Toons of the 2000s: The End of Broadcast Kids TV – Part 3
The Other Guys
NBC and CBS were footnotes on Saturday mornings in 2000; they remain footnotes in 2009. Only the names have changed.
NBC was a non-factor for nearly a decade, having chosen to bow out
of cartoons in 1992 to focus on a teen audience with its live-action
TNBC block. That worked for awhile, until the Saved By The Bell gravy
train finally ran its course. September 2002 saw NBC lease the block to
Discovery, which aired its live-action Discovery Kids programming on
the block. Cartoons finally returned to NBC in 2006 when Qubo launched
on Saturday mornings. Qubo is a joint venture between NBC, ION Media
Networks, Classic Media/Big Idea, Scholastic, and Corus/Nelvana. In
addition to NBC, it broadcasts its own digital channel, on-demand
service, and even Spanish programming on Telemundo.
CBS got a new owner in 2000 – Viacom, which owned Nickelodeon. The
existing CBS Saturday block was swiftly canceled in favor of
preschool Nick Jr. programming. In 2002, CBS and Nick tried to put
general Nick shows alongside the preschooler stuff, but two years later
it was entirely Nick Jr. again. This lasted until 2006, when Viacom
split into two companies, one with CBS, the other with Nickelodeon. CBS
needed a new partner, and it found one in DiC. DiC and CBS then found
another title sponsor.
September 16, 2006 saw the grand debut of the KOL Secret Slumber Party on CBS.
The block was aimed towards girls and consisted mostly of repeats of
old DiC programming. KOL pulled out of the block at the end of the
first season. CBS and DiC found another new partner in American
Greetings and renamed the block KEWLopolis. Then DiC got bought out by
Cookie Jar. The new owners have scheduled reruns of old DiC and Cookie
Jar series and renamed the block to the more sensible Cookie Jar TV.
Funny names aside, all of these blocks have one thing in common: the programming was entirely E/I.
This show is brought to you by the letters ‘E’ and ‘I’ (and also the letters ‘F’, ‘C’, and ‘C’).
The designation “E/I” comes up a lot with children’s programming
(it’s appeared a lot in this article). The letters stand for
“educational” and “informative” and are used to signify programming
that counts towards federally mandated quotas on such programming. All
television stations in the United States are required to air three
hours per week of E/I between the hours of 7am and 10pm.
The FCC is very strict in its enforcement of this mandate.
The FCC’s stronger enforcement role began in 1990, with the passage
of the Children’s Television Act. That legislation introduced the 3
hour quotient. Originally, the stations were responsible for
designating E/I programming. Predictably, their idea of “educational and
informative” was GI Joe and The Flintstones,
mentioned by name in a Children Now study of the E/I regulation.
Needless to say, GI Joe does not portray an accurate depiction of the
military, nor does The Flintstones accurately portray prehistoric life.
If the local stations weren’t going to abide by the rules properly,
the FCC was going to make them. In 1996, the agency toughened its
enforcement of the rules considerably. Not only did shows have to meet
a certain standard, they had to be identified as such. E/I programming
had to be clearly delineated with a special animation or on-screen
graphic. These limits have only increased this past decade; now all
E/I programming has to carry a bug for the entire duration of the show.
The limits also apply to all multiplex channels, so the weather radar
loop on channel 6.3 is required by law to carry E/I programming.
Stations don’t really want to air such programming, especially with
the advertising restrictions touched on earlier. Nor do they want to
give up the lucrative revenue stream of their existing programming. This
left one possible outlet: Saturday mornings. To help the affiliates
out, the networks have largely switched to mostly or entirely E/I
It’s questionable whether the FCC has proven effective in its
mission. On the one hand, there are more truly educational shows
available on broadcast television than ever before. However, there are
shows where the E/I designation is dubious at best. The FCC has also
failed in one area. It had hoped that the 3 hour requirement would be
a building block upon which local stations would air more programming.
This is decidedly not the case; many television stations carry the bare
minimum three hours and nothing more.
Can the downfall be blamed entirely on E/I? No.
Is E/I certainly a factor? Yes.
4Kids: The Sole Survivor
One company has benefited from the shakeout. For better or for
worse, 4Kids Entertainment is the only provider of a classic,
entertainment-oriented Saturday morning lineup in the United States.
Headed by Al Kahn, the former licensing company found its pot of gold when it adapted the phenomenally popular Pokemon series for US consumption. That property, along with Yu-Gi-Oh, brought the unknown company millions in revenue, making it one of the
top children’s entertainment companies. With this cash, it swooped in
to take over Fox’s Saturday Morning lineup.
Initially, 4Kids’ programming was marketed under the name Fox Box. Most of its properties consisted of Japanese imports, such as Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E. and Kirby. Domestic programming slowly increased over time, notably with the addition of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Still, the bulk of programming remained dubbed anime
based on either existing licenses or video games. An overall rebranding
exercise resulted in the Fox Box being renamed as 4KidsTV in 2005, but
it was a name change more than anything. Things carried on normally until
2007, when the CW announced that Kids’ WB was on its way out.
The only thing more surprising than the announcement of Kids’ WB’s
end was the news that 4Kids was replacing it. This created the
interesting situation of a single company programming two Saturday
morning schedules on competing networks. This predicament lasted for just
about 6 months.
The transition from Kids’ WB to the new block, named CW4Kids, was
seamless. 4Kids did not cancel the entire lineup as it did on Fox;
elements changed over gradually. For a few months, programming from
both Kids’ WB and 4Kids co-existed until the new network took over
Behind the scenes, the company’s relationship with Fox was
crumbling. The same clearance problems that plagued Fox Kids plagued
4Kids TV. The block was shuffled around, aired on non-Fox affiliates,
and in some markets was not shown at all. 4Kids argued that Fox
was not making good on its promise to give 4Kids TV to 90% of its
affiliates. Fox, in turn, argued that 4Kids was not paying them.
Lawsuits were filed and settled out of court; as a result of the
settlement the relationship between the two companies was terminated.
4KidsTV ended as 2008 came to a close, with its shows moving over to CW or online to
Fox, for its part, was done with kids’ programming. The affiliates
would have to make up the E/I requirements themselves, on their own
time. Two hours of programming were returned to the affiliates, while
the network kept two hours for something called Weekend Marketplace.
For the first time in history, paid programming was placed onto a
national network schedule. That infomercials are more lucrative than
cartoons is quite telling.
4Kids survives on the CW, but it’s unknown for how long. The
company’s fortunes are in decline; in 2008, 4Kids recorded a $36.8
million net loss. It ceded the US rights for the anime One Piece to Funimation, and recently sold its stake in the lucrative Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Nickelodeon. Still, Al Kahn has shown tremendous tenacity in the
past. It’s tough to count his company out, especially in the colorful
world of children’s broadcasting.
Are We Better Off?
There are two ways to look at it.
We are better off in a strict quality sense.
We’ve come down in quality a bit from the 1990s, but there are still
more quality shows to view on television than in decades previous. The
new companies still put value in creative, individual visions. For
every mass-produced video game adaptation, there’s an Avatar, a
Spongebob, or a Kim Possible.
We’re not better off in the strict sense of choice.
The most insidious trend of the 2000s has been the move towards
gigantic media companies that own everything they can, from cable
networks to television stations. The predictable result is fewer voices
in the media. Either they get their programming from Nick, Disney,
Warner Bros, or 4Kids, or they get no programming at all. And they only get
those four choices with cable; otherwise, it’s 4Kids
or essentially nothing.
The Perfect Storm
Everything can ultimately be distilled down to this one paragraph. The
FCC not only imposes a quota on educational programming, but also restricts
the amount of advertising allowed for all children’s programming – E/I
or not. Advertisers, hamstrung by both these regulations and strong
cultural pressures on what gets marketed to kids, cut their ad
spending. Stations aren’t making much profit from cartoons, so they turn
to programming that makes them money. If the stations aren’t airing
cartoons and E/I programming, then the networks have to, and since they’re
not making much money anyway, they sell that responsibility to the
That’s the root of all of this. Money. The television business
lives and dies by the advertising dollar. As
that advertising dollar shifted away from broadcast kids’ TV, the
stations began dropping it. There was alternate programming readily
available elsewhere which generated more money than cartoons.
Essentially, the broadcast kids’ TV business
became unprofitable. And that’s depressing.