By the time the weekend rolls around, the last thing we probably want to do early on a Saturday morning is wake up and plop ourselves in front of the television. But back in the 1960s and ’70s, part of the anticipation for Saturday mornings was exactly that, because that was the era of the Saturday morning Classic TV cartoon line-ups on ABC, CBS and NBC. When we were kids, anticipation for the new seasons of cartoons undoubtedly rivaled our parents’ who were awaiting the new prime time shows. And when they’d run Friday specials heralded the following morning’s premieres, nothing was better.
Before the mid-1960s, those Saturday mornings consisted largely of theatrical animated shorts compiled as TV shows, animated shows that originally ran in prime time, and repurposed old Westerns and sci-fi shows. Then someone had the idea to start producing original programming, and the toy companies loved that. It meant these companies would have a captive audience watching the commercials, who in turn would drive their parents crazy to buy their products. A genius system.
What follows are highlights of some of the shows we grew up with on those Saturday mornings broken down into categories. And honestly, who doesn’t love a good trip down memory lane, back to those simpler days?
Saturday Cartoons Beatles
The Beatles (1965-67)
Throughout their relatively short career, The Beatles pretty much paved the way for others, and not only in terms of music. ABC licensed the rights to the band for this animated series that they had nothing to do with beyond the music that served as the title, story inspiration, and soundtrack to each episode. Before then, no one had done an animated series based on real people and, although it would take a few years, it started a trend. From today's perspective the show is pretty bad, but back then, while in the throes of Beatlemania, all of it was awesome. Wonder how many people cared that the guys they hired to voice John, Paul, George, and Ringo sounded nothing like John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Thirty-nine episodes in all were produced.
Saturday Cartoons Jackson 5ive
The Jackson 5ive (1971-72)
Not very dissimilar to The Beatles animated series, with Michael and his brothers getting involved in all sorts of adventures and trying not to get mobbed by the fans. Each episode was backed with actual music from the band, but not their voices.
Saturday Cartoons Osmonds
The Osmonds (1972)
Really not much in the way of variation in terms of The Beatles and Jackson 5ive before it. This premise was all about the brothers Osmond going to different locations around the world in each episode, but finding themselves involved in some adventure or another — usually because of the antics of the young Jimmy. One difference about this show is that not only did the Osmonds provide the music, but their voices as well.
Saturday Cartoons Harlem Globetrotters
The Harlem Globetrotters (1970-72)
The show focused on the basketball troupe's then line-up of George "Meadowlark" Lemon, Freddie "Curly" Neal, Hubert "Geese" Ausbie, J.C. "Gip" Gipson, Bobby Joe Mason, and Paul "Pablo" Robertson. New additions were their bus driver (an elderly woman named Granny) and Dribbles, their dog mascot (c'mon, every Saturday morning cartoon needed a dog!). Each episode had the team traveling to a different location, getting into a conflict with some bad guys and settling it with a game of basketball. Hey, nobody said it was deep.
Saturday Cartoons Jerry Lewis
Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down (1970-72)
Jerry Lewis was well known for the different comic personas he played in his various films, and this series took on that idea, with Jerry being a wide variety of characters of all shapes and sizes. The main Jerry is a worker at the Odd Job Employment Agency, where he's usually making a mess of things each time he's assigned a job. While Jerry Lewis didn't provide his voice, he did write a number of the scripts.
Saturday Cartoons Everythings Archie
Archie, Reggie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the gang enjoyed a full decade of animated adventures. Here's what we had: The Archie Show (1968-69), The Archie Comedy Hour (1969-70), Archie's Funhouse (1970-71), which is probably the most memorable in that it had an audience of kids reacting to the show and a giant jukebox; Archie's TV Funnies (1971-73), The U.S. of Archie (1974-76), and, finally, The New Archie and Sabrina Hour (1977-78). If you miss Riverdale, you could always check out the dark, gritty, angsty live-action version currently airing on the CW. Nah!
Saturday Cartoons Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1970)
In 1969, the teen with supernatural abilities began to appear in Riverdale on The Archie Show. But the following year, she was given a spin-off series seeing her share the title in Sabrina and the Groovy Goolies, the latter of which focused on goofy versions of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman unlike any you've seen before.
Saturday Cartoons Josie And The Pussycats
Josie and the Pussycats
Yet another title from the Archie comics, this one (running from 1970-71) focuses on an all-girl pop band that, while touring the world, find themselves involved with espionage, mysteries, and bizarre adventures. But things got really bizarre from 1972-73 with the spin-off Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. In that show, while participating in a photo op at a rocket launching area, the girls accidentally find themselves trapped aboard and hurled into deep space where, week-to-week, they would encounter strange aliens on new worlds. You can't make this stuff up... Well, obviously they did, which, we guess, kind of means you can make this stuff up. But we digress.
From Live Action to Animation
There was a period where the networks decided to take a bunch of their successful prime-time comedies and come up with premises to spin them off into animated shows. Some of them are definitely more bizarre than others.
Saturday Cartoons The Brady Kids
The Brady Kids (1972-73)
While The Brady Bunch was still in the middle of its network run on on ABC, the kids voiced their cartoon counterparts as they got in all sorts of adventures. Oh, and those adventures included a mynah bird named Marlon who spoke and happened to be a wizard (don't ask us), their dog Mop Top (which raised the question of what had happened to their live-action dog Tiger, who mysteriously disappeared), and a pair of panda cubs named Ping and Pong. In two separate episodes, they also randomly met Superman and Wonder Woman. The '70s was a strange time.
Saturday Cartoons Jeannie
We still remember our serious disappointment upon discovering that this wasn't really based on the live action TV series I Dream of Jeannie, but we've gotten over it. It's been forty-five years, so we better had! The characters here are all younger, with Jeannie voiced by Julie McWhirter and Tony Nelson nowhere to be found. Instead, her love interest is Luke Skywalker... actually Corey Anders, who happens to have been voiced by Mark Hamill. Popping in at the most inopportune times is Babu (voiced by Joe Besser of The Three Stooges), a bumbling genie being trained by Jeannie.
Saturday Cartoons My Favorite Martians
My Favorite Martians (1970-72)
In the live-action series My Favorite Martian, Ray Walston played a Martian stranded on Earth. There he assumes a human identity of "Uncle Martin" and lives with his (not) nephew Tim O'Hara (Bill Bixby). The show lasted only three seasons from 1963-66 and this animated version was truly designed to pick up where that show had left off. It even went so far as to use scripts that had been written for a proposed third season. One difference between the shows is that the cartoon, to be more kid friendly, added a kid martian to the mix.
Saturday Cartoons Star Trek
Star Trek (1973-74)
While the original live-action Star Trek TV series was growing in popularity, NBC and Paramount recognized the soaring popularity and produced 22 episodes of this TV series. The actors from the series (including William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock) reprised their roles, and the scripts, written by many of the same people who had worked on the live-action show, were extremely literate. Of course, that could be exactly why the show didn't appeal to kids and had such a short run.
Saturday Cartoons New Adventures Of Gilligan
The New Adventures of Gilligan (1974-75)
Gilligan's Island ran for three seasons from 1964-67, and this show could easily be considered the fourth. Same island, same actors voicing their characters (Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr. among them), and same silly situations as Gilligan inadvertently messes things up for the others while they work on a way of getting off the island. Give it up, dudes.
Saturday Cartoons Partridge Family 2200
The Partridge Family 2200 A.D. (1974-75)
It started off as a sequel to The Jetsons with George and Jane Jetson's kids Elroy and Judy being all grown up, but somewhere along the way it got turned into this idea, which saw the family Partridge propelled centuries into the future. Honestly, somehow we can't rationalize this one. What were they thinking?
Saturday Cartoons Oddball Couple
The Oddball Couple (1975)
If the title reminds you of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, there's a good reason for it: it's based on the play and the TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall that had just gone off the air several months earlier. The show was about a dog named Fleabag and cat named Spiffy who live together and are well you guessed it, total opposites. The live action show was amazing, this version... not so much.
Saturday Cartoons Fonzie And Happy Days Gang
The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (1980-82)
Get ready for another wacky series premise. In this spin-off from Happy Days, Fonzie (voiced by Henry Winkler) helps fix the time machine of a traveler from the future, but (oh, no!) something goes wrong. Then the Fonz, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most) find themselves traveling to a different time period every week while they search for a way home. Sounds like Quantum Leap, but in leather. Ayyyy!
Saturday Cartoons Laverne And Shirley
Laverne & Shirley in the Army (1981-82)
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams voice their animated versions of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, who are serving in the U.S. Army as privates, where they get involved in misadventures. All the while they do their best not to get reported by their superior, Sgt. Squealy — for some reason that boggles the mind, is a pig. He's voiced by Ron Palillo, Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter.
Saturday Cartoons Gilligans Planet
Gilligan's Planet (1982-83)
In this animated series, the Professor manages to build a rocketship(?) to get everyone off the island, but, instead of heading to the mainland, they soar through the stratosphere and end up crashing on an alien planet. So they're stranded there, encountering the locals and working to get back home.
Saturday Cartoons Mork And Mindy
Mork & Mindy (1982-83)
This prequel to the live-action series was part of the Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour. Both title characters (voiced by Robin Williams and Pam Dawber) are in their teens. Mork has been sent to Earth to attend high school and learn about human teenagers, while Mindy is one of the students there. This time, however, Mork doesn't come from Ork alone: he's accompanied by a six-legged dog-like creature named Doing.
Not all Saturday morning programming was done in animation. There were a number of live-action shows as well, examples of which follow.
Saturday Cartoons Banana Splits
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968-70)
Okay, it's a variety show that provides humorous and musical vignettes between episodes of different live-action and animated adventures that have nothing to do with the title characters. The Banana Splits is a group along the lines of The Monkees, but consisting of Fleegle, a beagle; Bingo, an orange-furred gorilla; Drooper, a lion; and Snorky, an elephant, who's the only one who doesn't actually speak (instead he honks). It's so dopey, but the Splits are so lovable. And don't be spreadin' that lie that they're people in costumes. We're not buyin' it!
Saturday Cartoons Hr Pufnstuf
H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)
Jack Wild (who played the Artful Dodger in the 1968 film Oliver!), is Jimmy, a boy with a magic flute who finds himself on the mysterious Living Island, where pretty much everything is alive. There, he encounters a variety of weird characters (either actors in bulky costumes or puppets being manipulated off-camera) and is befriended by the (sort of) dragon-in-charge, H.R. Pufnstuff. Together they ward off the evil Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), who is determined to get her hands on that flute. Although only one season of episodes was produced, the show remained on the air for a number of years and even inspired a 1970 film version.
Saturday Cartoons Lancelot Link
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp (1970-71)
Now this was an awesome Saturday morning series. Two of the writers of the Don Adams spy spoof Get Smart created this show, in which they took a veritable barrel of monkeys, dressed them in clothes, equipped them with props and put them in a world of simian spydom. Our lead chimp — the title character — worked for a spy agency called A.P.E., which battled the enemy agents of C.H.U.M.P. The plots were minimal; they'd try to train the monkeys to do certain things, but overall the actors dubbing in their voices would improvise dialogue based on what the chimps were doing and how their mouths were moving. Musical interludes were provided by the all-chimp band (dressed like hippies) The Evolution Revolution, who would be introduced by Ed Simian (a chimp in a suit). Wacky stuff.
Last, But Certainly Not Least
You simply cannot look back at classic Saturday morning cartoons and not include the following show, because it's the one that has surpassed all the others in terms of longevity.
Saturday Cartoons Scooby Doo
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-75)
Next year will mark half a century since the world first met the Great Dane with a speech impediment (hey, don't make fun — when was the last time your dog spoke to you in a form of English? Didn't think so!), whose best pal is Shaggy. Both of them work alongside the Scooby Gang, consisting of Fred, Velma, and Daphne, to solve mysteries. Their mode of transportation is their green van, the Mystery Machine. From that original show have been 10 additional series, and numerous made for DVD films and episodes that are still being produced. With that kind of success, somebody give that dog a Scooby-Snack!