Dr. Toon: When Reagan Met Optimus Prime
Twelve years before Fowler took office, the ABC network featured a Saturday morning cartoon show called Hot Wheels. The show was ostensibly about a car racing club, but it was noted that Mattel toys sold a line of miniature racing cars known as "Hot Wheels." The FCC, past lessons in mind, considered the show to be an extended commercial for the toy cars and threatened to pull the series from the air. ABC argued that the toys were never actually advertised, but the show, under continual scrutiny for two years, was cancelled. Hot Wheels was to be the last controversy the FCC would face; under Fowler's new hands-off policy, the issue never would have been contested.
The changes wrought by deregulation did not happen immediately. The televisions cartoons of 1981-82 were seemingly bound by the old regulations, but it was not long before the barriers came crashing down. The first barbarian at the gate was a cheerful yellow sphere named Pac-Man who made his debut on Sept. 25th 1983 - a landmark date in the history of children's television. Pac-Man was not created by a studio or a writer, nor was he entirely original. He was, in fact, a video game character licensed by Nintendo. Hanna-Barbera studios, creators of so many original animated programs since 1959, partnered with the Japanese company to produce a cartoon originally known as The Pac-Man Show. Toy and game-based products were now primed to flood the airwaves, unhindered by any form of regulation.
The impact of deregulation on children's programming was astounding. Cultural historian Tom Englehardt noted that between 1984 and 1985 cartoons featuring licensed characters increased by some 300%. By the end of 1985 there were more than 40 animated series running concurrently with licensed products and active marketing campaigns. Some shows, such as the Filmation/Mattel collaboration He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) were among the most-watched animated shows in television history. Other properties, such as the Transformers (Marvel/Hasbro, 1984), are still selling products at a steady pace 27 years later. Millions of action figures found their way into the hands of young boys, but the lucrative market for little girls was not ignored.