How The Government Helped Make Saturday Morning Cartoons Disappear

Before we talk about the disappearance of Saturday Morning Cartoons, we should look back at 2019. 

In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to loosen the obligations of the 1990 Children's Television Act. The FCC's website describes the act as "[requiring] each U.S. broadcast television station to air programming specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children." Such informational programming needs to be primarily the educational and informational for children, at least 30 minutes long, on air during a range of hours set by the FCC, and an ongoing series.  

Further rules set by the act include a reduction of commercial breaks to 10.5-to-12 minutes per hour on for programming aimed at children younger than 12. And the channels must separate the commercials from the programming, hence the "you're watching [insert channel here] before the program resumes."

The changes, according to Variety's report, include bringing the time these stations can start airing children's programming an hour earlier to 6am and can now specials instead of ongoing series as 52 hours of their obligated 156 hours. Also, they could reassign 13 out of their quarterly quota of 26 from their primary channel to their streaming platform.

Broadcasters, of course, lauded this decision, congratulating the FCC for recognizing the changes in the television landscape. The two who voted against, however, maintained that since some cannot afford broadband, the commission committed an injustice by loosening the rules created to serve the country's children.

Cartoons tuned out

All of this came twenty years too late for Saturday cartoons however. Behind the walls of arcane regulation, Saturday morning cartoons discovered a dagger directed towards them, which is why we had to walk through the nitty gritty of what the Children's Television Acts actually did.

Because, as Gail Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post, the various impositions placed by the act made cartoons an unprofitable venture. Eventually, the near-legendary image of a child plopped before a TV screen with a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning was no more. Jessica Rawden, news director of CinemaBlend, declared its end on September 27, 2014 with the cancellation of CW's Vortexx, an animation block showing Dragon Ball Z and other popular cartoons and anime. "It's sad, though," Rawdeb wrote, "that an entire generation of kids is missing out on lazy Saturdays filled with excellent cartoons like The Smurfs, Muppet Babies, Recess, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, Pepper Ann, and much, much more. Replacing them with cheaper, educational content was bound to happen, but a little magic has been lost in the process."

But wait up. In the very same article, she comments on how well Disney is doing with shows like Phineas and Ferb. In fact, cable channels have been picking up the slack. So, the real disappearance is simply one venue to watch cartoons that the government sped up. Not a total destruction of the phenomenon.