You was the first. But Winky wasn’t really animated and didn’t actually star in a cartoon; the host was a somewhat self-conscious Jack Barry before he got mired in the quiz show scandal a few years later. I’m afraid we’ll leave it to diehards to argue the point.

Next is when Hanna-Barbera gets into the picture. In 1957, Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures’ TV arm, worked out a deal with NBC to put a half-hour show on the air called Ruff and Reddy. Despite the fact it had a human host, and featured a pair of animated shorts from the Columbia library, it is considered the first made-for-TV network cartoon show because it included two cartoons made by H-B specifically for it. (A show called NBC Comics aired on weekdays in 1950 but consisted of still drawings over a voice track).

As for the first all-cartoon show made for television on Saturday mornings? The honours go to King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, which replaced Ruff and Reddy in the 1960-61 season. No human host, no tired theatricals. Just brand-new cartoons made by Total Television Productions (the first ones were animated at Creston Studios, aka TV Spots, in Los Angeles but the voice tracks were cut in New York).

Still, Saturday mornings network television time was mainly occupied—and networks were still signing on comparatively late—with old films or hosted shows, but things started to change in 1962. And you can credit (or blame) the Great Prime Time Failure of cartoons in the 1961-62 season. The Alvin Show and Top Cat were ratings busts in the evening. So, the following year, they were rerun on Saturday mornings. They were hits. The Bugs Bunny Show was moved to Saturday morning. Another monster hit. And Hanna-Barbera managed to resurrect reruns of Ruff and Reddy. Saturday mornings became the place for castoffs from other time slots. The following season, Beany and Cecil joined the line-up. Two new made-for-TV shows, Tennessee Tuxedo and Hector Heathcote, found Saturday morning homes. Casper the repetitious ghost made a comeback, with old theatricals mixed in with new TV cartoons (the latter three shows, incidentally, voice-tracked in New York).

By the time 1965 rolled around, when Hanna-Barbera made its first made-for-Saturday-morning shows, Secret Squirrel and Atom Ant, the bulk of programming was animated. Most of the non-cartoon holdouts aired after 11 a.m.

Hanna-Barbera’s success on Saturday mornings did two things. One, is it saved the studio. Networks weren’t interested in prime-time cartoons because they attracted the wrong demographics. But they attracted the right ones on Saturday morning and H-B could make shows within a sponsor’s budget. And two, it spurred a Saturday morning cartoon industry that stayed around until the networks realised they could make—and own—their own Saturday morning live-action shows, like Saved by the Bell.

For some reason, people love lists. They can’t get enough of them. So here is the list portion of our post. To give you an idea of the evolution of Saturday morning television from test patterns to live shows to cartoons, allow me to post the network schedules from the start of the 1951-52 season. The bulk of these come from grids published at the time in Sponsor magazine. The networks fussed with their schedules, so the end of the season didn’t always look the same as the start of the season. With few exceptions, we’ll provide schedules as they were fixed in October of each year. We’ve included the dear, departed DuMont Network as well. These are for the East Coast; schedules in the West likely looked a little different. Cartoons are in blue.

1951-52
ABC
● 10:30 a.m. – Hollywood Jr. Circus (host); cancelled in Feb.
● 11 a.m. – Foodini the Great (puppets); replaced with Personal Appearance Theatre in Jan.
● 11:30 – A Date With Judy (film); cancelled in Feb.
● 12 p.m. – Betty Crocker Star Matinee (film), moved to 11:30 in March
● 12:30 p.m. – City Hospital (film, alt. weeks, net silent at 1); cancelled in Mar.
CBS
● 11 a.m. – Fashion Magic with Arlene Francis, replaced by The Whistling Wizard (puppets)
● 11:30 – Smilin' Ed's Gang (puppets)
● 12 p.m. – The Big Top (host, net silent at 1)
DuMont
● no programming
NBC
● no programming

1952-53
ABC
● no programming
CBS
● 11 a.m – Space Patrol (live)
● 11:30 – Smilin’ Ed’s Gang (host)
● 12 p.m. – The Big Top (net silent after 1 p.m.)
Du Mont
● 11 a.m. – Happy’s Party (host/puppet)
● 11:30 a.m. – Kids and Company with Johnny Olson (host, net silent after 12)
NBC
● 11 a.m. – Space Patrol (live)
● 11:30 p.m. – Pud’s Prize Party (live, net silent after 12)

1953-54
ABC
● 10 a.m. – Tootsie Hippodrome (host)
● 10:30 – Smilin’ Ed McConnell (host/puppet)
● 11 a.m. – Space Patrol (live)
CBS
● 11 a.m. – Winky Dink and You (host)
● 11:30 – Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (live)
● 12 p.m. – The Big Top (host)
● 1 p.m. – The Lone Ranger (film, net silent after 1:30)
Du Mont
● 11:30 a.m. – Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (live, 27 stations, net silent at noon)
NBC
● no programming

1954-55
ABC
● 10 a.m. – Animal Time (host)
● 10:30 – Andy Devine (film)
● 11 a.m. – Space Patrol (live, net silent at 11:30)
CBS
● 10:30 a.m. – Winky Dink and You (host)
● 11 a.m. – Captain Midnight (film)
● 11:30 a.m. – Abbott and Costello (film)
● 12 p.m. – The Big Top (host)
● 1 p.m. – The Lone Ranger (film)
● 1:30 p.m. – Uncle Johnny Coons (host)
● 2 p.m. What in the World (net silent at 2:30 p.m.)
Du Mont
● no programming
NBC
● no programming

1955-56
ABC
● 11 a.m. – Kiddie Special (occasional show; net silent at 12:30 p.m.)
CBS
● 10 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
● 10:30 – Winky Dink and You (live host); replaced with Mighty Mouse Playhouse (cartoon) in Dec.
● 11 a.m. – Captain Midnight (film); replaced with Winky Dink in Dec.
● 11:30 – Tales of the Texas Rangers (film)
● 12 p.m. – Big Top (film)
● 1 p.m. – The Lone Ranger (film)
● 1:30 p.m. – Uncle Johnny Coons (live host, net silent at 2)
DuMont
● no programming
NBC
● 10 a.m. – Pinky Lee Show (host)
● 10:30 – Paul Winchell Show (host/ventriloquist)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Mr. Wizard (live host, network silent at 12)
NBC (January-March)
● 10 a.m. – Children's Corner (puppets with Fred Rogers)
● 10:30 – Pinky Lee Show (host)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Paul Winchell Show (host/ventriloquist)
● 12 p.m. – Choose Up Sides (live game with Gene Rayburn, net silent at 12:30)
NBC (end season)
● 10 a.m. – Howdy Doody (host/puppets)
● 10:30 – I Married Joan (film)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Uncle Johnny Coons (host)
● 12 p.m. – Captain Gallant (film)
● 12:30 – Best of Mr. Wizard (net silent at 1)

1956-57
ABC
● no programming
CBS
● 9:30 – Captain Kangaroo (host)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Winky Dink and You (host)
● 11:30 – Texas Rangers (film)
● 12 p.m. – Big Top (film)
● 1 p.m. – The Lone Ranger (film, net silent at 1:30)
NBC
● 10 a.m. – Howdy Doody (host/puppet)
● 10:30 – I Married Joan (film)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Cowboy Theatre (film, net silent at 12:30 through Dec.)
● 12:30 – Mr. Wizard (from Dec., net silent at 1 p.m.)

1957-58
ABC
● no programming
CBS
● 9:30 – Captain Kangaroo (host)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Susan’s Show (puppet with cartoon); replaced with Heckle and Jeckle (cartoon) in Jan.
● 11:30 – Saturday Playhouse.
● 12 p.m. – Jimmy Dean; replaced 12:30-1p.m. with Concert From Carnegie Hall in Jan.
● 1 p.m. – The Lone Ranger (film, net silent at 1:30)
NBC
● 10 a.m. – Howdy Doody (host/puppet)
● 10:30 – Gumby (animated); replaced with Ruff and Reddy (cartoon) in mid-Dec.
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Captain Gallant (film); replaced with Andy’s Gang in mid-Dec.
● 12 p.m. – True Story (film)
● 12:30 – Detective Diary (film, silent at 1)

1958-59
ABC
● 11 a.m. – Uncle Al Show (host/puppet; net silent at 12)
CBS
● 10 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
10:30 a.m. – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
11 a.m. – Heckle and Jeckle (cartoon)
● 11:30 – The Adventures of Robin Hood (film)
● 12 p.m. – silent
● 12:30 – Young People’s Concert (until 1:30)
NBC
● 10 a.m. – Howdy Doody (host/puppet)
10:30 – Ruff and Reddy (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Circus Boy (film)
● 12 p.m. – True Story (film)
● 12:30 – Detective Diary (film, silent at 1)

1959-60
ABC
● 12 p.m. – Lunch With Soupy Sales (net silent at 12:30)
CBS
10 a.m. – Heckle and Jeckle (cartoon)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – I Love Lucy (film)
● 11:30 – Lone Ranger (film)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film; net silent at 12:30)
NBC
● 10 a.m. – Howdy Doody (host/puppet)
10:30 – Ruff and Reddy (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Circus Boy (film)
● 12 p.m. – True Story (film)
● 12:30 – Detective Diary (film)
● 1 p.m. – Mr. Wizard (net silent at 1:30)

1960-61
ABC
● 12 p.m – Lunch With Soupy Sales
(host) ● 12:30 – Pip the Piper (net silent at 1)
CBS
● 10 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo
● 11 a.m. – Kellogg Magic Land of Alakazam (host/cartoon)
● 11:30 – Roy Rogers (film)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film)
12:30 – Mighty Mouse Playhouse (cartoon)
● 1 p.m. – CBS News (net silent at 1:30)
NBC
● 7 a.m. – Today on the Farm
● (7:30-10 a.m. – net silent)
● 10 a.m. – Shari Lewis (host/delightful puppets)
10:30 – King Leonardo (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Lone Ranger (film)
● 12 p.m. – My True Story (film)
● 12:30 – Detective Diary (film)
● 1 p.m. – Mr. Wizard (net silent at 1:30)

1961-62
ABC
● 11 a.m. – On Your Mark (game show)
● 11:30 – Don Alan’s Magic Ranch (host, net silent at 12)
CBS
● 9 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
● 10 a.m. – Video Village Jr. (game show)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Kellogg Magic Land of Alakazam (host/cartoon)
● 11:30 – Roy Rogers (film)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film)
● 12:30 p.m. – My Friend Flicka (film, net silent at 1)
NBC
● 9:30 – Pip the Piper (host)
● 10 a.m. – Shari Lewis (host/puppets)
10:30 – King Leonardo and his Short Subjects (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Make Room For Daddy (film)
● 12 p.m. – Update (news for high schoolers)
● 12:30 – Watch Mr. Wizard (host, net silent at 1)

1962-63
ABC
● 11 a.m. – Make a Face (game show, cancelled in mid-Dec., net silent)
11:30 – Top Cat (cartoon)
12 p.m. – The Bugs Bunny Show (cartoon)
● 12:30 – The Magic Land of Alakazam (host/cartoon)
● 1 p.m. – My Friend Flicka (film, net silent at 1:30)
CBS
● 9 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
10 a.m. – The Alvin Show (cartoon)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Rin Tin Tin (film)
● 11:30 – Sky King (film)
● 12 p.m. – Roy Rogers (film)
● 12:30 – The Reading Room (children’s panel)
● 1 p.m. – CBS Saturday News (net silent at 1:30)
NBC
9:30 – Ruff and Reddy (cartoon)
● 10 a.m. – Shari Lewis (host/puppets)
10:30 – King Leonardo (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Fury (film)
● 11:30 – Marx’s Midway Magic (host)
● 12 p.m. – Make Room For Daddy (film)
● 12:30 – Exploring (educational)
● 1 p.m. – Watch Mr. Wizard (host, net silent at 1:30)

1963-64
ABC
10 a.m. – The Jetsons (cartoon)
10:30 – The New Casper Show (cartoon)
11 a.m. – Beany and Cecil (cartoon)
11:30 – The Bugs Bunny Show (cartoon)
● 12 p.m. – The Magic Land of Alakazam (host/cartoon)
● 12:30 – My Friend Flicka (film)
● 1 p.m. – American Bandstand (host, net silent at 1:30
CBS
● 8 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
9 a.m. – The Alvin Show (cartoon)
9:30 – Tennessee Tuxedo (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Quick Draw McGraw (cartoon)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
● 11 a.m. – Rin Tin Tin (film)
● 11:30 – Roy Rogers (film)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film)
● 12:30 p.m. – Do You Know? (educational quiz)
● 1 p.m. – CBS Saturday News (net silent at 1:30)
NBC
9:30 – Ruff and Reddy (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Hector Heathcote (cartoon)
● 10:30 – Fireball XL5 (puppet)
● 11 a.m. – Dennis the Menace (film)
● 11:30 – Fury (film)
● 12 p.m. – Sergeant Preston (film)
12:30 – Bullwinkle (cartoon)
● 1 p.m – Exploring (educational)
● 1:30 – Watch Mr. Wizard (host, net silent at 2)

1964-65
ABC
● 9:30 – Buffalo Bill, Jr. (film)
● 10 a.m. – Shenanigans (game show)
● 10:30 – Annie Oakley (film)
11 a.m. – The New Casper Show (cartoon)
11:30 – Beany and Cecil (cartoon)
12 p.m. – The Bugs Bunny Show (cartoon)
12:30 – Hoppity Hooper (cartoon)
● 1 p.m. – The Magic Land of Alakazam (host/cartoon)
● 1:30 – American Bandstand (host)
CBS
● 8 a.m. – Mr. Mayor (host)
9 a.m. – The Alvin Show (cartoon)
9:30 – Tennessee Tuxedo (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Quick Draw McGraw (cartoon)
10:30 – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
11 a.m. – Linus the Lionhearted (cartoon)
11:30 – The Jetsons (cartoon)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film)
● 12:30 p.m. – My Friend Flicka (film)
● 1 p.m. – I Love Lucy (film)
● 1:30 – CBS Saturday News
NBC
9:30 – Hector Heathcote (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Underdog (cartoon)
● 10:30 – Fireball XL5 (puppet)
● 11 a.m. – Dennis the Menace (film)
● 11:30 – Fury (film)
● 12 p.m. – Exploring (educational)

1965-66
ABC
● 10 a.m. – Shenanigans (game show)
10:30 – The Beatles (cartoon)
11 a.m. – The New Casper Show (cartoon)
11:30 – The Porky Pig Show (cartoon)
12 p.m. – The Bugs Bunny Show (cartoon)
12:30 – Milton the Monster (cartoon)
1 p.m. – Hoppity Hooper (cartoon)
● 1:30-2:30 – American Bandstand (host)
CBS
● 8 a.m. – Captain Kangaroo (host)
9 a.m. – Heckle and Jeckle (cartoon)
9:30 – Tennessee Tuxedo (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Mighty Mouse (cartoon)
10:30 – Linus the Lionhearted (cartoon)
11 a.m. – Tom and Jerry (cartoon)
11:30 – Quick Draw McGraw (cartoon)
● 12 p.m. – Sky King (film)
● 12:30 p.m. – Lassie (film)
● 1 p.m. – My Friend Flicka (film)
● 1:30-2 p.m. – CBS Saturday News
NBC
9 a.m. – The Jetsons (carton)
9:30 – Atom Ant (cartoon)
10 a.m. – Secret Squirrel (cartoon)
10:30 – Underdog (puppet)
11 a.m. – Top Cat (film)
● 11:30 – Fury (film)
● 12 p.m. – The First Look (educational)
● 12:30-1 p.m. – Exploring (educational)

2 comments:

  1. The title "Red Brown of the Rocket Rangers" should instead read "Rod Brown..." It was an early starring role for (later) Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson.

    ReplyDelete