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.
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!
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.
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.
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.