Saturday mornings used to be for kids.
Weekdays as a kid on Beech Street in Ashdown, Arkansas, started with the two captains — Captain Kangaroo and Cap’n Crunch. Saturdays were for all of the other shows made for children.
You felt ownership of the TV on Saturday. Cartoons were on all three channels. You didn’t have to worry about your parents coming in and switching the dial to some educational show that actually made you learn.
Yes, Saturdays belonged to the youth of America. And we loved it.
Hanna-Barbera produced many of the animated shows on which we grew up. “Jonny Quest” was a favorite. Tim Matheson, who later went on to star in the TV series “The Virginian” and the movie “Animal House,” was the voice of Jonny.
Matheson was just one of several famous people who voiced Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Others included Gary Owens, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers and my absolute favorite, Mel Blanc.
Mel was known as The Man of a Thousand Voices. When he worked at Warner Brothers where all the Loony Tunes were produced, he created the voices for Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, and hundreds of others.
That was another Saturday morning staple. Packaged under various names during the 1960s, Loony Tunes was shown in an hour format, one right after the other. Even though Loony Tunes had a lot more violence than the Three Stooges, my mom let me watch Bugs Bunny blow Daffy Duck’s beak over the back of his head, but Curly getting poked in the eyes by Moe was bad.
Not that I’m still bitter.
Other Saturday morning favorites included “The Quick Draw McGraw Show,” “Top Cat,” “Yogi Bear,” “Space Ghost” and of course, “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.”
Unknown to me as a kid, “Jonny Quest,” “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons” all began in primetime in the early 60s. “The Flintstones” even held the title of longest-running animated series in primetime until it was surpassed by “The Simpsons” in the 1990s.
“Jonny Quest,” “Flintstones” and “The Jetsons” reappeared later on Saturday mornings, along with a new show that was not only my favorite, but the favorite of millions of American kids: “Scooby Doo.”
Now, I have to admit that looking back, the premise of four teenagers and a talking dog chasing down ghosts in a panel van called, “The Mystery Machine,” does seem a bit out there. But as a kid, it seemed like genius.
And I guess it was. Scooby Doo was so popular, it even had guest stars. Real Hollywood actors appeared on the show. Don Knotts, Sonny and Cher and Mama Cass included.
Of course, corporate America took full advantage of having a captive kid audience. We were sold everything from G.I. Joe, to Barbie, to Easy Bake Ovens (which took three weeks to make a cake — my sister had one), to Slip ’N Slides, to Water Wiggles, to Hula Hoops.
And the urban legends of some kid, somewhere, who had gone too fast on the Slip ’N Slide and went into the street and was run over by a gravel truck, or the kid who Hula Hooped too hard and got his hip stuck and never walked again, just made us want them even more.
But the commercials we saw most were for breakfast cereals. And boy, did we bug our moms to buy them for us.
My sister always wanted Lucky Charms to eat while we watched cartoons, and I had my Cap’n Crunch. Even though cereals took all shapes and sizes, they had one thing in common. They were loaded with sugar.
The marketers even found a way to mix cartoons with the cereals.
If kids liked scary Scooby Doo, why not develop Count Chocula and Boo Berry? And who could forget Fred Flintstone chasing Barney Rubble for taking his Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles? Today, my wife won’t let me eat Cap’n Crunch. Fiber has taken the place of fun.
As cable television found its way into more homes, channels that showed cartoons all day became common. For me, that simply turned my childhood favorites into daily baby sitters.
And it took away that Saturday morning magic of feeling as if you and every other kid in America were in full control.
Well, you, Scooby, Shaggy, and Don Knotts.