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.

Broadcast Networks, Journalism, Television , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to Fox drops Saturday cartoons – for infomercials