I've always been a big fan of Saturday Morning Programming, as my family can probably attest. Lord knows why as a child I loved to watch the most inane shows on Sat-Am; probably because the animated world (as badly animated as it was in the sixties/seventies) seemed much more exciting than the real world. That's probably also why I continue to watch and enjoy animation as I sail through my forties.
As a kid, of course, I did not realize that the raison d'etre of Saturday Morning programming is to press ads for toys, fatty snacks, and sugary cereals upon innocent and receptive minds. Since I was a big fan of toys, snacks and sugary cereals, the myriad of ads for them didn't bug me at all.
On Monday, the LA Times ran an obituary for toy marketeer Bernard Loomis. Loomis, according to the obit, came up with the idea of debuting Mattel's Hot Wheels toy cars by producing a Sat-Am cartoon that was a series of half-hour ads for the toys. I remember the show, and recall it as being fun. Alas, it didn't last long (1969-1971), because the FCC took note and ruled that toy-based cartoons (or portions thereof) had to be counted as ad time by networks -- essentially making the series too expensive to air.
The Times obit asserts that, "Although other toys had been spun off successful TV shows, no one had ever started a children's show with such a blatant commercial purpose." Mark Evanier belies that statement with his blog post from yesterday that tells the story of the "Linus the Lion-Hearted" series, a 1964-1969 Sat-Am cartoon produced by Post Cereals, starring various Post mascots (including Dean Martin sound-alike Sugar Bear). It too came to an end along with the sixties.
Toy-based cartoons returned in the eighties, courtesy of the Reagan administration and its deregulation kick. Suddenly, you couldn't get an animated series produced unless it had a toy or similar product tied in. Hence, we had Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, etc.
One taboo remains: Broadcasters aren't supposed to run, say, a commercial for Yu-Gi-Oh collectible cards during the commercial breaks in a Yu-Gi-Oh episode, since the rugrats might think that the ad is part of the show. That rule certainly doesn't apply in Japan, where the anime we saw usually featured ads for a show's spin-off products during the show's commercial intervals.