If you happen to drag yourself out of bed before noon on a Saturday and tune your TV set to a broadcast network, you might notice something missing. Specifically, what you’d recognize as a traditional Saturday morning cartoon.
Deadline says that in recent years, Saturday morning programming for kids preteen and younger has basically disappeared from the networks. They break it down:
Fox was the first to give up on the preteen audience; it hasn’t aired a show targeting kids under 13 since 2008. ABC switched to an all-13-16 demo in September 2011, when the network dropped all of its shows targeting kids 12 and younger. CBS discontinued all programming for preteens two years later, and the CW followed suit in 2014.
NBC, the last holdout, has confirmed that it will exit the preteen market in October when it switches to a three-hour bloc of Saturday morning shows targeting kids aged 13-16.
Why? Deadline points to some byzantine technicalities related to The Children’s Television Act of 1990, which mandated that networks provide a certain amount of educational content for kids, while stipulating it couldn’t have too much advertising. Only, there was a loophole.
To qualify for this exemption, and to run over 50% more ads than would be allowed on younger kids’ shows, all the stations have to do is tell the FCC that their target audience is children aged 13-16. And that’s what every ABC, CBS, Fox and CW station in the country has done. Quarterly reports they file with the FCC show that the target audience for every single one of their kids’ shows is now the 13-16 demographic. And NBC will be following suit later this year.
Of course, another big factor is the rise of cable networks devoted wholly to kids’ content, as well as streaming services like Netflix, which make it possible for children to binge seven days a week on the more portable screen of their choice.
Nowadays a company called Litton Entertainment does teen-targeted educational programming blocks for ABC, CBS, CW, and soon NBC. “Litton provides award-winning educational programming for teenage audiences,” said reps for the company, but Deadline also notes:
Many of Litton’s shows promote their corporate underwriters. Sea Rescue on ABC, which won the Emmy last month for outstanding children’s series, is sponsored by SeaWorld and presented by SeaWorld Family Entertainment. On a recent episode, the host made several on-air references to the theme park, where much of the show is set and whose rescue teams help injured animals. On many of the episodes, the SeaWorld logo can be seen more than 50 times on the staff’s T-shirts and emblazoned on the sides of vehicles and boats.
Guess it beats whatever they’d be watching on the Internet.
Anyway, here is your opportunity to reminisce fondly about Recess, Pepper Ann, and One Saturday Morning generally.