A Saturday morning cartoon is the colloquial term for the animated television programming that has typically been scheduled on Saturday mornings in the United States on many major television networks from the 1960s to the present; the genre's peak in popularity mostly ended in the 1990s and 2000s while the popularity of cable and satellite television, as well as the internet, has provided 24-hour access to cartoons for children.
In the United States, the generally accepted times for these and other children's programs to air on Saturday mornings are considered to be from 8 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. In addition, until the late 1970s, American networks also had a schedule of children's programming on Sunday mornings, though most programs at this time were repeats of Saturday morning shows that were already out of production. Cable television networks have since revived the practice of debuting their most popular animated programming on Saturday mornings, and most of the broadcast networks maintain a limited animated presence to meet federal educational-informational children's programming mandates. In some markets, some shows were pre-empted in favor of syndicated or other types of local programming.
- 1 Technique
- 2 Early Saturday morning cartoons
- 3 Watchgroup backlash
- 4 Decline
- 5 Current state of Saturday morning cartoons
- 5.1 Units of larger entertainment companies
- 5.1.1 Disney's One Saturday Morning/ABC Kids/Litton's Weekend Adventure
- 5.1.2 Nick on CBS/Nick Jr. on CBS/Cookie Jar TV/CBS Dream Team
- 5.1.3 Fox Kids
- 5.1.4 Kids' WB/The CW4Kids/Vortexx
- 5.1.5 Discovery Kids on NBC/qubo/NBC Kids
- 5.1.6 Cookie Jar Toons/This is for Kids
- 5.1.7 Cookie Jar Kids Network
- 5.1.8 PBS Kids/PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch
- 5.1 Units of larger entertainment companies
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
An animated feature film may use 24 different drawings per second of finished film, sometimes even more. Due to lower budgets, Saturday morning cartoons are often produced with a minimum amount of animation drawings, sometimes no more than three or four per second. In addition, the movements of the characters are often repeated, very limited, or even confined to mouths and eyes only. An exception to the 24-frames-per-second rule is when animation is "shot in twos" in which 12 drawings per second are used and the switch to 24 frames per second is for quick events like explosions or "wild takes".
Early Saturday morning cartoons
Although the Saturday morning timeslot had always featured a great deal of children's fare before, the idea of commissioning new animated series for broadcast on Saturday mornings caught on in the mid-1960s, when the networks realized that they could concentrate kids' viewing on that one morning to appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, limited animation, such as that produced by such studios as Filmation Associates, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, Total Television, Jay Ward Productions and Hanna-Barbera Productions, was economical enough to produce in sufficient quantity to fill the four-hour time slot, as compared to live-action programming. While production times and costs were undeniably higher with animated programming, the cost of talent was far less (voice actors Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray, Mel Blanc and in later years Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen and Tom Kenny became known for their ability to hold several roles at once, sometimes even on the same show) and networks could rerun children's animated programming more frequently than most live-action series, negating the financial disadvantages. The experiment proved successful, and the time slot was filled with profitable programming.
Some Saturday morning programs consisted of telecasts of older cartoons originally made for movie theaters, such as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons, the Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle cartoons produced by Paul Terry's Terrytoons, and Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker cartoons. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon to have animated shorts produced with both film and television in mind (DePatie-Freleng was particularly associated with this business model), so that by selling the shorts to theaters, the studios could afford a higher budget than would otherwise be available from television alone, which at the time was still a free medium for the end-user.
Parents' lobby groups like Action for Children's Television appeared in the late 1960s. They voiced concerns about the presentation of commercialism, violence, anti-social attitudes and stereotypes in Saturday morning cartoons. By the 1970s, these groups exercised enough influence that the television networks felt compelled to lay down more stringent content rules for the animation houses.
In a more constructive direction, the networks were encouraged to create educational spots that endeavored to use animation and/or live-action for enriching content. Far and away the most successful effort was the Schoolhouse Rock! series on ABC, which became a television classic; ABC also had several other short-form animated featurettes, including Time for Timer and The Bod Squad, that had long runs. Just as notable were CBS's news segments for children, In the News and NBC's Ask NBC News and One to Grow On, which featured skits of everyday problems with advice from the stars of NBC primetime programs.
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The decline of the timeslot began in the early 1990s for a variety of reasons, including:
- The rise of first-run syndicated animated programs, which usually had a greater artistic freedom and looser standards than those that were mandated by a network. These programs included G.I. Joe, The Transformers, ThunderCats, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Ducktales, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the first two seasons of Tiny Toon Adventures, and the first three seasons of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Increasing regulation of children's programming content, including the Federal Communication Commission's introduction of the E/I mandate in 1990. This required all broadcast networks to air "educational and informational" children's programs for at least three hours a week. Concurrent with this, the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the advertising of both premium-rate telephone numbers and tie-in merchandise during children's hours. Both these factors limited creative options and cut off large revenue sources for children's programs on network television.
- Station owners that owned a large number of network affiliates such as Hearst Television and Sinclair Broadcast Group refused to air programming which was not compliant with E/I rules, such as the Power Rangers franchise, or preferred to air programming from another supplier, such as Cookie Jar Group, due to heavy repetition of children's programming on network blocks.
- The overreliance on common tropes and clichés. Although this has been common in cartoons since the early days of animation, it became more pronounced by the 1980s; many of the longstanding Saturday morning franchises that had aired since the 1960s, such as Scooby-Doo, were beginning to age and decline in popularity.
- The rise of cable television networks like Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which provided appealing animated entertainment throughout the week at nearly all hours, making Saturday morning timeslots far less important to viewers and advertisers. Cable channels have the additional advantage of being beyond FCC content regulations and do not have to abide by educational or advertising regulations. Currently, there are at least ten channels specializing in children's programming. This development notwithstanding, cable networks directed at children have used the Saturday morning time slot as its version of prime time for its animated series; Disney Channel with "Disney Channel Saturday Mornings", Nickelodeon with "Gotta See Saturdays", Cartoon Network with "DC Nation", Disney XD with "Marvel Universe" and YTV with "Vortex" have emphasized their Saturday morning cartoon programming.
- The entrance of more adult-oriented cartoons into the mainstream, typified by The Simpsons, which led to cartoons losing much of their family-friendly image.
- A sudden revival of animated feature films. Although many successful animated feature films were produced in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, later productions became somewhat dormant after the death of Walt Disney in 1966, with newly made animated films bringing back only modest box-office returns during the 1970s. However, beginning in the late 1980s, there was a sudden improvement in both writing and animation of films in these categories; Disney, in particular, had a major revival in the late 1980s, launching a string of critically and popularly acclaimed blockbusters including Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995). After these films there was a rise in animation companies that produced successful animated feature films such as DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios. These companies lured children away from their television sets and animation staff, with no remaining TV production companies in the U.S., were forced to move to feature film production.
- Concurrent with their film successes, Walt Disney Television Animation and Warner Bros. Animation also began producing content for television in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both companies invested far more money into their productions than Saturday morning cartoons had done up until that point, raising the standards much higher than most television animation companies were able to reach.
- Increased awareness of childhood obesity and lethargy; advocates often targeted Saturday morning cartoons as the culprit.
- The proliferation of commercial toyline-oriented animated programs in the 1980s also led to advocacy group backlash and a decline in such programming. Many of these programs implemented public service messages at their conclusion to address these criticisms.
- The increased availability of VHS tapes and later DVDs, Blu-Rays, iTunes and videos on the World Wide Web, which, like cable, allowed children to watch their favorite cartoons at any given time.
- The development and rapid improvement in quality of video games, both of console and later of online varieties, which gave children alternative activities to do on Saturday mornings other than just simply watching cartoons.
- An increase in children's participation in Saturday activities outside the home.
- In 1982 Filmation Studios introduced the very first, first run syndicated TV cartoon series "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" which took the normal 13 episode Saturday morning TV series and made it a 65 episode season. This was due to the show being shown 5 days a week after school rather than just on Saturday mornings. This gave Filmation the chance to get away from some of the strict control the networks had gained over content in the late 70s and early 80s. This also made founder Lou Scheimer's Filmation Studio the only remaining animation studio that refused to send work overseas. This kept upwards of 700 artists employed for an additional 8 years until Filmation's purchase by L'oreal in 1989. L'oreal indicated that they wanted to keep the studio working and much to Lou's dismay that was not the case. Lou Scheimer and Dino De Laurentiis tried to outbid L'oreal and purchase the company but owner Group W (Westinghouse) declined the better offer and the studio was immediately closed.
- A 1984 decision legalizing infomercials on American television; profits from Saturday morning infomercials were potentially much more than those from children's programming. Due to child-centered products becoming national chains, as well as their vulnerability as seasonal attractions tied to short-lived fads, children's programming on Saturday mornings brought in limited advertising income. Most commercial breaks were also devoted to fulfilling the station's public service announcement requirements for the week because of the limited advertising income.
- The 1984 Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Oklahoma, which greatly expanded opportunities for college football on television. Prior to the ruling, the NCAA restricted its television partners to showing between one and four games per week, none of which aired on Saturday mornings; however, the Supreme Court ruled in the case that the NCAA was violating antitrust law by forcing all of its members into a collective contract. With networks free to negotiate contracts with individual schools and athletic conferences, the number of games and game-related shows exploded to become the programming highlight of Saturdays. Through the years, broadcast networks have chosen to start football games within Saturday morning (especially in time zones other than the East Coast) as a live broadcast, forcing Saturday morning programming in the western part of the United States to be carried in other timeslots.
- Television networks becoming part of larger corporations. These networks included ABC (purchased by the The Walt Disney Company in 1996), CBS (purchased by Viacom in 1999, before splitting in 2005) and The WB (created by Time Warner in 1995, before merging with UPN in 2006 to create The CW). Since the parent companies already owned television animation studios, the networks preferred to air shows from these companies with programming blocks such as "Disney's One Saturday Morning", "Nick on CBS" and "Kids' WB" rather than contracting out independent television animation companies.
- Many of the same networks that often showed Saturday morning cartoons began airing similar programs on weekday afternoons, usually when most children were out of school already. This practice has been discontinued in recent years, but was common throughout the 1990s and early 2000's.
- The success of live action teen sitcoms, starting with NBC's Saved by the Bell, which led to the rapid development of more live-action teen programming, with networks slowly squeezing out the cartoons.
- The gradual loss of most of the American companies which were, at one point, iconic and prolific producers of animated children's shows. Companies that have folded, ceased producing new product or been subsumed into larger companies include Jay Ward Productions and Total Television (both stopped producing new product around 1968), DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (subsumed by Marvel Productions in 1979), Rankin/Bass (folded in 1987), Filmation (sold and closed in 1989), Hanna-Barbera (still active on paper, although its operations were absorbed into Warner Bros. Animation over the course of the 1990s), Marvel Productions (defunct in 1997, properties now owned by The Walt Disney Company), Sunbow Productions (folded in 1998), Walt Disney Television Animation (migrated to Disney Channel in 2002), Film Roman (sold in 2003, now part of Starz Media), Warner Bros. Animation (migrated to Cartoon Network in 2008), DIC Entertainment (defunct in 2008, properties merged into Cookie Jar Group), and Saban Entertainment (spent several years defunct before relaunching as Saban Brands in 2010). Other noted producers such as Ken Ruby/Joe Spears, Jimmy Murakami/Fred Wolf, and Sid and Marty Krofft, while not officially defunct, are far less active than in previous years.
- Beginning in the early 1980s, television networks began offshoring animation production from the United States to other countries. Currently, one of the leading producers of Saturday morning cartoon programming is Canada's Nelvana, a division of Corus Entertainment. The popularity of Japanese animation, both in its early years (such as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer and Robotech) and during a renaissance of the genre in the late 1990s (Digimon, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! being prominent examples) was also a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
- The 2005 to 2009 decisions by breakfast cereal companies and fast food restaurants to reduce their advertising towards children. Breakfast cereals were major advertised products during Saturday morning cartoon programming blocks; however, nutrition advocacy groups criticized the companies for advertising cereals with high sugar content and low nutritional value, leading groups such as Kellogg's and Quaker Oats to scale back their advertising to children. Similar pressures on fast food restaurants and their high-calorie meals led McDonald's and Burger King to also scale back their fast food advertising towards children.
Current state of Saturday morning cartoons
While animated production is still present on one broadcast network on Saturday mornings (The CW), it has been much noticeably reduced. A 1996 Federal Communications Commission mandate, issued in the wake of the Children's Television Act, requires stations to program a minimum of three hours of children's educational/informational ("E/I") programming per week.
To help their affiliates comply with the regulations, broadcast networks began to reorganize their efforts to adhere to the mandates, so their affiliates would not bear the burden of scheduling the shows themselves on their own time thus eliminating the risk of having network product preempted by the mandates. This almost always meant that the educational programming was placed during the Saturday morning cartoon block.
NBC abandoned its Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992, replacing it with a Saturday morning edition of Today and adding an all live-action teen-oriented block, TNBC, which featured Saved by the Bell, California Dreams and other teen comedies. Even though the educational content was minimal to non-existent, NBC labeled all the live-action shows with an E/I rating and the legal fiction of a blanket educational summary boilerplate provided to stations to place in their quarterly educational effort reports for the FCC.
CBS followed NBC's example in the late 1990s by producing CBS News Saturday Morning for the first two hours of its lineup and an all live-action block of children's programming. The experiment lasted a few months, and CBS brought back its animated CBS Storybreak series.
In 2004, ABC was the last of the broadcast networks to add a Saturday morning edition of its morning news program (in their case, Good Morning America Weekend) in the first hour of its lineup, mainly due to affiliate criticism of the lack of network coverage for the February 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occurred on a Saturday morning, forcing them to take coverage from other video wire services. Prior to that, and particularly in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for affiliates to preempt part or all of ABC's cartoon lineup with local programming.
Fox carried little or no E/I programming, leaving the responsibility of scheduling the E/I shows to the affiliates themselves (although the network did eventually add daily reruns of The Magic School Bus to meet the E/I mandates from 1998 to 2001); Fox has not carried any children's programming at all since January 2009. The WB was far more accommodating; for several years, the network aired the history-themed Histeria! five days a week, leaving only a half-hour of E/I programs up to the local affiliates to program.
Boomerang, a spin-off channel of Cartoon Network, currently specializes primarily in reruns of Saturday morning cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s (the majority of which come from Hanna-Barbera, which, like Boomerang, is owned by Time Warner). Hub Network owns the broadcast rights to rerun several of Fox Kids' most popular programs. It is not unusual to see the major networks rotate reruns of older series (usually less than ten years, because of E/I content) instead of airing a new production, since the children who watched them the first time are not the same children who are currently watching Saturday morning cartoons; Cookie Jar Group's programming blocks have made extensive use of this strategy, as do channels that are intended for digital multicasting (such as Qubo).
Units of larger entertainment companies
By the mid-1990s, broadcast networks were now becoming units of larger entertainment companies. ABC was bought by The Walt Disney Company in 1996, which began airing all Disney-produced programming by 1997 and canceled programs produced by companies other than Disney (with the notable exception of The Bugs and Tweety Show, which continued to air until Warner Bros. discontinued the show in 2000). After being purchased by Disney, ABC's Saturday morning cartoons became part of a block called Disney's One Saturday Morning before switching to a block of live-action and animated programs under the banner ABC Kids in 2002. Many of the block's shows were produced by Disney and also aired on Disney Channel or Toon Disney. At one point, ABC Kids had only two animated shows on its schedule, while the remainder of the lineup consisted of live-action entertainment shows. By late 2008, all shows that were part of the ABC Kids block were reruns of older episodes that originally aired a few years earlier, this remained the case for the next three years with the loop of programming hardly refreshed.
On September 3, 2011, ABC outsourced its Saturday morning programming and E/I liabilities to Litton Entertainment; Litton now produces, and syndicates to ABC stations, Litton's Weekend Adventure, an E/I-compliant block aimed at teenagers and families, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the ABC network itself. In conjunction with the move, ABC sister network Disney Channel launched a Saturday morning block of its popular animated programming, Toonin' Saturdays, in June 2011.
CBS was purchased by Viacom in 2000; it then leased its Saturday morning block to Nickelodeon, running programming from that network from 2000 until 2006, nearly a year after Viacom split into two separate companies (Nickelodeon went to a newly created company under the Viacom name and CBS became the flagship property of CBS Corporation. The two parties ended the Nickelodeon/Nick Jr.-branded block, which was replaced by the DIC Entertainment (now Cookie Jar Group) produced KOL's Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS in September 2006. The block was rebranded as KEWLopolis, featuring an increased amount of animated series, in September 2007. On September 19, 2009, KEWLopolis was rebranded as Cookie Jar TV, with its target audience shifted toward preschoolers.
On July 24, 2013, CBS announced a programming agreement with Litton Entertainment (which already programs the Litton's Weekend Adventure block for ABC stations), creating a new Saturday morning block featuring live-action reality-based series aimed at teenagers 13 to 16. Cookie Jar TV was replaced by the Litton-produced "CBS Dream Team" on September 28, 2013, marking the return to live-action programming on CBS since 1998 (CBS strictly went to live-action programs with its Saturday morning block from September 1997 to September 1998; this was the second time in at least 50 years that CBS dropped animated cartoons from its schedule, marking the end of children's programming (animated or otherwise) on the CBS network itself).
From 1990 to 2002, Fox ran the Fox Kids block, which featured both animated and live-action series in the afterschool hours on weekday afternoons from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. (outcompeting with syndicated afternoon children's programs on independent stations and affiliates of smaller networks). Among its notable series included animated series such as Taz-Mania; Batman: The Animated Series; X-Men: The Animated Series; Eek! The Cat; Bobby's World; Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Animaniacs and live action shows like Power Rangers; Goosebumps and Big Bad Beetleborgs; and Japanese anime series such as Digimon and Transformers: Robots in Disguise. Fox sold its children's division as part of its 2001 sale of Television networks preceding ABC Family#Fox FamilylFox Family Channel (now ABC Family) to The Walt Disney Company; the network then leased its remaining Saturday morning block to 4Kids Entertainment in 2002.
The 4Kids-produced block, which by that point became 4Kids TV, ended its run on December 27, 2008; Fox opted to drop children's programming altogether rather than lease the block to another company, becoming the third broadcast network (after Pax TV and UPN) to completely abandon children's programming, replaced 4Kids TV with a two-hour infomercial block called Weekend Marketplace; as with 4Kids TV and its predecessors, Fox has allowed several stations the option to decline to carry the block and lease it to another station in the market, especially those stations which had never carried Fox Kids following the affiliation changes resulting from Fox's 1994 affiliation agreement with New World Communications. Fox's owned-and-operated stations and affiliates instead hold the responsibility of carrying children's programming (generally through programs purchased off the syndication market).
Kids' WB debuted on The WB on September 12, 1995 as a block on weekday mornings, afternoons and Saturday mornings, During the run of the weekday blocks, the network aired the animated series Histeria! to meet E/I content quotas for the network's affiliates. The Kids' WB weekday morning block ended in 2001, while the afternoon block was discontinued on December 30, 2005 with The WB retaining the two afternoon hours to run a lineup of off-network syndicated reruns.
Kids' WB, now reduced to just the Saturday morning block that was expanded to five hours from four with the removal of the weekday afternoon lineup, moved to The CW (which is part-owned by The WB's former parent Time Warner) on September 23, 2006 (CW owned-and-operated station WUPA in Atlanta debuted the block the following day as it opted to carry the block on Sundays). The Kids' WB block ended its run on May 17, 2008, and was replaced on May 24, 2008 by the 4Kids Entertainment-produced The CW4Kids (4Kids already produced Fox's 4Kids TV at that time, which would not end for another seven months due to a dispute with the network over distribution on Fox stations and compensation for the time lease). The CW4Kids was renamed Toonzai on August 14, 2010 (with the former brand being retained as a sub-brand to fulfill branding requirements imposed by 4Kids); Toonzai was replaced by Vortexx, produced under a time lease agreement with Saban Brands (which had acquired some of 4Kids' assets, including certain programs, in an auction earlier in the year) on August 25, 2012.
NBC entered into a partnership with digital cable and satellite network Discovery Kids to provide original programming from the channel on NBC's Saturday morning lineup in 2002; Discovery Kids on NBC ran on the network from September 14, 2002 to September 2, 2006. NBC replaced that block with Qubo, a three-hour "edutainment" block that debuted on September 9, 2006 (with accompanying blocks on co-owned Spanish network Telemundo on weekend mornings and on Ion Television once weekly), as part of a programming partnership between parent company NBCUniversal, Ion Media Networks, Scholastic Press, Nelvana and Classic Media, that resulted in the creation of a companion digital multicast network on Ion Television's stations; the Qubo blocks on NBC and Telemundo ended on June 30, 2012, leaving only the Ion block and standalone Qubo Channel.
On July 7, 2012, NBC launched a new Saturday morning block aimed at preschool-aged children, NBC Kids, under a time lease agreement with co-owned cable network Sprout (which NBC (though corporate parent Comcast) also owned a minority interest before purchasing it outright in 2012).
Cookie Jar Toons/This is for Kids
On November 1, 2008, This TV launched airing a daily children's program block called Cookie Jar Toons, which was programmed by Cookie Jar Group. The block featured mainly scripted animated and live action series; Cookie Jar-produced programs that did not count towards E/I quotas aired under the sub-block This is for Kids. Cookie Jar Toons/This is for Kids was discontinued on October 31, 2013, effectively removing Saturday children's programming from the network; after Tribune Broadcasting assumed part-ownership of This TV from Weigel Broadcasting the following day, Tribune replaced the block with a three-hour Sunday morning lineup of exclusively E/I-compliant programs from various syndication distributors.
The Cookie Jar Kids Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) was a syndicated children's programming block that aired select animated (and some live action) series from the Cookie Jar Group program library on Fox, CW and MyNetworkTV affiliated stations, and Independent stations to allow these stations to meet required E/I programming quotas. This block ended on September 18, 2011.
PBS Kids/PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch
PBS has run daytime children's programming targeted at children between the ages of 4 and 12 since the network debuted in 1970. Its afternoon and Saturday morning children's programming was folded into a daily block called PBS Kids (that aired weekdays from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to noon local time) on October 6, 1999; a spin-off PBS Kids Channel launched on that same date. PBS Kids had ran for six years and it was funded by DirecTV; however, on September 24, 2005, it was then replaced by PBS Kids Sprout.
PBS Kids ended its run on September 24, 2005, and was then divided into two sub-blocks and they were: PBS Kids Go! and the PBS Kids Preschool Block. An additional three-hour weekend morning block for preschool-aged children that was produced in conjunction with the Canadian production company Nelvana called the PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch debuted in September 30, 2000 and lasted until 2004. The network continues to offer Saturday morning programming as of 2014, though as with most PBS programming, local member stations retain the right to refuse it outright for other programming such as instructional/DIY/cooking programming, carrying it on Sundays instead, or placing it on a subchannel. Other PBS member stations also maintain full-time or half-time subchannels with self-programmed and slotted PBS Kids content which may share channel space with other networks such as Create or a local state political proceedings coverage network.
- United States network television schedules (Saturday morning)
- Saturday morning preview specials
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