A weekday cartoon was the colloquial term for the animated television programming that was typically scheduled on weekday mornings and afternoons in the United States on many major television networks from the 1960s to 2015.
1960s and 1970s
Weekday cartoons began as far back as the early 1960s on commercial independent stations in the major U.S. television markets. On such stations, cartoon blocks would occupy the 7-9 a.m. and the 3-5 p.m. time periods, with some stations (such as WKBD-TV and WXON (now WMYD) in Detroit) running cartoons from 6-9 a.m. and 2-5 p.m. In smaller markets, network affiliates sometimes filled the 3 or 4 p.m. hour with such programming. In the 1970s, additional independent stations signed on running such programming (such as WUAB in Cleveland, Ohio; WXNE-TV (now WFXT) in Boston, Massachusetts; WKBS-TV, WTAF-TV (now WTXF-TV) and WPHL-TV in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). The programs were distributed on various television stations (many of which were independent stations) through broadcast syndication.
A number of these weekday cartoons, especially the early ones such as Colonel Bleep, Batfink and Clutch Cargo, were serials that aired in daily, five-minute segments (as opposed to the standard half-hour format typical of most other cartoons to this day). A glut of such shows were produced in the late 1950s and through the 1960s, then syndicated continuously for the next two decades. These programs were usually distributed to local stations to air within their locally produced children's program showcases – which in addition to cartoon shorts, also included games, locally produced or franchised costumed characters (the best known example being Bozo the Clown), and entertainment to form a variety show. This program model slowly died out over the course of the 1980s.
In the 1980s, independent stations signed on in many mid-sized and small markets. This market was meant for made-for-television cartoons which had grown as a result. Many of these stations started running cartoon blocks on weekdays as early as 6 in the morning and as early as 2 in the afternoon. There were some stations that had aired cartoons as late as 6 p.m. on weekdays. The older Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons made way for first-run syndicated cartoons such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Rambo: The Force of Freedom, ThunderCats, Dennis the Menace, My Little Pony, The Transformers, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Voltron, Filmation's Ghostbusters, and reruns of Scooby Doo, Garfield and Friends and The Pink Panther, among many others. Most large and mid-sized markets had at least two local stations running such programming in the 6 to 9 a.m. and the 2:30 to 5 p.m. timeslots. Some markets had as many as three.
Although not meeting the definition of an infomercial per se, animated children's programming in the 1980s and early 1990s, which included half-hour animated series for franchises such as Transformers, My Little Pony Tales, Go-Bots and Bravestarr were often described by media experts and parents derisive of these types of series as essentially program-length commercials, as these programs had tie-in toy lines and food products for the shows that ran within commercials. The Children's Television Act of 1990 was instrumental in ending this practice and setting limits to the amount of advertising time which were allocated to children's programs. Currently, any advertisement for a tie-in product within the show, elsewise the entire program will be classified automatically as a violating half-hour program length commercial according to the FCC's definition, even if one second of a show's character or reference is seen in an advertisement; this clause in Children's Television Act puts the station at risk of paying large fines should the program violate this rule.
In 1987, The Walt Disney Company tried its luck at syndication, through its animation production unit Walt Disney Television Animation; DuckTales debuted that September, experiencing major success and lasting 100 episodes. The success of DuckTales paved the way for a second series two years later, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. In 1989, the two shows aired together as part of a syndicated daily block called The Disney Afternoon. In 1991, Disney added another hour to the block; The Disney Afternoon ran until August 29, 1997, when it was replaced by an unnamed block on September 1, 1997, until 1999, which was then replaced by Disney's One Too - and Disney's One Too had only lasted for four years on UPN and syndication, until it had died in 2003. Since then, there are only a handful of local networks in the United States for ABC that broadcast children's programming. Otherwise, it has been replaced by reality shows, news, tabloid television, talk shows, and among other programming that are meant for adults.
In 1990, Fox began running a weekday afternoon cartoon called Peter Pan and the Pirates. In 1991, the network added another hour of children's programming; this block would be known as "Fox Kids". In some markets, Fox stations ran one show in the morning hours and the other two on weekday afternoons, while other stations carried the entire block in the mid-afternoon hours only.
In 1992, Fox Kids added Warner Bros.-produced cartoons (some of which were previously in syndication) such as Batman: The Animated Series, Merrie Melodies reruns, Tiny Toon Adventures and Tom and Jerry Kids Show to its schedule. Fox stations also carried other syndicated cartoons in addition to those offered by Fox Kids, while independent stations aired Disney-produced cartoons and other syndicated animated series. By this point, many markets had three independent stations running these animated programs. In 1993, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers premiered on Fox. By this point, the Fox Kids block had expanded to three hours in length.
After Fox signed an affiliation agreement with New World Communications to switch several ABC, CBS and NBC-affiliated stations to the network in 1994, the network's new affiliates under New World opted to decline carriage of the Fox Kids lineups, replacing them either with talk and reality shows or additional local newscasts. In the affected markets, the local rights to Fox Kids programming went to an independent station, and eventually an affiliate of either The WB or UPN.
The popularity of the weekday cartoon lineup increased from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Upstart minor network The WB launched Kids' WB in September 1995, which had initially carried an afternoon block of animated series. At that point, shows such as Tiny Toon Adventures that featured Looney Tunes and other classic Warner Bros. animated characters migrated from Fox Kids to Kids' WB. The weekday Kids' WB block initially ran for one hour, before expanding to three hour in late 1996 – two hours in the afternoon and one hour in the morning. By that point, The Disney Afternoon was airing largely on UPN affiliates, along with some WB and Fox stations.
In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – which was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton; among the changes to broadcast regulation incurred by the passage of the law included the relaxing of radio and television ownership limits, it would also regulate children's television substantially. All broadcast television stations would be required to air three hours of educational and informative ("E/I") children's programming on a weekly basis. With a few exceptions; however, the weekday cartoons were then not considered to meet the requirements set by the federal mandates. The Federal Communications Commission also placed new regulations on advertising content, making selling commercial time during entertainment-based children's programming difficult on over-the-air stations (cable channels, in comparison, would not face the same stringent regulations). The decline of the weekday cartoons began in 1997, as the FCC's new regulations on children's programming resulted in complaints from local stations regarding the ability to make airing cartoons financially viable.
Regardless of the new regulations, UPN attempted to run a teen sitcom block in 1997, only for it to be discontinued the following year. Warner Bros. would stop syndicating its vintage theatrical and made-for-TV cartoons to local stations that year, relegating them to cable television. The WB, though, continued to air the Kids' WB block and commissioned the daily cartoon Histeria! to meet the E/I guidelines.
Starting in 1998, some UPN- and WB-affiliated stations would scale back their reliance on syndicated cartoons in morning timeslots in favor of airing family sitcoms, weekday morning local newscasts, and/or court, talk or reality series; many Fox affiliates also started running morning newscasts around this time. The Disney Afternoon ended its run in syndication in September 1999. Disney would then enter into a time-lease agreement with UPN, replacing the UPN Kids block (which debuted in 1996) with Disney's One Too (an extension of ABC's two-year-old Saturday morning block (Disney's One Saturday Morning. Disney's One Saturday morning was on from 1997 until 2002, which it was replaced by ABC Kids - however, ABC Kids had run until August 31, 2011; when it was replaced by a teen-oriented block ran and operated by Litton Entertainment entitled Litton's Weekend Adventure - which it's a block that is family-oriented). Still, there were a decent amount of cartoons were available in syndication, back in the 90's. In 1999, Fox Kids trimmed its weekday block to two hours while adding The Magic School Bus, which occupied an hour of the lineup to meet E/I quotas for its stations.
Beginning in 2000, an increasing number of television stations stopped airing cartoons on weekday mornings and/or afternoons. By now, UPN's stations mainly ran cartoons through the Disney's One Too block. Some WB and UPN stations continued running an hour or so of syndicated cartoons each weekday. Fox affiliates for the most part had used the morning time period to run local newscasts or infomercials and only ran children's programs during the afternoon hours. Some Fox affiliates began dropping the afternoon block; in contrast, UPN, WB and independent stations ran their children's programs only either during the morning or afternoon.
In 2001, the Kids' WB block was trimmed to two hours, removing the one-hour morning block altogether. Syndicated cartoons started to lack station clearances. Fox also ended its weekday afternoon Fox Kids block at the end of that year, with the Fox stations that had been carrying the network's children's block replacing it with talk and reality shows. By 2002, most UPN stations ran Disney's One Too from 7 to 9 a.m. or from 3 to 5 p.m., while WB stations ran Kids' WB from 3 to 5 p.m. In most markets, these were the only cartoons available on local television stations. Some stations ran a syndicated cartoon or live action program to meet E/I guidelines. Still, stations lost revenue running such programs.
On August 29, 2003, UPN discontinued the Disney's One Too block after it chose not to renew its contract with Disney, resulting in the network dropping children's programming entirely. This left Kids' WB as the only children's program block to air weekdays on broadcast network television. UPN-affiliated stations owned by Fox, as well as UPN's parent company, Viacom, continued to run cartoons syndicated by DiC Entertainment (which were also syndicated to other minor network affiliates and independent stations) for two hours each weekday in the 7 to 9 a.m. timeslot. The majority of UPN affiliates still ran only one children's program per day, if that. By 2003, The Daily Buzz, a three-hour syndicated morning news and lifestyle program, would replace weekday morning cartoons on WB- and UPN-affiliated stations in certain markets.
In 2005, the Fox-owned UPN stations decreased weekday cartoons to one hour. In January 2006, The WB relegated Kids' WB to Saturday mornings only, after the conclusion of their weekday cartoon block on December 31, 2005, which had replaced the two hours of network programming time on weekday afternoons with Daytime WB, a two-hour block of sitcom and drama reruns; which continued after The WB ceased operations (along with UPN) in September 2006, and were replaced by The CW (owned by both networks' respective parents, Time Warner and CBS Corporation) with that block being renamed The CW Daytime. That fall, Fox's UPN affiliates, which became owned-and-operated stations of the News Corporation-owned MyNetworkTV, dropped cartoons from their weekday schedules, with some stations only running an educational children's program each day to meet E/I requirements.
By the start of the 2010s, the traditional entertainment-based variety of children's programs that had been popular for years had vanished from broadcast television, being replaced by mostly unscripted (and less profitable) E/I-compliant programs; however, the decreased of more entertainment-based children's shows due largely to tighter regulations on educational and advertising content has led to a substantial erosion in the audience for children's programs on commercial broadcast television overall due to limited creative options for producers. The weekday time periods that were traditionally reserved for children's programming are now ceded to courtroom-based litigation shows, talk shows, reality series, tabloid shows, newsmagazines or off-network syndicated reruns of network television programs. Many of these local stations still have to air a bare minimum of the weekly three-hour requirement of E/I rated programming that was be reported by the federal government to qualify for their license; mostly in the early morning periods (on weekdays, this is most commonly between 7 and 9 a.m.), or once-a-week on Saturday mornings just to have the bare minimum of content that needs to set. Or, the local networks air these specific programming when children have no realistic ability to watch the programming presented to them, because they're at school (E/I regulations prohibit airing the shows at times when children are asleep; however, this regulation also prohibits shows from counting toward E/I if they air before school in most jurisdictions, but does not prohibit airing them while they are on the school bus or at school).
PBS, which has historically carried educational children's programming as part of its lineup for several decades prior to it being mandated, airs a variety of children's programming from 6 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m. local time (the time periods ceded to children's programs vary between the network's member stations). Cable television channels specializing in children's programming such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Discovery Family as well as from on demand streaming and download services such as Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. RedBox, television video on demand services and other video rental outlets also provide alternative ways of distributing children's programming at any time of day or week, without restrictions placed on such programming that an FCC-licensed broadcast station must honor to stay in business or the need for advertising to fund it.
Numerous early cable networks that began in the 1970s and 1980s followed a similar full-service approach to their programming to their broadcast counterparts; this included children's programming blocks, both on weekdays and Saturday mornings. The number of cable channels began to increase rapidly in the 1990s, allowing the diverse full-service networks to split their programming onto specialized networks. In the fall of 1996, the USA Network discontinued its long-running animation block, USA Cartoon Express. TNT followed in the fall of 1998, replacing its cartoons with drama series; TBS (as well as its then-Atlanta parent station WTBS) also followed suit in the fall of 1999 to focus on sitcoms (in those cases, it was specifically to direct viewers to co-owned Cartoon Network and later, Boomerang). In September 2006, ABC Family dropped its Jetix lineup, making it exclusive to Toon Disney. "Ready Set Learn" ended its run on TLC in 2008 and became exclusive to Discovery Kids. Also, in 2014, Disney Channel phased out their weekday cartoons choosing to exclusively focus on its live-action sitcoms geared towards teens although Phineas and Ferb continues to air on the network albeit being relegated to the early morning graveyard slots.
Today, weekday cartoons are relegated to basic cable networks such as Nickelodeon and Disney Channel for much of the day; along with educational and family-oriented programs (as well as educational-oriented networks such as PBS Sprout); and Cartoon Network airs children's programming until 9 p.m. Eastern Time, when the network switches to the teen- and adult-oriented block Adult Swim, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Eastern Time. Other channels focusing on children's programs that are available through digital cable as well as satellite television that feature animated series on weekdays include Boomerang (a spin-off of Cartoon Network, which runs primarily classic cartoons); Disney XD (a spin-off of Disney Channel that replaced Toon Disney in February 2009; which airs a mixture of cartoons and live action series); Nicktoons (a channel dedicated spun off from Nickelodeon, which is featuring that network's original animated programs as well as series exclusive to Nicktoons); and educational-oriented channels such as Sprout and Nick Jr. (with the exception of its adult-oriented NickMom late night block).
Since The WB dropped its weekday block on December 31, 2005, there has not been any other major American commercial broadcast network has aired animated series on weekdays (or children's programming for that matter, other than that was acquired by their local affiliates). Neither The CW nor MyNetworkTV have aired cartoons on weekdays, or any of the Big Three television networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), most of which have opted to lease out children's programming time to other production companies. Other cable networks specializing family-oriented and children's programming have similarly cut back on animated series on weekdays, though nowhere near the level of that done by broadcast television in the 80's and 90's. Even if they were to air such programming, they would have to air it at times in which children are not even awake (5 a.m.-7 a.m.), or they air it directly when they're in school in the morning (7am-9am), and only on certain channels and local affiliates which choose to opt for cartoons; however, they have to air E/I programming because of the federal government's rule on the minimal amount of hours needed. Even if they were to have afternoon programming from the 3pm-5pm, or 2pm-4pm timeslots, they will still need to be required to program E/I programming just like in the morning timeslots, or on every network that has cartoons.
In September 2006, Ion Television launched Qubo, which was a three-hour block of programming (and accompanying digital multicast channel) that originally aired on Wednesday through Friday afternoons – the E/I-compliant block has since moved to other time periods, and since settling on Friday mornings (airing from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, a time period during which most children are at school) in October 2012. On November 1, 2008, This TV launched airing a daily children's program block called Cookie Jar Toons (also known as This is for Kids); the three-hour block aired on Monday through Friday mornings as well as weekend mornings in most markets. This block was discontinued when Tribune Broadcasting assumed partial-ownership of This TV on November 1, 2013 (in favor of a three-hour Sunday-only E/I block), leaving Ion Television's Qubo as the sole remaining weekday children's block on American commercial broadcast television. Besides Qubo, there are only certain markets and syndicated channels that broadcast weekday cartoons and broadcast it in the United States. The weekday cartoon came to an end on January 4, 2015 when the last-remaining weekday children's block on broadcast television, Qubo moved from Friday mornings to Sunday mornings under a new name, "Qubo Kids Corner". This marked the end of a long era in weekday children's programming (including cartoons) going back to the early 1960s.
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- "Fox Gains 12 Stations in New World Deal". Chicago Sun-Times. May 23, 1994. Retrieved June 1, 2013.