Fox drops Saturday cartoons – for infomercials

Foxhas announced it is trading in Sonic the Hedgehog – for a bunch of people riding around in Hoveround chairs.

In a move that ends children’s programming on Fox after 18 years, the network announced it is dropping the 4KidsTV block it had been airing on Saturday mornings. This comes after 4Kids sued Fox for a refund, alleging it owed them money if the clearance levels fell below 90 percent.

The two parties settled out of court, and as a result, the deal between 4Kids and Fox ends on Dec. 27, which will be the last broadcast of Saturday morning cartoons on the network.

As a replacement, Fox instead will be airing infomercials – yes, infomercials – the same ones you see late at night on TV, from Carelton Sheets to Time-Life Music. It is believed this is the first time a major network has opted for long-form commercials outside of President-Elect Barack Obama’s time buy before the recent election.

Fox has being leasing the Saturday morning block to 4KidsTv since 2002 – a year after the network ended its’ weekday afternoon animated block. 4Kids had been paying Fox $20 million for the privilege per year. According to the suit, 4Kids claims Fox owed them $13 million, due to the failure to keep the clearance level above 90 percent. Fox countered it didn’t owe 4Kids any money.

Earlier this year, CW and 4Kids made a deal for the entity to program CW’s Saturday morning lineup, replacing the Kids’ WB fare it has aired for years (going back to The WB days.) The agreement continues, with some 4Kids fare formerly aired on Fox likely winding up on CW.

Fox’s children’s lineup began in 1990 as Fox Kids, as a partnership with the network and its’ affiliates; any profits derived from the programming would be split between both parties. Its’ start however was rocky: 60 or so Fox affiliates was airing The Disney Afternoon two-hour animated block at the time, and Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC Domestic Television) sued Fox to keep those time periods (it didn’t succeed.)

Fox’s afternoon kids block hit its’ peak in the mid-1990’s, with hits like Animanics, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

But ratings dwindled by the end of the decade, as kids inherited more programming options (like cable and DVDs), and many others decided to be heavily-involved in after-school activities, which meant fewer and fewer kids were at home in early fringe to watch TV.

Also, traditional animated fare has fallen out of favor with today’s kids, preferring live-action comedies (think Hannah Montana) and other programming instead.

As for Saturday mornings, the other networks have regulated children’s programming to three-hour educational programming blocks on Saturday or Sunday mornings, pairing them with national and local news shows, a trend started by NBC affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento in 1989, which dropped cartoons for local news shows. As a result, ratings – and revenue – skyrocketed and placed KCRA in first place on Saturday mornings.

Then-NBC affiliate KRON-TV in neighboring San Francisco shortly followed suit, as did stations in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and even here in Chicago – WGN-TV programmed news on weekend mornings for a short-time in the mid-’90’s. The moves led NBC to add a Saturday Today show in 1992, with CBS adding a Saturday news show four years later, followed by ABC with a Saturday edition of Good Morning, America.

Many Fox stations – including WFLD-TV here in Chicago, dropped the 4Kids block, and either punted it to their sister MyNetworkTV station (in this case, WPWR-TV) or some other station in a given market. In Atlanta and Austin, TX – where Fox owns stations, Fox’s 4Kids TV block didn’t air at all.

The move signals an end of an era of sorts – an era that saw a daypart dominated by Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, Garfield, Fat Albert, Bugs Bunny, The Banana Splits, and a whole lot more – not to mention making companies like Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and Film Roman whole lot of money along the way. But let’s face it – it was an era that passed quite a while ago.


2 thoughts on “Fox drops Saturday cartoons – for infomercials

    • It’s unfortunate that we now only have one programming block carrying on the Saturday morning TV tradition of original and traditional shows on a network many online observers believe will not stay for long. Competition from cable/satellite TV, the Children’s Television Act of 1990, and profitable newscasts may have ended the tradition on the other networks, but there is still a chance they could program successful time periods on Saturday mornings like they do in prime time.

      If an effort were to be made to get the 1990 act of Congress repealed, the networks should seize the opportunity during and afterwards and get in contact with creators and producers who want their shows available to all audiences. Cable and satellite TV should not be these creators’ only options to get their material on the air, as there could be no one willing to accept their material, even or 24-hour or niche stations. The networks also need to expand on their definition of what audiences for traditional Saturday morning programming may be and end this notion about animated cartoons being made especially for children. Theatrical cartoons such as the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts were not created with a target audience in mind. Limiting your perspective will limit your subjects and potential audience.

      When the Children’s Television Act is gone and the new shows are getting created, the networks should tell advertisers about the potential audience on a day of the week when many people are still home, especially in the morning. Once everything is in place, have faith in your programming, listen to your viewers, and don’t discourage creators as they work to bring something different to television.

      I assure the networks great success on Saturday mornings just like every night of the week if they are willing to program this time period again. Paid programming, is the easy way out when it comes to revenue, but it’s also a sign for viewers that you have given up to pressure and you’re not trying to entertain them or keep them tuned to one station, even if it’s a short-term solution. If you succeed by making Saturday mornings a priority again, advertisers, viewers, and animation lovers will have faith in your programming again. The future of television and animation in the USA will be secured.

    • Great post, Mario! Thanks for the input. I agree with a lot of what but you said, but I don’t think the Children’s TV Act is going away anytime soon, especially with the new crowd coming in to Washington soon.

      I had the misfortune of sitting through the “Qubo” block in the waiting room at Miller Chevrolet in Matteson, IL a few months ago while my car was being serviced. Man, those shows were awful. Thank goodness I brought my PSP!

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