Kids today, they don't know they're missing. Back in the day, Saturday morning was the best time of the week. You'd get up early, pour yourself a huge bowl of sugar disguised as cereal, turn the TV on, and let it assault you with a barrage of cartoons until noon…or whenever American Bandstand came on, whichever was first. But over the past couple decades, none of the big broadcast networks offer Saturday morning lineup anymore. What became of this American institution?
In 1990, Congress passed the Children's Television Act. Among its guidelines that broadcasters had to follow: a minimum of three weekly hours of programs that had educational or informational merit. When asked nicely to do that, broadcasters, not surprisingly, didn't change much of its children's programming at all.
So in 1996, the FCC decided to more aggressively enforce the CTA. As a result, networks had to quickly throw some learnin' material on the air, which they relied on syndicated television packagers to produce. As for when to actually put it on the air, more than a third of local stations initially selected Saturday mornings, as they weren't actually required to air network shows during that time. Also, that's when kids were most likely to be watching, meaning they were halfway there to school anyway.
Thus began the slow-but-steady replacement of silly and/or violent cartoons with travelogues hosted by overly energetic young hosts, and a never-ending parade of shows about animals and how interesting they supposedly are.
Another part of the Children's Television Act increased regulations on advertising to children. The Act limited the amount of ads on weekend kiddie TV to no more than 10.5 minutes per hour, which meant a half hour-cartoon would cost more to produce. After all, it now had to be around 25 minutes in length, rather than the standard 22 minutes. (all ads were impacted, so padding time by shilling for Metamucil during Garfield and Friends wasn't allowed either).
But the real problem for the networks here, was that a lack of ad breaks meant less ad space they could sell. Less ad space = less money, which went against the broadcast networks' intent to make as much money as possible.
Today, all of those cable channels (and more) continue to churn out animated material, but the world of TV and how it's consumed continues to evolve. A lot of those cartoons are now available on low-cost streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the cable networks' own websites and apps. Kids (and, let's be honest, adults) can watch cartoons whenever they want, wherever they want. They don't have to be parked in front of a TV on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. sharp to see brightly-colored characters zig-zag across the screen.
Kids definitely still watch cartoons on Saturday morning, but now they can watch say, Sanjay and Craig on Hulu at 8:14, on their phone, without even getting out of bed. Sorry, Saturday morning network cartoon block: you just can't compete with the American Dream.