by Tim Von Cloedt
Who would’ve thought that a beloved pastime like Saturday morning cartoons is the result of a network war and corporate greed? That is just a small snippet of the type of information that should be expected in the fast-paced dialogue between panelists of this caliber. When you gather the likes of author and movie historian Leonard Maltin, animation historian Jerry Beck, Senior Vice President of theatre catalog marketing for Warner Archive Home Entertainment George Feltenstein, and Warner Archive Podcast team D.W. Ferranti and Matthew Petterson, while being moderated by NBC/MSNBC political analyst and SiriusXM director of progressive programming Zerlina Maxwell, the behind-the-scenes knowledge pours out.
The panel gave an abridged history of how our most well-known cartoons began as movie theater serials, moving to prime time TV, to eventually entertaining children on Saturday mornings for decades, while simultaneously moving from black and white to color television. The panel gave a brief but concise history of how those legendary cartoons such as Tex Avery classics and MGM’s Tom and Jerry weren’t meant just for kids. They played on the silver screen directly before classic movies like Casablanca, just as commonly as we watch trailers before movies now.
Maltin and Feltenstein expressed that, in a sense, MGM was responsible for a shift in how we started to absorb these animated classics. They canceled the cartoon shorts all together in the theaters! Thus, the dawning of the era of prime time TV cartoons began. Bill Hannah and Joe Barbera, who was previously employed by MGM as their cartoonists creating Tom and Jerry, came up with the idea of creating content for selling syndication between channels before that was a common concept. It gave birth to classics like The Flintstones, the first animated show to air as an extended series on prime time television.
The popularity of this show was a boon for Hannah and Barbera who were unintentionally instrumental in the color TV network war. It was one of the first visual broadcast format wars and, like all others since then, it comes down to what a third party decides to go with. CBS and NBC had their own version of color formatting for television, and the deciding factor was that ABC decided to go with NBC’s version, and so NTSC became America’s new format for color TV.
With the popularity of seeing The Flintstones in color, it gave way to the creation of more classics like The Jetsons, Space Ghost, and Jonny Quest, just to name a few. With the inclusion of corporations getting in the cartoon game, like Kellogg's producing Huckleberry Hound – The Great Kellogg's TV Show, it only made sense to start airing such shows in the morning. What better morning than a Saturday, so kids have all morning to absorb this colorful content? And so Saturday morning cartoons were born.
And now, as Feltenstein has confirmed, Warner Archive is in the process of remastering and releasing many of these titles directly to Blu-ray as collections with bonus materials, looking cleaner and sounding better than they have in the past 25 years.
For me, Saturday morning cartoons now seem like a sign of the times that have passed. This was a time-honored tradition in which we were guaranteed our own block of television designed for us. It was one time a week when we didn't have a care in the world and cartoons were guaranteed to be there to start our weekends properly. But with modern streaming services allowing kids to have access to shows anytime they want, the draw and lore of Saturday mornings has passed. I felt that this panel was very enlightening. As an adult, I understand how corporations are behind everything we absorb, but the 10-year-old in my heart will always remind me of how good it felt to be naive and innocent to these concepts, and will forever remain endearing to me. To this day, we still turn on our own version of Saturday morning cartoons thanks to these streaming services, I can live in the same nostalgia that Warner Archive is built to maintain.