SATURDAY MORNING MADNESS CONTINUES!!
Do you have your cereal? Are you in your footy pajamas? Is your mom about twenty minutes away from turning off the TV and forcing you to go outside and play? Then we'll begin.
As we see by this Neal Adams-penned CBS ad, the Tiffany Network was blasting full speed ahead towards Saturday morning dominance. I mean, first off, this is a GREAT looking ad. Secondly, as we can see, 90% of the shows are live-action shows! Apart from the ubiquitous Bugs Bunny reruns and what may or may not be six year old Scooby Doo, the only "new" cartoon is the Pebbles & Bamm Bamm show, and that's not even that new. Didja know Sally Struthers did the voice of Pebbles? You do now. The Mighty Isis premiered this season, looking nothing like this illustration and featuring no "action" scenes even remotely interesting. Taking a cue from its fellow Filmation live-action show Shazam, Isis spent most of the show talking, lecturing, furthering understanding, and generally using the mighty awe-inspiring powers of the ancient Egyptian gods to browbeat teenagers. And hey, it's Far Out Space Nuts, starring Bob Denver! And the Ghost Busters, starring Larry Storch! Yes, Saturday morning is where washed-up sitcom actors go to dry out.
The next year would see some changes at CBS. Bugs Bunny? Still holding down a vital slot. Fat Albert and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie continued to be a sign to youthful viewers that they were done watching cartoons for the day. Shazam and Isis were still serving up dull non-action. Nope, the new pravda at CBS is that cartoons are back! Hanna-Barbera's Clue Club was a mystery show about teenagers and a dog who solve mysteries! Well, it's KINDA new, I guess. More interesting is Filmation's Tarzan cartoon, which was a show about a rotoscoped Tarzan who swung from the same vine a lot and did a lot of swimming over and over again. Because animation is expensive. Filmation's new live-action show this season is Ark II, an amazing show about a cool futuristic RV manned by touchy-feely hippy beardo scientists in leisure wear who travel the post-nuclear wastelands dispensing sanctimonius advice to starving survivors. Thanks guys, maybe if you used that science stuff on the Russkies we wouldn't be in this mess!
Two years later means big, confusing changes at CBS. For one thing they promise to "turn us on", and then the first thing they offer is Popeye, who entertains in many ways, but "turn us on" he does not. An amazing slate of totally forgettable Filmation superhero cartoons locks down the midmorning slot and causes amazement to us in the future. "Web Woman"? "Super Samurai"? "Moray and Manta?" "Micro Woman And Superstretch?" What the hell, Filmation? And why aren't these on DVD? Also (not) very important are the live-action Star Wars-inspired series Space Academy and its spinoff Jason Of Star Command, which starred a post Star Trek James Doohan and some guy in a white shirt with a black vest who wasn't supposed to look like Han Solo, not at all. Plus - Ark II reruns, Fat Albert reruns, Bugs Bunny reruns. Not that we could tell the difference.
Not that the other networks were napping! ABC had lots of success with the DC hero-infested Super Friends show, and as we can see here by 1979 they were well into the Jan & Jayce years, which as we all know are vastly inferior to the Wendy & Marvin years. Jack Cole's creation Plastic Man served to anchor the vital 10:00am "second bowl of Frosted Flakes" slot with some really terrible cartoons, some involving minority children and their ghetto rocket, some involving ugly dogs and tiny men, and some with the teen werewolf Fangface, which only lasted one season before the writers gave up and added a baby. Not to be confused with Scrappy Doo, of course. The Marvel character Spider Woman battled evil in a really forgettable show that I would not even remember if not for this comic book ad. Not that the character herself was forgettable! Why, she... uh... um....
Meanwhile over at CBS the double-truck comic book ad tradition continues. Sadly the Neal Adams art does not. The sage Evanier tells us that CBS owned Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle, so that's some cheap programming - and you gots your Bugs Bunny and your Popeye and your Fat Albert, and Tarzan is swingin' on that same vine again, and those Filmation Batman cartoons were reruns. So CBS was cheapin' it out in '79! The last remnant of the great Live Action Offensive of '75 - Jason Of Star Command - hangs on lamely, and a now-animated Isis leads the stereotyped Freedom Force on to promote understanding across the galaxy. Seriously, Filmation, we ask again - what the hell? Asians in karate gear and an Arab in a turban? Why not just put the white guy in a bedsheet and have him light crosses while you're at it?
Meanwhile over at NBC strange new rumblings were heard as the "Peacock Club" was elevated to full operational status. Their "try anything" style led to Harvey Comics' Casper being teamed up with three sexy space women, Marvel Comics' Thing meeting Fred and Barney from the Flinstones, Al Capp's disgusting blobby Schmoo getting his own show, Filmation producing an actual watchable Flash Gordon show, the Harlem Globetrotters being turned into superheroes, and as usual Johnny Quest reruns being the best thing on any network. Also, the Godzilla cartoon starring the cute monster Gadzooky. Just wanted to bring that up. Not a bad show. Not as good as the Herb Trimpe Marvel Godzilla comics, though.
AYYYYY! Bet you didn't remember the time Fonzie got visited by a future space girl from the future with her own time machine and they went through time having adventures! And if you think THAT'S unbelievable, check out Richie Rich in LONG PANTS!! But the star of 1980 was of course Thundarr The Barbarian, created by the King of Comics, Jack Kirby himself. Any show that starts with the moon being ripped in half, that's some good Saturday morning viewing. Next to Thundarr, any show is going to suffer - especially one that features Plastic Baby. Ugh.
CBS strikes back with... well, with reruns. Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tarzan, Lone Ranger, and I question how "new" those Popeye cartoons are. Yawn. Pass the Pop-Tarts. The big premiere of 1980 was their amazingly popular monster themed show "The Drac Pack", which starred teenage versions of all your favorite public-domain monsters. So beloved and popular was this show that it, uh, sank without a trace and has never been heard from again.
Outer Space Madness strikes NBC as reruns of Space Ghost and the Herculoids battle it out with the Teen Force and Astro & The Space Dogs! In Space! I think we all know who won that battle. Witness in the top right corner the advent of Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, who would not reach the apogee of their entertainment potential until they appeared as walk-ons in CN's Harvey Birdman. Those long-suffering Flinstones are saddled not only with ripoff Munsters monster neighbors but the Schmoo as well. Because there's nothing kids like more than weird third string characters from long-dead daily newspaper strips, right?
And we'll begin the 1980s....NOW! An explosion of colorful zany patterns can't disguise the more-than-fifty-percent-rerun portion of CBS's schedule. Filmation's Blackstar was a nice try, but was crippled from the start with a supporting cast of Disney style dwarves. Their Zorro was... well, it just was. Nobody knows who created the Trollkins or why, and the less said about the adventures of Kwicky Koala, the better. It must have been really frustrating to work really hard on these new cartoons and get beat every ratings period by 40 year old Speedy Gonzales shorts.
Meanwhile over at the Peacock channel the 1980s REALLY get crankin' with the characters most everyone remembers fondly as being characteristic of the period. I'm talking of course about Shazam and the Kid Super Power Hour! Wow, what a great show that... um... oh heck, everybody knows I'm talking about the Smurfs! Those little Belgian critters started a tidal wave of Smurfdom that threatened to smurf the entire smurf! No smurfing! Also important: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Iceman and Firestar, who once fought giant video game characters that came to life. I'm not smurfing you around here!
Fast forward six years (our records are spotty) and we can see that NBC has a whole fresh new approach to Saturday mornings - get Disney in on the action! The Smurfs are still doing whatever it is they do; Fraggle Rock has made the leap from cable to broadcast, and the Archies are back on TV after a ten year vacation! Also: Alf. Remember Alf? Not me, I was staying out too late on Friday nights to even think about getting up before noon. Getting to watch "Gummi Bears" is not an incentive, either.
As the 1990s dawned we saw many amazing things; a cartoon starring Macaulay Culkin, a teenage Yogi the Bear, something called "Spacecats", and the return of live-action programming to Saturdays with "Chip & Pepper" and a little show you may have heard of called "Saved By The Bell."
And as the 90s move in our look at comic book ads for Saturday morning TV comes to a close. I realize full well that we've only scratched the surface of both the really terrible cartoons Americans were forced to endure. Where is Turbo Teen? Rubik The Amazing Cube? The Snorks? Super President? Sadly, we must face the fact that dammit, we just don't have the comics with those ads in 'em.
What happened to Saturday morning? Did cable TV and the DVD and the Nintendo kill it off for good? Or will the great national cartoon viewing time one day return to us? God help us... in the future.
Now you can buy Stupid Comics merchandise from the Mister Kitty Stupid Store, your One-Stop Stupid Shop!!
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