It’s been a few years since the major networks ceased doing their Saturday Morning Cartoons blocks on TV. As a child in the 80’s and into the 90’s the whole ritual of getting up early on Saturday morning and being glued to the TV wasn’t just something we did, it was pretty much all we did.
Everyone has different memories of the Saturday Morning cartoons. For me it was often fighting my three sisters for control over what we watched next. Fortunately we did have 2 TV sets, although the smaller one was in black and white and was mostly used for video games, it still caused many fights that often ended with someone getting hurt. My oldest sister is 3 years my senior so she always wanted to watch stuff like Soul Train and in later years MTV. My immediately younger sister was barely a year and a half younger than I was so she typically had similar tastes in cartoons as I did, except she had this weird obsession with puppets so he gravitated towards stuff like Eureka’s Castle, Fraggle Rock and things of the like. I could get her into Pound Puppies, Snorks and Muppet Babies just fine, but she protested watching Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Transformers, G.I. Joe or even Scooby Doo. I never could figure out what she didn’t like about Scooby and friends. Then there was my baby sister. She had no say, all she wanted to watch was Rugrats and Nicktoons, didn’t matter what day of the week. When they moved Doug and Recess and all that Nickelodeon crap over to my network TV slots I sort of moved on and let her have it.
Of course not all the cartoons we watched aired first on Saturday mornings. Often times they were re-runs of syndicated shows and shows that ran earlier in the week. To that end we never really knew what we were going to get. My earliest memories were watching the Heroic Autobots battle the Evil Decepticons for control of the world’s energy sources. You could argue that watching this show about robots running out of energy contributed to my interest in alternative energy sources, but let’s not give too much credit to the animators of a Japanese cartoon. Save some of the blame for Captain Planet and his Planeteers that would come much later.
Another thing I liked to do during the week was record episodes of cartoons, commercials, and other shows that interested me and play them back on the weekend. I didn’t do this often but it was something I would dabble in. Normally I would end up erasing one of my sisters’ boy band concert videos so when they found out I taped over their boy crush for a bunch of random commercials and crap they would usually go ballistic. Most of my memories were fighting my sisters over what to watch more than enjoying the actual program. Because of this what we typically did was landed on one channel, watched it until commercials then flipped as fast as we could to the next and so on and so forth. This meant we were only getting bits and pieces of each show, but it was better than sitting through an entire episode of that lame New Kids on the Block cartoon that, in my opinion, never should have existed. Those brief moments in between when I got a glimpse of M.A.S.K., or C.O.P.S (why did so many cartoons back then use acronyms?), that’s when I would get excited.
I did eventually get crafty in my ability to turn my sisters on each other. I found ways to get the baby to play with her toys while I would get my younger sister and older sister fighting over a hair brush or article of clothing or something sisters cared about then I would sit on the floor way too close to the tube and claim it for my own. Once my parents would see I was firmly engrossed in a show if one of my sisters tried to change the channel they would get scolded with a firm “You weren’t even watching it, he was let him finish his show.” This strategy worked more often than not. I can’t be sure if they ever caught on because the oldest sister moved on to chasing boys and the youngest sister was easy to manipulate leaving the one opponent, the middle child. Even at the tender age of 8 I quickly learned how to negotiate with the middle child. I would usually agree let me watch this show and the next one and you can have it after that while I play Super Mario Bros. Since I tended to hog the Nintendo and always force my sister to be Luigi, it was easy for me to casually hint that she could play as Mario while I watched my shows. Then all I had to do was enjoy my programs while she romped through the Mushroom Kingdom with player 1 controller in hand for a change. This strategy didn’t always work as my parents were slow to increase our catalog of Nintendo games and my sister was quick to lose interest in the three games we did own for the longest time.
Manipulating my sisters was only half the battle. I also had to find crafty ways to get my parents out of the house in order to prolong the part where dad would kick me out of the house to play outside while he napped on the couch with the TV tuned to some fishing show or NASCAR or whatever else it was adults watched to fall asleep. Normally by the time the parents told us to play outside I would casually, sometimes sneakily, make my way into whichever side room had the video games and try to get in as many rounds of Atari or Nintendo as I could. We still had both systems well into the 90’s so this usually worked out until my parents just decided to give me my own TV set and I ended up winning the war for the TV after all was said and done.
For me it was mostly fought on Saturday mornings. Everyone remembers those blocks. I didn’t have much preference either. I would sit through an episode of the Alf or Teen Wolf cartoon, flip it over to an episode of Care Bears or even sit through an episode of Rainbow Brite if that’s what it took to keep the cartoons going and the old westerns my parents enjoyed off the TV. The battle continued Monday through Friday as I would get up at 5 in the morning, turn the TV to a minimum volume and sit through episodes of The Odd Couple, Perfect Strangers, Mork and Mindy, even Kate and Allie, just so I could stake my claim to the TV set before school.
I had a set list of shows I couldn’t miss. Transformers was TOP priority. It didn’t matter if it was Saturday morning, before school, after school or a random tape I rented from the video store, if there was a chance I could get my buddy Optimus Prime on the TV set I was going to do whatever it took. Priority number 2 was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I would also watch this regularly whenever it aired as well as rent tapes from the video store. Priority 3 was X-Men the Animated series. This came alter but once I discovered it this show became a must watch. Fortunately for me both of my younger sisters developed an equally strong interest in X-Men characters (they each also collected the comics and trading cards as did I) so it was much easier to get them to call a truce when that show came on. Then down the list the priority was, shows with robots, shows with magic, shows with mutants, shows with cute girls that had purple or pink hair (yeah I was weird sue me) then at the bottom of the list was shows with talking animals. This, of course, only applied to cartoons.
Live-action shows was much different. I prioritized shows with a cute girl I crushed on, Saved by the Bell it was Kelly, Sabrina the Teenage Witch/Clarissa Explains it All it was, you guessed, the awesome Melissa Joan Heart, and okay well there wasn’t a cute girl on Boy Meets World, I just found that show funny as hell. And in case you are wondering, it was the red head with glasses on any show that had a red head with glasses. Or any girl with glasses. For some reason I was into chicks with glasses… Okay moving on…
By the time the 90’s rolled around I was shifting into more live-action stuff like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad, and CGI animated shows like Reboot and Beast Wars. I only gave Beast Wars casually passing as I was a die-hard TRUKK NOT MONKEE type. Still I eventually came around and became more interested in that show. The 90’s also saw my tastes briefly shift to anime. I got into Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, Dragon Ball Z, The Slayers, Patlabor, and even Digimon for a while. By the time my anime watching friends were getting into Powerpuff Girls I had snapped out of it and the anime spell was broken. I haven’t hardly looked back either. I do remember though, the Saturday Anime block that came on the Sci-Fi channel. We didn’t have cable when we were very young, so we didn’t have the Sci-Fi channel (as it was called back then) until mid-95. By that time I was pretty much over the Saturday Morning cartoon craze.
Those are some of my memories, please comment your thoughts, memories and stories plus favorite cartoons from the 80s and 90s, anime excluded if you can.