Weekend Roundtable: Saturday Morning Cartoons

The Smurfs may be feature film stars these days, but the little blue gnomes are perhaps best known for their Saturday morning cartoon that ran all through the 1980s. When you were a kid, what other TV shows did you crawl out of bed early to watch on the weekends?

If you need a memory refresher, this Wikipedia hub page has links to the network TV schedules for various years.

Shannon Nutt

Kids today (or even those who were kids a decade ago) really have no concept of the Saturday morning cartoon ritual of the past. When I was young, VCRs didn’t exist yet (at least not for consumers), we had four TV stations to pick from (one of them being the rarely watched PBS), and unless your local affiliate ran ‘The Flintstones’ in syndication in the evenings, Saturday morning was the only time to see animation.

First of all, you’d wake up at the crack of dawn, since the festivities usually started at 8 AM but you needed (at least I did) to get all the other stuff (breakfast, brushing teeth, etc.) out of the way first. I was never one of those kids who lounged around in his PJs until noon.

I remember the bad cartoons almost as much as the good. How I ever sat through shows like ‘Hong Kong Phooey’, ‘Captain Caveman’ or ‘Ghostbusters’ (the other Ghostbusters, not the ones you’re thinking of), I’ll never know. But I do know the highlight of my Saturdays was the 90-minute ‘Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show’, which primarily just showed ‘Merrie Melodies’ shorts that previously ran in theaters (back in the day when cartoons played before features). To this day, I prefer those old Warner Bros. cartoons over anything that Disney makes.

I was also a fan of the pre-Scrappy ‘Scooby-Doo’ and the pre-Wonder Twins ‘Super Friends’. My era’s animated ‘Batman’ series was ruined by giving him the sidekick Bat-Mite, but I still watched it. See, even in the ’70s, nobody got those DC superheroes right!

Luke Hickman

As a kid, there was nothing better than waking up early enough on Saturday mornings to catch four hours of excellent television. My brothers and I watched an array of series, but one of my all-time favorites was ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse‘. We’d get out our collection of Pee-wee toys for the occasion (including Pee-wee, Chairee, Jambi, Pterri, Conkey, Globey and Randy) and watch it each week. We were the nerds who would scream with Pee-wee each time the week’s secret word was said. The most-quoted and referenced episode among the Hickman boys was the hour-long 1988 Christmas special. None of us can look at fruitcake without talking about using fruitcakes as bricks to build an extension on a house. As a 36-year-old, that special is just as entertaining today as it was when I was eight.

Brian Hoss

I enjoyed very few Saturday morning cartoons, and yet I watched a lot of bad associated properties, such as ‘The Real Ghostbusters’, ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘Little Rosey’. (Such a bizarre content pipeline.) Some Saturday exclusives I liked included ‘The Pirates of Dark Water’ and ‘The Tick’. I even have some fond memories of ‘Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire’.

M. Enois Duarte

I’m not originally from the United States, so my television watching on Saturday mornings was quite different from others here. Growing up, I watched a show called ‘El Chapulín Colorado’ (or ‘The Crimson Grasshopper’), a silly sketch comedy program for kids featuring a dimwitted superhero who fights crime dressed as a grasshopper. I also remember watching ‘El Show de Cepillín’, which was a variety show with a clown for a host, and reruns of ‘Topo Gigio’.

It wasn’t until I arrived in the U.S. that my Saturday mornings were preoccupied with shows like ‘Fangface’, ‘Captain Kangaroo’ and ‘Blackstar’. My favorites were the ‘Scooby-Doo’ cartoons, which I like to think kickstarted my passion for spooky things. A couple years later, I only made an effort to watch Saturday morning programs for things like ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’ and reruns of ‘The Munsters’, ‘The Addams Family’, ‘The Little Rascals’ or ‘The Three Stooges’.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I have a very vivid memory of darting into my parents’ bedroom at something like 6:30 AM one Saturday morning, turning on their TV, and shouting “Look!” as Wheeljack’s neck-bulbs lit up mid-conversation. My startled, confused mom and dad had no clue what was going on, but I sure did. I had just discovered ‘The Transformers’ animated series, and I was so excited that I couldn’t possibly keep this revelation to myself. I have no idea why it aired at such a miserable time, but I was there bright and early every Saturday morning regardless, at least up until ‘Transformers’ started airing on weekdays in Charleston. I was so determined not to miss a minute of it that I was always perched in front of the television even earlier than necessary, catching the tail-end of ‘Daniel Boone’ along the way.

I still know about as many words to the ‘Daniel Boone’ closing theme now as I did thirty-something years ago, and my Transformers fandom continues to run so deep that I’ve subjected myself to all the dismal live-action movies and am currently playing through ‘Transformers: Devastation’, Platinum Games’ love letter to one of my all-time favorite animated series.

Josh Zyber

Like Shannon, I vividly remember the crappy Filmation ‘Ghostbusters’ show (which existed only due to a copyright loophole involving the name, necessitating that the official ‘Ghostbusters’ cartoon spinoff be called ‘The Real Ghostbusters’). In fact, I can’t ever think about the proper Ghostbusters without Filmation’s annoying earworm theme song running through my head: “Let’s go, ghost-busters. Let’s go. Let’s go!” Thinking about it now has got it stuck in my brain again. Argh!!

However, as I look it up, it turns out that ‘Ghostbusters’ was not a Saturday morning show, but rather aired during weekdays. Only ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ played on Saturdays.

I was the type of kid who felt it not just necessary, but practically an obligation, to watch the entire block of Saturday morning cartoons, even the ones I didn’t like. Not only did I watch a ton of ‘Smurfs’, I sat through their underwater knockoff ‘The Snorks’ and other assorted junk like ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’, ‘The Berenstain Bears’ (at the time, I lived in the alternate universe where that one was spelled “Berenstein”), ‘Turbo Teen’, ‘Pac-Man’, the ‘Mr. T’ cartoon, and even ‘Gilligan’s Planet’. I was so obsessed with my Nintendo Entertainment System that I eagerly tuned in to see ‘Captain N: The Game Master’. What a letdown that turned out to be.

Honestly, about the only Saturday morning cartoons I’m not embarrassed to admit I watched were ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ and ‘Muppet Babies’. Those two at least had some degree of creativity to them.

What was your Saturday morning ritual when you were a kid? Tell us your stories in the Comments.

25 comments

  1. It’s funny to see ‘El Chapulín Colorado’ mentioned here. I loved in Nicaragua for two years (in the early 2000s) and that series was still airing! Funny, silly stuff!

  2. Csm101

    Good one E! “no contaban con mi astucia!” I used to watch Chespirito also, but it wasn’t a Saturday morning thing. I don’t remember these in order, but here goes. Godzilla, looney Tunes, Smurfs, Tarzan, Drac Pack, Hero High, Mon chee chees, Orbots, Turbo Teen, The Real Ghostbusters although they also had them during the week but in the weekend Peter Venkman’s voice was sometimes obviously different and I didn’t like it as much. Some of these I would sit through in anticipation of the ones I really liked, but they all bring back fond memories. I’m sure there’s a ton more.

  3. Guy

    I know I watched Saturday morning kids shows, but it’s not what’s most concrete in my mind. In the era just before kid-centric cable channels became daily destinations for kids, Fox ran an almost identical programming block to their Saturday lineup on weekdays after school. Local affiliates had some stake in it because everywhere I visited in those days, the local Fox had in-market on-air personalities promoting kid-friendly activities in that city and introducing the shows. So the five days I watched that stuff vs. the one groggy morning a week for Saturday definitely affects how I remember cartoons.

    For much of the 90s, I was getting my Batman or Superman animated fix during that afternoon Fox Kids block (as well as live-action Power Rangers). The latter half of the 90s went more live-action heavy on Fox Kids with all the Saban Power Rangers knockoffs, but I got great joy out of afternoon airings of Digimon – Pokemon’s less famous but superior competition. Each day, when the helicopter flying over the hills signaled the 5 pm syndicated MASH reruns, the fun was over.

    As for actual Saturday mornings, Ninja Turtles, X-Men and Spider-Man are all I ever sought out that I see there on Wikipedia. They weren’t on in the afternoons. That feels wrong to me because those Saturday morning line-ups are missing much of what I watched. Additional searching on Wikipedia for specific shows tells me I was into a lot of syndicated animation, so who in the world knows what time or day I was seeing that stuff. Gargoyles, Beast Wars (Transformers spin-off), Biker Mice from Mars, Street Sharks (TMNT rip-off) and numerous others feel like weekend shows to me, but I can’t be sure. Also muddying my memory waters, for some time USA or TBS used to show reruns of the just before my time Transformers and GI Joe on weekday mornings. I’d watch those while eating breakfast before school.

    All these years later, the specifics have blended together into cartoon soup that’s difficult to parse, but it was all enjoyable. Luckily, the Timm-Dini DC comics shows, Gargoyles, Digimon and parts of Beast Wars hold up reasonably well to adult eyes. It was a good era for animation.

    • Guy

      For the back half of the 90s I conflated some Fox Kids with some Kids WB. Digimon was on Fox, the post-Batman DC shows were all at The WB for obvious corporate reasons. I also remember the animated Men in Black series The WB aired for one distinct reason: it was my introduction to meta-humor. One episode saw Agents Jay and Kay in Hollywood on a case. While there, a joke about a Men in Black movie starring obvious allusions to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones got made. The agency figured it could only help them with cover-ups. If anyone saw and talked about Men in Black activities, the rest of the public would just see a nutter that couldn’t tell movies from reality.

  4. Ah yes, there were a few.

    Muppet Babies was my number one choice growing up. Been hoping for years to see a home video release of all the episodes, but I doubt it will ever happen.

    The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show I think lasted just one season.

    Garfield and Friends was one that had me hooked all the way until the show got canceled.

    When I was very young, I also watched Getalong Gang.

    The sad thing was on Saturday mornings, you pretty much had to pick a single network to watch. We had one VCR in the house. I did figure out how to watch one channel while recording the other, so I started recording CBS (all of the above) while watching ABC. NBC never got a chance for me.

    On ABC, the two shows I liked were Pound Puppies and Flintstone Kids

  5. photogdave

    Nice trip down memory lane! Once I was old enough to pour milk onto my Shreddies all my byself, I’d be rooted in front of the TV watching Blue Falcon and DynoMutt, the Clue Club (with Woofer and Sniffer dog detectives), Speed Buggy, Jabber Jaw (the most futuristic shark you ever saw!), Captain Caveman etc. I think those were all pretty much Hanna-Barbera shows.
    Other favorites were Frankenstein Jr., Batman and Filmation’s Tarzan.
    I also used to be into live-action shows like Kroft Superstars with Wonder Bug, Dr. Shrinker, Electric Woman and Dyna Girl etc. The Bay City Rollers also had a fun variety show with some of the Kroft characters on it.
    Sunday had some strange shows like Hercules and Rocket Robin Hood. I seem to recall watching Battle of the Planets on Sunday, but I could be wrong. I loved that show and it really got me into anime, paving the way for Star Blazers and Robotech.

  6. Adam

    Australia in the 80’s ran some awesome cartoons on Saturday mornings. My routine would involve sneaking out to the living room, pushing the volume knob on the TV all the way down to zero (so I could gradually sneak it up to listenable levels without disturbing the parentals), and turning the set on. My faves were Astro Boy, Voltron, Masters Of The Universe and Transformers, but I have fond memories of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Ozu no mahôtsukai), Lucky Luke, Thundercats, Muppet Babies, and Dungeons & Dragons.

    As I got older, we got Saturday Morning Disney, which ran Darkwing Duck, Rescue Rangers and Marsupilami.

  7. Bryan

    Oh how I loved “Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends” … and then later on the solo Spider-Man series and Hulk series that took it’s place. The original X-Men “Pryde Of The X-Men” pilot/one-shot aired with them as well. As a young kid in the early ’80s that loved Marvel Comics, that block of programming was heaven to me. (and yes, I even watched “The Thing” cartoon where he was a teenager and used the rings to change into The Thing and occasionally teamed up with Fred and Barney from the Flintstones…. which thinking back on it on now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense! 🙂 )

    • EM

      I thought maybe you were confused about the Thing and the Flintstones, but Fred and Barney Meet the Thing really was a…thing. My research also reveals that at the time, Marvel published a Flintstones comic. Somehow all this information had eluded me. It’s amazing what one can learn. Thank you.

      You know what would have made the Thing half of the show even better? If H.E.R.B.I.E. had been Benjy’s sidekick!

  8. Bryan

    almost forgot, G1 Transformers was my favorite, but I don’t really consider that a Saturday morning show – it was more a M-F afternoon show …. (similar to other toy ad cartoons that I loved like M.A.S.K. and Silverhawks.)

  9. I was a Saturday morning cartoon junkie! One of my favorite times in life. As a 70s born kid, the late 70s and 80s provided a treasure trove of material.

    Alvin and the Chipmunks
    Scooby Doo (pre (S)crappy of course) repeats
    Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show – I knew they were lesser versions and chopped up versions of the originals, but I still loved them.
    Muppet Babies
    Fat Albert
    Snorks (never was the biggest Smurf’s fans. Felt the Snorks had more characters instead of the hive mentality)
    All flavors of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons (Including Tom and Jerry and MGM Shorts)
    Jetsons
    Flinstones
    Saved by the Bell

    That’s just a tip of the iceberg. There are probably 20 more I knew and loved!

    Had to wake up every Saturday at 6:30am to start off the festivities. Well worth it!!! The worst was when soccer or baseball was early enough to get in the way of the toons…

    Wish kids these days knew the glory of Saturday mornings. Kids only networks and countless cable channels have ruined a once glorious tradition.

    I only wish Cartoon Network was what it once was, or that Boomerang was what it once was.

  10. Mark Hale

    My Saturday Morning heyday was in the mid 60’s to the mid 70’s. So here are the ones I would watch if they were around today.
    Underdog
    Heckyl and Jeckyl
    Wacky Races
    Scooby Doo
    Mighty Mouse
    Spider-Man
    Johnny Quest
    Woody Woodpecker
    Droopy
    Pink Panther
    and the greatest cartoons of them all
    Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons

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