In the year 2000, the ABC Television Network cancelled its Saturday morning broadcasts of old theatrical “Bugs Bunny” cartoons, which had aired on either ABC or CBS since 1960. It was sad to see Bugs leave Saturday morning but not surprising. Disney bought ABC a few years earlier. Bugs’s cartoons were not Disney properties, and Disney certainly had its own animated stars to promote on ABC.
Still, it was the end of an era that went all the way back to 1953, when CBS began airing old theatrical cartoons from the Terrytoons Studio. ABC followed suit the following year with broadcasts of Disney cartoons. By the end of the 1950s, ABC also aired Walter Lantz’s films and Famous Studios’s cartoons.
The 1965-66 season was the peak of network broadcasts of theatricals. MGM’s “Tom and Jerry,” Warner Brothers’ “Porky Pig” and “Bugs Bunny,” Terrytoons’ “Mighty Mouse,” Paramount’s “Modern Madcaps,” and Disney fare all appeared on the “big three.” Within five years, however, Saturday morning programming was overrun by cheaply produced cartoons starring superheroes, rock musicians, and teenagers. The old characters were too violent, too, according to parental critics of children’s programming.
After the 1960s “Bugs Bunny” remained the mainstay while more packages of theatricals came and went through the networks. “Pink Panther” was one of the last successful theatrical stars to successfully transition to the small box, airing from 1969 to 1979. However, the distinction of the last new network program of old theatricals belongs to The Daffy-Speedy Show, which aired on NBC from 1981 to 1983. After 1983, any theatrical stars would appear only in new animation for network television, as in CBS’s Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. The only places for the old theatrical cartoons were either local stations for syndication and cable networks, except for ABC’s The Bugs and Tweety Show.
So, as 2020 begins, remember it’s been 20 years since theatricals were on weekly network television. Here’s a little tribute to the way it once was: