Raging Nerdgasm #321 – Jakks Pacific 4ft Michelangelo TMNT

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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NickToons Cat Dog Plush and figures

Nickelodion Cat Dog Kids Meal Toys at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ragingnerdgasm/sets/72157631046635164

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NickToons Plush by Jazwares Cat Dog https://www.flickr.com/photos/ragingnerdgasm/sets/72157631661452265/

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My irrational love for Count Duckula – A Raging Nerdgasm Moment

 

(a brand you can trust)

I have, what I will describe as, an irrational love for “things”. I get hung up on stupid things, it’s one of my admitted shortcomings. I make lists of these things; toys, cartoons, video games, restaurants, hamburgers, ways to prepare macaroni and cheese, costumed Disney characters, etc. These lists go on and on forever, I probably have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder if you analyze it hard enough. If I was to compile a list of cartoons I love irrationally, Count Duckula is probably near the top for sure. Granted, the cartoon doesn’t exactly hold up well against re-watching it now that I’m an adult but honestly which cartoons do? He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is hard to watch (even harder to watch without making a few “gay” jokes to pass the time), Thundercats is pretty much a snore-fest (I swear the lady voicing Cheatara was smoking blunts in between takes) and C.O.P.S, (for as great a concept as it was) seems exceedingly childish when watching it as an adult. Believe me I know these cartoons are made for kids but they seemed so amazing when I was younger. So their mission was accomplished at least, they were entertaining. Not every cartoon can have the staying power of Batman: The Animated series, Pinky and the Brain, Gargoyles, Animaniacs or even Darkwing Duck/DuckTales (I count them as one continuity, but I’ll explain that in another blog). Without further lamenting over ancient cartoons, I give you my irrational love for Count Duckula.

(That is one epic intro)

Count Duckula was a British cartoon that made it’s way into American homes care of the fine folks at Nickelodeon. This was far before NickToons was established and the channel got a lot of it’s programming from secondary sources outside the USA (You Can’t Do That On Television was Canadian). The first time I saw it was when it debut on the channel back in the late 80s and I couldn’t have been more than 7 at the time. I was already a strange little kid, trading playtime outside with other kids on Saturday morning and afternoon for watching network TV cartoon programming blocks and Dr Paul Bearer’s Saturday afternoon Creature Feature or trading birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese for getting massive hauls of video games and toys instead (a $200 birthday party equals a lot of loot, especially when you get to do the shopping). A cartoon about an animated vampire duck was totally up my alley in a big way.

(that’s a hell of a family)

The cartoon starts off dark and eerie with a gloomy castle, a lightning storm, a pentagram and a deep voiced narrator. Oh yeah, it’s getting really good now. The explanation of the character thickens as they go on to saying that he’s been killed several times in the past and can only be resurrected once every 100 years while the moon is in the eighth house of Aquarius. This is awesome for me because even as a little kid I knew the references they were making to the Hammer Horror films. Ketchup accidentally gets substituted for the blood needed for the incantation to go correct and out springs Count Duckula the 17th……the world’s first and only vegetarian vampire duck? Needless to say I was confused but still engaged and interested enough to keep watching.

(Duckula as seen on Danger Mouse)

The good count made his first appearance in the Danger Mouse cartoon as a reoccurring bad guy. They make a correlation between the appearances in the Count Duckula cartoon by having him wear Danger Mouse pajamas. It’s said that every time the count is resurrected he has no memory of his previous lives and no preset disposition (besides the blood sucking thing but CD the 17th breaks that mold). They compliment the character by giving him a stereotypical gothic butler who is rather disappointed in him not being a vampire and an oafish hulk of a nanny who’s certainly stronger than she is smarter. Even the antagonists give more throwbacks to classic horror such as Dr Von Goosewing, a send off to the classic vampire hunter Van Helsing. The Count also doesn’t suffer from the Dracula cliches like being deathly allergic to sunlight. I never count the whole steak to the heart thing because I haven’t met a person on this planet that can withstand that wound. The show is entertaining and does a decent job of spoofing classic Dracula lore and hit me at an influential time where that love for classic horror needed to be fed in a particular way.

(not the signed copy, it’s in storage at the moment)

As for feeding my irrational love for the cartoon, I have done well if I say so myself. I have a t-shirt with the cartoon logo on it and the entire series on DVD and digital download. I have the entire comic book run with 2 copies of the Geraldo Rivera issue, one signed by Geraldo himself about 4 years ago when I sent him two copies and graciously asked him to sign one in return. I’m fairly certain I can  recite the theme song from beginning to end (I’m less proud of that now that I’m reading it typed out). Recently, while trying to feed my need for another piece of Count Duckula memorabilia, I lost an auction for a bootleg articulated figure from Argentina made exclusively for the South American market. That was a sad day but there’s never just one of anything in the world. I set my sights on eBay but little did I know where my next fix for Count Duckula was coming from.

(the spoils of the hunt)

And my most recent addition to feed my addiction was licensed Count Duckula figurines from a defunct company called Star Toys of Spain. Star Toys made licensed toys for the European market like figurines for the likes of the WWF, they also made highly desirable 14 inch WWF figures with tons of accessories and rooted hair like a doll. I had seen the gamut of Count Duckula related merchandise and never been impressed enough to buy any of it. T-shirts I can make at home with iron on transfers, mousepads are silly keepsakes and I can’t bring myself to buy a Count Duckula costume; I’m way too fat to even attempt it as a joke. I knew that one day I’d come across something worth buying. And hopefully that day would come before I was forced by my irrational admiration for the series to buy something silly, forcing my hand in the name of fandom to spend money against my better judgement.

I’m glad my wife found these while hunting at the local flea market. Buying things online is tough when you aren’t familiar with the product. For all I know these could be complete garbage and not worth the time or money to import ( older European toys rarely show up at conventions or shops and worldwide shipping is the bane of my existence). My wife saw them in a flea market booth weeks ago hiding in a rotating jewelry case full of other figurines. 2 of the Count and 1 of Dr Von Goosewing, I normally don’t buy variants of main characters but with a great collection comes great responsibility to buy everything you see. Luckily the booth owner was someone we have bought things from in the past so she took pity on me and gave me a decent enough price break considering the rarity of the items in question.

The standing Count Duckula is probably my number one favorite out of the three I purchased. As for likeness he gets a strong A+. The paint job is a little chalky looking and at first I thought it was an eraser but it really does match the cell shaded, unremastered glory that is the original source material. It’s like both the figure and the cartoon gracefully aged together. I’d even consider using this as a birthday cake topper for myself in the near future I like it so much. Don’t question my logic here…….

 

The guitar playing Count Duckula is probably my least favorite of the three I purchased. He was the one where I reasoned with myself about already buying two figurines and even though it
was a variant of the main character, when would I see this again in my hand. Once again irrational love wins over logic and it cost me another $8.

 

Dr Von Goosewing was an excellent addition to the score. Totally my second favorite of all three, usually you see Igor the butler or Nanny online but I haven’t seen Goosewing while I’ve been hunting. The sculpt is great, they nailed everything from his spats to the crosshairs on his gun ( a blunderbuss!) . An exciting find and a total win for my collection. My wife has a very keen eye and without it I’d still have a need to add these to my collection.

 

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Aaaaah Real Monsters Plush Nickelodeon

Aaaaah Real Monsters Plush Nickelodeon

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