After These Messages….the Slow Death of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Several weeks ago on September 27th, many of my compatriots in the world signified it as the day that Saturday Morning Cartoons died. It passed away quietly to say the least; no one knelt by it’s bedside, no one took note of the symptoms. At 11:59am, after the credits rolled and whatever regularly scheduled programming cued up, Saturday Morning Cartoons faded into our collective memories like hypercolor shirts and Home Alone movies. But in all seriousness, what we know as Saturday Morning Cartoons has slowly been dying since the early to mid 90s. With the advent of weekday cartoon programming along with channels dedicated to cartoon programs like The Hub, Fox Family, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and Nickelodeon this has been a death long in the making.

Taking a poll, when was the last time any of us got up early to watch a Saturday Morning Cartoon on Network TV? That mean up and present at the time it was being played, not streamed after the fact or TiVo’d and watched later. I bet it’s not many, but that’s not the main contributing factor to why they are gone now. Over the last 20 years of Saturday Morning Cartoons has become less of a major factor in all of our lives. Since it’s inception in the 1960s, Saturday Morning Cartoons grew from it’s simple beginnings of Flintstones, Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. In the 1970s, Hanna Barbera stepped up their game and brought us all a new flood of colourful characters. Then the 1980s explosion of Filmation, Warner Brothers, Rankin Bass and other companies brought us the staples of true nostalgia like He-Man, Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers and other shows far too numerous to mention in one post alone. Another thing happened in the 1980s, and that was mass marketing of children’s programming. That was amplified in the 90s but another thing that happened was the first blow to the sanctity of Saturday Morning Cartoons; September 10th 1990 brought us the Disney Afternoon.

The Disney Afternoon wasn’t the first time there was children’s programming during the week, but it was the first time there was shows exclusively in the middle of the week that weren’t recapped or replayed on the weekend. Also, being the heavy hitter cartoon powerhouse that was Disney, not only did we get great original programming like Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Bonkers, and Darkwing Duck but we also got further adventures of Disney movie blockbusters like Aladdin and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. I’m not sure if Disney has the same power now that it did back then, but I knew kids growing up that if it wasn’t Disney; they didn’t watch it and didn’t care.

Warner Brothers isn’t one to take the undeclared cartoon cold war sitting down. 4 days later on September 14th, 1990, Warner Bros presented Tiny Toon Adventures. Tiny Toon Adventures opened the door for Warner Bros to roll out not only other shows like Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakzoid, and other shows but for a good portion of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s Warner Bros had their own TV station that played cartoons during the weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Joining forces with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer was just about the best way to secure not only a top notch product that would be enjoyed by both kids and adults, but also garner the attention of the media and the awards committee.

Both the Disney Afternoon and the Warner Bros animation block (sorry, not sure if it had it’s own designation) had taken it’s toll on the to-that-point revered Saturday morning cartoons. Sure there was in-fighting between Disney and Warner Bros; pitting their trademark characters against each other for TV time slot supremacy. In the fray we got a couple of great, gritty and more adult shows from both companies with Batman the Animated Series and Gargoyles. The other channels had their hand in undermining both the Disney and Warner Bros powerhouses and Saturday Morning Cartoons by playing cartoons early in the morning on weekdays.

Let’s not forget the onslaught of cable network cartoons, spearheaded by the fine folks over at Nickelodeon / MTV / Viacom as a whole. Shows like Doug, Rugrats, Wild Thornberry’s, and other lighter fare appealed to both younger and older viewers while Aeon Flux, Ren and Stimpy, Liquid Television and Beavis and Butthead are the reasons I became a preteen insomniac. They were fresh, different and had more realistic themes along with crazy, grotesque, drug induced frenzy of the late night shows. They revolutionized cartoon viewing by bringing back the essence of old freak out comics of the 70s in animated form, which was great because I’ve been a fan of R. Crumb, Ralph Bakshi, and Harvey Peakar since I was about 6 years old. You can look at the work of Clasky-Csupo and see a lot of references back to those artists in their work. Nickelodeon has continued to be a big player in the televised cartoon world, most recently with the newest incarnation of the Ninja Turtles.

Also in the early 1990s we got Cartoon Network. Granted it wasn’t till the late 1990s when most of the country got to know it better when their original programming started to garner the attention of both kids and adults. It was the beginning of the end for Saturday Morning Cartoons as we knew it. Cartoon Network branched out for the first time in the late 1990s from it’s repertoire of classic Warner Bros and MGM/Universal cartoons and started it’s own in-house productions like Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Lab. Another exciting time for animation fans for sure, not only were they shows that all ages clicked with but many of the in-house shows from Cartoon Network still bring back great nostalgia moments with people who aren’t active cartoon watchers. Cartoon Network was also instrumental in bringing anime back to American TV in their Toonami animation block that ran every weekday in the afternoon and late nights on the weekends. Other channels followed suit by adding mainstream shows like Pokemon and Digimon to their Saturday Morning line ups, but it may have just been too little too late.

Let us also not forget more adult oriented cartoons in general. Simpsons led the way, which ran strong and unopposed for years till South Park and the never ending glut of cartoons from Seth MacFarlane along with the programming on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. They provided cartoons for us who never really grew up who still loved cartoons but grew tired of the silly simplicity of happy animated characters. They gave us foul mouthed kids, talking action figures, and mildly alcoholic pets that expressed the inner us better than Friends or other sitcoms could. Now these adults (and sometimes unmonitored children) didn’t have to get up early for our cartoon fix, sleep in and stay up late because the good stuff comes on later.

From about 2000 up to a few weeks back, Saturday Morning Cartoons on network TV was lackluster to say the least. Better shows have migrated to the bigger cable TV channels like HUB, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and other channels. Occasionally you’d hear some buzz about a Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon or other relatively under the radar show, but just as soon as you’d hear about it the show was over and cancelled and those not in the know were reduced to hunting down the show somewhere online. A long, lingering death was the ultimate end of what we all knew as Saturday Morning Cartoons. A few of us noticed but few of us cared, for many of us they’ve been dead for a long time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this haphazard rehash of cartoon history.

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RNG Cartoon Review: “Jem” She’s Truly… WTF!!!

By Ana Bruja-Khayos from Living With A Toy Collector

With the up and coming hype behind the live action Jem movie, I finally broke down and watched the classic animated show.  You might laugh but I really didn’t get to watch Jem as a kid.  1) I lived in a very strict pentecostal home, and 2) I was simply too young to enjoy the show.  When Jem came out back in 1985 I was 4 years old and living in Puerto Rico.  By the time I was 7 years old in 1988 the series was off the TV screens.  However, I did remember catching the theme song here and there in Spanish and all that I have to say is that the singers who dubbed the Spanish version really needed a Prozac or two  to cheer them up as they sang they upbeat song. It was sad to listen too just like many horribly dubbed Spanish shows.

Now In my early 30’s I decided “Why the Hell Not”,  I’ll totally watch Jem to see why so many hard core fans love this show.  Plus is on Netflix so I have nothing to lose. 

The Show:

The first episode in the series opens with the horrible news that Jerrica Benton father has just died and she was in the middle of a legal battle with her father’s partner, Eric Raymond, to retain the rights to manage her inheritance along with a record company called Starlight Music her father left to her.  In the middle of the conflict she meets up with a holographic computer created by her father called Synergy which allows Jerrica to create her rock star alter ego called Jem. Because the fate of her inheritance was riding on a bet surrounding a Battle of the Bands by Eric and Jerrica, Jerrica use her alter ego Jem to create the band called  “Jem and the Holograms” to compete against Eric’s Band the Misfits.  Jem and the Holograms won the bet  and that’s how the story began.

To the left the Misfits (Roxy, Pizzazz,Stormer,and Jetta) and the right Jem and The Holograms(Jem, Raya,Aja,Shanna, and Kimber) as of season 3.

The show has a handful of main cast including;  Jerrica Benton who is the owner of Starlight records and Starlight Home Orphanage; Rio who is Jem and The Holograms manager and Jerrica or Jem’s boy friend.. I think ;  Jem  lead singer of the band and Jerrica’s holographic alter ego;  Senergy who is magical computer in which the band could not be possible if it didn’t exist; Kimber Benton is Jerrica’s youngest sister who plays the keyboard in the bad and writes the songs; and Aja Leigth is the guitarist and Shanna Elmsford is the drummer who are Jerrica’s and Kimbers adopted sisters. Later on the series they added Carmen “Raya” Alonso as the new drummer while Shanna went on to play guitar. All five girls represented the magical marketing word called “diversity” by having a  main cast that is white, black, asian, and hispanic cultures represented in one show.  All tho I have no idea what Rio is supposed to be… maybe Brazilian, Italian, Hispanic, Hawaiian, Native American,… Who Knows????

The Stingers (Rapture, Riot, and Minx) from Season 3

 As a supporting cast they have the bad guys who are Eric Raymond  who is trying to steal the company away from Jerrica, and the Misfits which has Pizzazz as a lead singer and guitarist who is also incredibly rich and is a horrible stereotype of what happens when rich people spoiled their kids and never say no to them, Roxy as the second guitar player who I’m not quite sure why she is in the Misfits because she’s really a good guy in disguise, Stormer plays the  keytar… yes a KEYTAR… Google it up…  and she’s just angry and illiterate, and down the line they added British Saxophonist called Jetta who is  a con artist and a royal piece of work.  As the season expanded into season 3, they added another rival band called the Stingers but to be honest by this point I think most of us lost track of all the crazy drama and it seem they were trying to hard. Oh by the way you also have 3rd rate banana characters that included Dance, Video, Clash, Erics heacham  #1 and #2, and the girls from the orphanage.  These characters appeared randomly and some were allies of Jem and the Holograms but they were not featured in every episode.

What I think of the show

To be honest the show totally took me by surprise.  All these years I thought he show was a very Barbie Bimbo type of show but in reality the show had some very complicated relationships, morbid moments, and dark situations that really keeps you watching. Best way to describe it is “My first Soap Opera”. The main complicated situation is how Jerrica continues to mess with Rio (her long time boyfriend) by constantly cockteasing him with Jem.  Rio was trying to stay loyal to Jerrican but Jem (who is really Jerrica) constantly throws herself at him as her holographic self  Jem and confusing the crap out of the poor guy who doesn’t realize he’s really not cheating because she is really the same girl.  What gets even more screwed up is how Jerrica gets mad at him because she is Jealous of her self as Jem, and doesn’t know if Rio loves her as Jerrica or as Jem.  You follow me yet???? Yea!!! Totally screwed up.  Plus Jerrica/Jem refuses to tell Rio they are both the same person and the complications in their relationship(s) continue to degrade more and more through the series due to Jem secrezy of her true identity and how Jerrica is always too busy to spend time with Rio as herself.

Rio and Jerrica’s/Jem’s Screwed up relationship(s).

The bad guys on this show are as screwed up as the main cast.  I’m convinced that the Misfits are the main reason why guys think all women are crazy. Just within the first few episodes they could legally be charge with destruction of private property, theft, attempted murder, reckless driving just to name a few.  Their manager Eric Benson is no better and can be charged with kidnaping, fraud, and the list of charges goes on and on.  The other band, The Stingers, weren’t any better.  In the entire series I think there was only one episode in which the bad guys were arrested for doing something wrong.  The rest of the series no cops to be found. Go figure.

The show has some inconsistencies that sometimes I had a hard time tracking.  For example on the first episode Jerrica was supposedly a girl in her teens, but with in the first few episodes it seem that was thrown out the window and all of the sudden Jerrica/Jem and the Holograms were treated as if they were in their early 20’s witch to be honest allowed them to get away with more stuff. I already talked about how screwed up Jerrica/Jem situations is towards Rio and Rio swinging back on forth on that.  Jerrica’s young sisters Kimber had several guys she was fooling with and she seem to trade them up like man candy  and switch between them like a pair of dressing shoes until later on in the series.   Then there’s the strange crazy kind of sort of relationship Jem had with the lead singer of the Stingers Riot.  She never liked him but in some episodes she kind of did but in other episode she’s trying to get away from him.  I don’t know… it all makes great school girl TV. 

All in an all the show is very addictive.  Between all the screwed up situations, sad tear jerkers, and all the songs they played per episode this series is A-OK!! I highly recommend re watching it before the movie is released next year.

About the Show:

Jem ran from 1985 to 1988 and it has 3 seasons equaling a total of 65 episodes.  Jem was created by Hasbro and the animation was produced by Sunbow Productions animation studios.  Sunbow Production is also well known for creating other popular animated shows in the 80’s such as the original My Little Pony, G I Joe, Transformers, Jem, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars, The Tick, just to name a few.  Just like many of our loved cartoon characters, Jem actually had two personalities playing her on the show. Samantha Newak as the voice of Jem/Jerrica and Britta Phillips sang the intro song along with the rest of songs in the series but she also was the voice of Kimber and Aja.  Other casting voices were Cindy McGee as the voice of Shanna, and Linda Dangcil as the voice of Raya.

Each episode feature 3 songs, one which was a full music video.  This included the two variations of the intro song, the music video in the episode and the end credits which was always “Jem- Truly, Truly, Outrageous”.  The show made it a point to make sure the music videos had a look that was easily associated with the rock videos seen on MTV in that time period.  The show did a very good job giving each band a very unique sound to their music.  Jem and The Holograms had more a pop sound to their music, The Misfits had underground punk rock sound, and for the Stingers they had a seductive sexy rock groove to them.

While on the air the show averaged around 2.5 million viewers weekly and it aired in countries like US, Australia, Canada, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and France.  The show received several awards and also had it’s own toy line.  Sadly Hasbro’s Jem and the Holograms dolls were competing with Mattel’s Barbie and the Rockers dolls.  Due to poor sales they were sold at a discounted price but they continued production with the show until 1988. If you din’t get your Jem doll back then don’t worry, Hasbro along with Integrity toys decided back in 2011 that they will release a new collectible version of the Jem dolls that retailed on their released date in 2012 at a whopping price of $135 each.  They are truly OUTRAGEOUS but beautiful dolls and an amazing quality that stay true to the original show.

Live action Movie

To be quite honest I don’t’ know much about the live action movie except that they just started production in April of 2014.  I personally don’t recognize any of the movie stars they casted as the Jem and the Holograms but I’m willing to give it a chance.  The movie will be directed by Jon M Chu witch has directed  Step Up 2, Step Up 3D, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and the G I Joe Retaliation movie.  So far the G I Joe movie is the only cool movie listed under his resume. LOL To me so far the poster for the Jem Live Action Movie looks cool so I’m crossing my fingers on this one.

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