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Life Magazine on Saturday Morning Cartoons (1972)

1972 was a low-point in the history of the medium (the theatrical release of Fritz The Cat and Snoopy Come Home excepted). That year may also have been the nadir of bad Saturday morning cartoons. Critical writing relating to animated films was practically non-existent (Funnyworld #14 was all we had). Brew reader Tony Wisneske was looking through some old LIFE magazines and found this rather cynical little write-up on the status of the Saturday morning shows. Worth a read to experience the mind-set back then, when the best we had to offer was The Brady Kids, Roman Holidays and The Osmonds. The date of the magazine was December 1, 1972.

  • Christopher Cook

    1972 wasn’t a complete wash. We still had good old Bugs Bunny on CBS, and “Yellow Submarine” made its TV premiere on CBS as well (albeit chopped to ribbons to accomodate commercials in a 90-minute time frame).

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Well, we couldn’t have everything (and the thought of home video was still a pipedream in the minds of those future cinema geeks).

  • I don’t think they were outsourcing the animation to Canada back in ’72 despite what the article says. There was no studio infrastructure to handle that amount of production at that time. Well, aside from “Rocket Robin Hood”.

    • Some episodes of the H & B series “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” (1972 -’74) were animated at CanaWest Studios in Vancouver.

      • Mike Kazaleh

        Wait ‘Till Your Father Gets Home was animated at Air Programs in Australia.

        The Amazing Chan etc. was animated at the Eric Porter studio also in Australia. The Jackson 5ive and Osmond shows were animated by the Halas and Batcheler studio.

        Videocraft shows were always produced outside of America, largely to Japan and England, although Tales of the Wizard of OZ was produced at Crawley films in Toronto. Viseocraft and Steve Krantz also used to regularly record voices in Toronto as well. A few Episodes of The Beatles were produced at Canawest in Vancouver. Canada didn’t really become a big US animation location until the eighties.

      • Mike , I think most of “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” was in fact animated in Australia as you mention, but the show credits on IMDB list several Canadian animators (who could have been working in Australia at the time for all I know) who also worked at CanaWest in Vancouver. Somewhere in my increasingly dim memory I believe that one of the animators (possibly Paul Schibli) had told me that they worked on some episodes at CanaWest.

        Also, Crawley’s was in Ottawa , not Toronto.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Still it’s kinda interesting where we were heading at this point in time.

      • Jeffrey Gray

        “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” did have some episodes done at Canawest in the second season. Barrie Helmer, Norm Drew, Paul Schibli and Pino van Lamsweerde all worked on it there.

      • Jeffrey Gray

        Also, Canawest got subcontract work from H-B as early as 1967. Lynn Johnston of “For Better or for Worse” painted cels for cartoons like Abbott and Costello, and she described them as “embarrassing” and “junk” in one of her retrospective books.

    • Mike Kazaleh

      Sorry, David. You are right. Crawley Films was in Ottawa.

  • ‘The Jackson 5ive’ better than Bugs? Better than Uniblab? I don’t think so.

    And were any of the shows on the list made in Canada?

    All “three years of public outcry” did was dumb down cartoons so much, producers and writers were continually hamstrung by networks in making anything that was funny.

  • Luke

    “rip-off of the Flintstones”

    Uhhh…. Clearly. (sarcasm)

  • William

    There really is an incredible amount of snark in that LIFE article. Although I will admit that a lot of the shows mentioned in it aren’t exactly worth defending.

  • JP


    Are there any modern-day books you could recommend that explore the animation landscape from this time period?

    • The only one coming to mind is SATURDAY MORNING FEVER by Timothy Burke and Kevin Burke (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999)… but I’m sure there are others.

  • Robert Igoe

    So of all the shows on Saturday mornings at the time, this writer only liked “The Jackson 5ive?” Ooooohkay then.

    • Christopher Cook

      Consider that Action for Children’s Television cited the Jackson 5ive cartoon as a quality show. Take it for what it’s worth.

      • dbenson

        I think Jackson Five got points for at least LOOKING a little different. Everything coming from HB, Filmation, Total Television and DePatie-Freleng was heavily stamped with the house style — visuals, music and even jokes — any reasonably attentive kid could identify them instantly.

        Still remember when I thought Filmation was the coolest stuff ever, simply because their background artists made metal look shiny.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        It was certainly an interesting time when a show like Jackson 5ive probably gave some people an excuse to watch for the visuals alone.

    • victoria

      I don’t think they actually liked the cartoon, you just couldn’t say anything bad about the Jackson five

  • and let us pleeeeez not forget “Mindrot!” I was a staunch supporter!!

    • David Mruz’s wonderful fanzine MINDROT began appearing around 1976. To repeat what first I said, 1972 was a pretty poor time to be an animation fan.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I can tell you went through it pretty hard Jerry to be one during that time.

  • Justin Delbert

    Well, I do agree about the 1970’s being one of the worst eras for cartoons. I bought the second vol of Saturday Morning Cartoons 1970s edition; there’s a whole bunch a crap (with a few exceptions of coarse). Have any of you ever seen an episode of the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan? Yuck! Terrible writing! No offense to the 1970s itself; some great music came out of the 70s such as Stairway to Heaven.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      The music certainly went places where animation was simply got sidelined for a long time.

    • It was a horrible era for animation in America, all right. That’s what makes it so ticklish to view what Japan was producing at the same time. While we were in the doldrums, they were having something of a golden age. While we’re not talking Bob Clampett here, despite low budgets many of their shows had all the life and spark that was missing from our stuff at the time. The animation might have been limited but the poses and expressions were galaxies beyond what had become the bloodless norm in the US (and also, frankly, galaxies beyond what a lot of anime looks like today).

      Great example: Lupin The Third—either the 1971 or 1977-80 series. Just watch even two minutes of that and compare it to, say, SeaLab 2020. XD

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Can’t argue with that. Japan certainly was on a role then with the type of cartoons that was coming on TV then that certainly made our efforts pale in comparison to what they could do in writing stories or in direction.

  • Neufeld

    The Osmonds cartoon show was relegated to the same ghetto status as everything in 1972 but the Jackson 5ive cartoon show, when both were done by the same production company, sporting interchangeable animation quality. But the Osmonds were never the hip, mainstream critical faves that the Jacksons were. Both were bubblegum rock acts, one just had a hell of a lot more talent.

    This article also reveals the zeitgeist perception of Hanna-Barbera, (“…the mindless stealing from the mindless…”) prior to Time-Warner’s rehabilitation of the sorry H-B rep once they inherited that company, anointing Bill and Joe as “kings of global branding.”

    Keep posting articles like this, Jerry. Some history should not be repeated through ignorance.

  • Kunio

    At least we HAD saturday morning cartoons back then…

  • Sufferin’ succotash

    It may have been a low point for cartoon history. But, it was a high point for me as a kid. There were so many choices on what to see. Maybe not quality on an adult standard, but I was seven! A box of cereal and the Hair Bear Bunch was all I needed. Took a peek on the next Saturday morning cartoon line up for the channels I had as a kid. Woah.

    7-8am Good Morning America (Weekend edition)
    8-9 Local programming
    9-10 Emperor’s New School & The Replacements
    10-11 That’s So Raven
    11-12 Hanna Montanta & Suite Life Of Zack and Cody
    12-1 Local Programming

    7-8am Busytown Mysteries
    8-9 Doodlebops & Trollz
    9-11 Early Show
    11-12 Horseland
    12-1 Local Programming

    7-9am Today
    9-10 Local Programming
    10-11 Turbodogs & Shelldon
    11-12 Magic School Bus & Barbar
    12-1 Willa’s Wild Life & Pearlie

    • Funkybat

      Your modern-day “lineup” makes me shudder with dread. The only cartoon shows on any of the networks that in any way hearken back to what Saturday Morning cartoons are supposed to be like are “Emperor’s New School” and “The Replacements.” Most of what little kid-oriented stuff they still bother to air is over-earnest “educational” shows that put more emphasis on pleasing the nanny groups than they do in *entertaining.*

      In a proper universe, shows like “Friendship is Magic,” “Phineas and Ferb” and “Scooby Doo Mystery Inc.” would air on one of the “big four” networks, on Saturday mornings. I was glad when Cartoon Network was created, because it was another outlet for cartoons, but it seems like Nick and CN have instead become the *only* outlets for new TV animation.

      None of this is “news” I realize, but the rant had to be had because it breaks my heart to flip through the channels on Saturday mornings and find almost nothing that isn’t for toddlers, or designed to satisfy the Feds with “E/I” in the corner. At least I got to grow up in a time that had lots of so-bad-they’re-good cartoons to enjoy while eating a tasty, not-so-nutritious breakfast.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I feel I’m in the same boat as well about it.

      • Completely agree, although I must say I’m pleased and surprised to see that the 1991 Babar series has turned up on NBC. Just because it’s a marked throwback to the cel era that now sticks out like a sore thumb amidst everything surrounding it. Back then it wouldn’t have stood out for any visual reason, but it sure does now, and it’s downright refreshing to see it on TV.

    • FriendtoAll

      Nostalgia is the root of all evil. Well, all evil that’s not already caused by money.

      • Sufferin’ succotash

        “Nostalgia is the root of all evil.”

        No. Replacing the “Today” show for a Saturday morning cartoon is. ;)

  • Sat

    I’m a kid of the early 90s, but there wasn’t really a lot of recent shows on TV where I lived, it was an interesting mix of everything from every decade (except maybe the silents). One of my favorite show was in fact from the 70s : Anne of Green Cables. I learned recently it was by Ghibli’s Isao Takahata and it’s not surprising : a slow paced story about ordinary people. Somehow I liked that better than all the giant robots, dinosaurs and “renaissance” animation.

    Today’s kids need dvd box sets and internet since the TV won’t help them. I don’t think there are interludes left on TV. Back then it made me saw every kind of animation from everywhere on the planet. Am I glad I’ve been able to see all back then!

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That’s how I felt about the direction cable TV was like in the 80’s. I don’t see it that way anymore.

  • Fremgen

    @Sufferin’ succotash – being a child of the 70’s myself, I’ll take that Life Magazine line up over the current one. As you posted, this is the worst Saturday Morning line-up I’ve ever seen. Our any of those shows even being currently produced?

    But the reviewer was right, The Jackson 5ive was the best show of the season- still plays well today.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    1972 was a very, very bad year for new Sat-AM animation, but saying it was the worst year would imply that it got better at some point afterwards.

    • Gosh, I thought it DID get better afterwards – way afterwards, in the late 80s, when PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE came on — and remember that little show called MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES?

      • Chris Sobieniak

        It certainly did get better, but we had to wait a good number of years before that happened.

    • pspector

      Well, I have to say that this era was the low point of my dad’s career. Having already blown through Mintz, Fleischer, Army Animation Unit(east coast),Famous,dozens of commercial, UPA, H&B, Ed Grahm, DFE — and a whole lot in between – he was reduced to a senior story editor for Filmation, having to insert “seize them” several times per episode. You should have heard him bitch about it, and so did all his peers.

  • Christopher Cook

    When I was in kindergarten (1961-62), there were only two cartoons on Saturday morning–Mighty Mouse on CBS and King Leonardo & His Short Subjects on NBC. Primetime had more cartoons–The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Matty’s Funnies With Beany & Cecil and Calvin & The Colonel (all on ABC), The Alvin Show (CBS) and The Bullwinkle Show (NBC). Everything else was syndicated (a.a.p. Warners, MGM, Paramount-Famous, Huckleberry Hound, Spunky & Tadpole, etc.).

    11 years hence, originality and creativity became luxuries to be indulged in times of pure duress as networks would have clamored for / approved a cartoon of Bobby Sherman if they’d had the chance. Somebody any minute now will greenlight a Justin Bieber cartoon. That will make the Chan Clan look positively brilliant in contrast.

    • dbenson

      I was likewise a tail-end baby boomer, and saw Saturday morning evolve:

      1. Mainly live action: Sgt. Preston and Yukon King, Sky King, Mister Mayor (Captain Kangaroo in different makeup), and a few hosted cartoon shows (Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney with late-period Paramounts).

      2. The prime time castoffs: Flintstones, Jetsons, Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle, Alvin.

      3. The deluge, with I remember as being concurrent with the action/adventure boom: Mostly HB driven, but Filmation had the classy DC franchise. Marvel didn’t do so well in animation back then, on network or off.

      4. The purge: Less violence, more “lessons”, and animated sitcoms pretty much finishing off the old three-shorts format, which survived mainly in reruns. Also a handful of embarrassing live action shows.

      5. Twilight: By pure coincidence, Saturday morning became really lame just as puberty kicked in. Now it MATTERED that the girls were badly drawn. Endless Scooby clones, screwy repackaging of old properties (especially juvenile versions or descendants) and knockoffs of trends. By this point it was a empty ritual to check out new shows each fall, and even then I’d only glance at the oddities. And Dyna Girl.

      6. The End: Turns out there was money to be made with (comparatively) lavish animation in weekday syndication. Then came cable. I’m not sure when it happened, but I get the sense modern kids don’t really connect Saturday morning with cartoons at all.

  • Hey, it was that exact TV line-up that caused me to realize I could sleep all morning on Saturdays!

  • John A

    So the guy is cheesed that the kiddies weren’t up watching Sunrise Semester? Balderdash! as far as I was concerned,Saturday morning was THE most important 4-5 hours of my week, because I treated it like my own weekly art lesson. Every Saturday I’d be in front of the set with a fresh pack of typewriter paper and a handful of ballpoint pens, drawing pictures of every show that was on that day. By noon I’d have stacks of drawings of Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Bulwinkle, Underdog, The Go-Go Gophers,and George of the Jungle. I even practiced the more realistic, abbreviated comic book style that H & B used for shows like Jonny Quest, Batman,and Space Ghost. Did it matter to me that I wasn’t learning important lessons about teamwork and sharing? To tell you the truth, it never bothered me a bit.

    In fact, I became much less enamored of Saturday Morning cartoons once they began to get preachy and educational. That was around the time when then quality of the artwork really started to seriously decline anyway, so I finally gave it up to focus more on comic strip art.

  • Hey, at least there were Looney Tunes and Flintstones reruns back then.

  • Christopher Cook

    Errors on my last post: The Bugs Bunny Show also aired in primetime on ABC during the 1961-62 season, as did Top Cat–not the Jetsons. The Jetsons started the season afterwards.

  • I haven’t yet seen it mentioned that this was one of the final issues of the 1936-72 LIFE, the magazine wafting into special-issue hell after December 29, 1972. The early 1970s were as kind to general-interest photomagazines as to Saturday morning cartoons.

  • GeneD

    1972 was very bad. It had two deathless Bill ‘n’ Joe masterworks: “The Roman Holidays” and “The Flintstone Comedy Hour”. The first was so bad I doubt it was ever rebroadcast. All that seems to survive is the unanimated main title on YouTube, with a lion as “the family cat” and guys playing football in the — Colosseum. With cheerleaders! As the great Daws Butler was forced to say too many times, sheez!

    And of course the “Roman Holidays” Colosseum looks as it does today, with its ruined south side and the 19th-century reinforcing wedges — as it most certainly did not back in ancient Roman days.

    • dbenson

      A single “Roman Holidays” episode is on the 1970s Saturday Morning DVD set. It seems to be the only episode I remember seeing on the air, so I sort of wondered if there was more than a pilot episode.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Both The Flintstones Comedy Hour and The Roman Holidays were often aired as part of the “USA Cartoon Express” back in the 80’s as I recall!

      • GeneD

        I thank you much for that information. I can safely say the show’s so bad it hasn’t “merited” a Warner Archive release, and WHV has plumbed the depths of Bill ‘n’ Joe.

    • Funkybat

      I distinctly remember watching several “Roman Holidays” episodes on USA Cartoon Express int eh 80s. Cartoon Express is relatively unheralded for it’s role in exposing the kids of the 80s to shows that otherwise would probably be even more forgotten than they are now.

      Sealab 2020, The Hair Bear Bunch, Inch High Private Eye, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman, etc. etc…. I’m glad I was able to see those shows before the advent of YouTube and video sharing. I was too young/not born yet to see most of them when they first aired. While none are exactly animation or storytelling masterpieces, they were mostly enjoyable to me and my friends as kids, and the enduring cult popularity (or int he case of Sealab, transmutation to 2021) of these shows is probably due to people now in their 20s and 30s seeing them for the first time on USA.

      That said, “Roman Holidays” is apparently so unmemorable that even Cartoon Express couldn’t make it into a cult classic. The one H-B spinoff show that really seems to be buried is “Where’s Huddles?” I have seen a few clips of it, some TV Guide ad images, but not much else. I don’t think it ever aired even on USA or syndication, just it’s original run in the 70s.

  • Ormond

    Publisher Henry Luce said at the outset of Life magazine that perhaps photojournalism as a medium would not last. And, in the traditional hardcopy sense that Life magazine embodied, it didn’t.

    • Funkybat

      I suppose flickr and online photo sets from news papers and blogs have replaced “Life.” It’s easier now than ever to look through and search a wide array of excellent (and less so) photography.

  • Trevor Keen

    The highlight of my childhood Saturday mornings was The Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Hour. Even then I knew that the other shows paled in comparison. But, on the other hand, I did try to stay up super-late Saturday nights at that time because (1) Monty Python had just hit PBS, and (2) PBS was also running a program of animation festival shorts introduced by Jean Marsh. I snuck down from bed to watch those!

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I envy you! I was pulling those type of stunts too whenever something unusual was on around midnight back in the day.

  • Al Jordan

    @Trevor Keen: Thank you! I’m finally glad someone other than me fondly recalls “The International Animation Festival”. It’s a wonder to me that there’s no mention or reference of it anywhere on the ‘net (not even on YouTube or any of the other video sites). I’m sure, though, that even Jerry must have some recollection of watching it himself, being the studious animation maven that he is (for that matter, it’s a wonder it’s never even been mentioned on this site).
    Oh, btw Jerry, there is one more book worth mentioning that covers that period as well: Gary Grossman’s “Saturday Morning Television”, released in 1982. I bought the large-format, soft-cover edition when it first came out. It’s a pretty comprehensive and informative book. Although it doesn’t delve much into detail about the state of the animation business at the time, there are quotes from both Bill and Joe talking about their positions on how the networks had their hands tied to get product out expediently, which often meant weighing quality over quantity, especially in terms of production value, and not just with respect to the animation work itself.

  • My animation heyday was about 1963-71..Local shows had Popeye, The TV Magoos, Wizard of Oz, Batfink, Later Terrytoons and Roger Ramjet. When the HB formulas set in later in the 1970’s I found myself watching less and less..

    Where’s Huddles? had a brief run on Boomerang a few years ago, airing at 3:30 AM ET

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Having read the article, I kinda wondered what was the deal with the Serbo-Croatian alarm clock, but then it perhaps was making a joke about the products we were already seeing on the shelves made in other places than the US.

  • Not to argue the point, but I would consider the early EIGHTIES to be one of the lowest points of animation — TV or feature — that I can recall in my life. For example: My friends and I regularly watched episodes of “Shirt Tales”… because it was the best animated thing on TV at the time. We actually went to go and see “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute” in the theater… because it was the best animated feature around at the time. Things had sunk that low, people. The first rays of hope I remember seeing were “Gummi Bears” and John K’s “Mighty Mouse”. And that was the middle of the decade.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      At least you liked Smurfs and the Magic Flute as much as I did (that film was put out a decade before but we didn’t care)!

  • xevo

    So, was Videocraft/Rankin-Bass the first US animation studio to outsource overseas? (I know Jay Ward used that Mexican studio.)
    If I recall, H-B ended up buying the Porter studio and renamed it Hanna-Barbera Pty. Ltd. (I recall seeing that designation in the “Drak Pack” credits). Are there any of the early Eric Porter cartoons available (other than “Bimbo’s Auto”)?

    “Where’s Huddles?” aired on Sundays after NFL games, hence the show’s overdone football motif. It’s credited with being the first H-B series with a black character (Freight Train, Huddles’ teammate). So it must have predated the Harlem Globetrotters cartoon. Feel free to correct me…
    Cliff “Funny Manns” Norton was the voice of Huddles – he and Mel Blanc appeared together in the Billy Wilder film “Kiss Me, Stupid.”

    • Chris Sobieniak

      There was also Rembrandt Films of New York who acted as a middleman of sorts where work was sent over to Gene Deitch in Prague where the unnamed “Studio BratÅ™i v triku” animated Tom & Jerry, Popeye and Krazy Kat for both MGM and King Features respectively in the early 60’s.

    • Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) says “Huddles” debuted on July 1, 1970, a few months before the fall season started and the debut of the Harlem Globetrotters. However, “Josie and the Pussycats” beat “Globetrotters” to the punch as having H-B’s first Saturday morning character who’s Black (Valerie), since “Pussycats” aired earlier than “Globetrotters”.

    • Cam Ford

      Hanna Barbera didn’t buy out Eric Porter Studios; Bill Hanna poached all the key artists from the old API studios to staff his new Australian production house. API closed soon after.
      Porter’s, having just finished the first Australian animated feature “Marco Polo Jr vs the Red Dragon”, then subcontracted a couple of seasons from HB to provide continuing work for his large staff.
      Porter’s made “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan” series in 1972-1973, followed by the first series of “Superfriends” in 1973-1974.
      The financial crisis of 1975 caused Porter’s to cease feature and TV series work and reduce staff. The studio finally closed some years later.
      HB Australia made many TV series and was eventually sold to Walt Disney Australia; which then made many Disney feature sequels (Aladdin 2, Jungle Book 2, Bambi 2), until it closed its doors about 5 years ago.