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Saturday Morning Bonanza: The New Crop for the Kiddies

The incurable, couch potato Martha Day decides what she's going to watch on Saturday mornings in the U.S.

Fifty-two new episodes of 101 Dalmatians: The Series will air daily in nationwide syndication, while 13 additional episodes will be broadcast on ABC's Saturday morning line-up. © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

It's the new fall Saturday morning broadcast television season, and I am currently working on the hardest task of the year -- mapping out my plans for what I am going to watch on a typical Saturday morning.

While I technically have five choices for Saturday morning, I will be focusing on the three non-cable channels that still run animation -- ABC, Kids' WB!, and Fox. Last year, I was glued to the WB! on Saturday mornings, but this year, there are refurbished lineups on Fox and ABC to consider.

8:00 a.m.

The choices are 101 Dalmatians on ABC, Bobby's World on Fox, and Channel Umptee-3 on Kids' WB!

101 Dalmatians is standard Disney fare - big-eyed, cute, and filled with all sorts of life lessons. In fact, it seems that everything that is on at 8:00 a.m. is cute and filled with all sorts of life lessons. I think I'll sleep until 8:30.

Pepper Ann, a new star on ABC's Saturday morning line-up, is a character whose motto is

8:30 a.m.

Stickin' Around is on Fox and Men In Black is on Kids' WB! "Disney's One Saturday Morning" starts on ABC, and will include a mix of Brand Spanking New Doug, Recess and Pepper Ann, as well as education interstitials. The shows will start slightly off of the every half-hour formula and be presented under an umbrella format, complete with a host. For the sake of this discussion, however, I'll assume that each one is in a different half-hour slot.

Men in Black is simply the animated version of the movie. No messing with funny styles, no tampering with changing the jokes -- it's all exactly the same as in the movie, and yet not quite as clever or funny. So, go see the movie and leave it at that. Stickin' Around has been on the air as interstitials. I sometimes wonder if it would be as interesting if not drawn in a stick figure style because that's the joke. It's not bad, but there is still dependable Doug. Who knows, maybe he'll have a dilemma this time and Patty Mayonnaise will help him solve it.

9:00 a.m.

An hour of new episodes of The New Batman/Superman Adventures air on Kids' WB!, possibly an episode of Pepper Ann on ABC, and in October, Ned's Newt premieres on Fox.

Batman and Superman are always good bets, although I'll probably give Pepper Ann a look, if just for some surreal animation and (gasp!) a quirky female main character. Ned's Newt merely shows the effects of Ren and Stimpy on network television.

Space Goofs tells the story of five alien roommates. © Gaumont Multimedia.

9:30 a.m.

The choices are Recess on ABC, Space Goofs (formerly Home to Rent) on Fox, and more Batman and Superman on Kids' WB!

Fox follows up with yet another Ren and Stimpy-influenced show. Space Goofs is basically France's tribute to Ren. Gaumont, the producers, were clever enough to see that Ren & Stimpy was not just about neuroses and gross-out jokes, but also about some pretty strange timing, posing, and reacting. They were also smart enough to hire R&S veterans. The show features five characters, roughly two imitation Rens, two semi-Stimpys, and a random throw-in, and then the same story over and over again of aliens chasing out unwanted tenants from the house. Sounds good to me.

Recess. © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Recess is another excellent piece of reference material for anyone wanting to write a paper on the effect of Nickelodeon's 1991 season on the Saturday morning animation of 1997. The creators are two of the guys from the original Rugrats, but it looks as though this time they didn't bring the funny writers along. Recess, in the process of trying to be relevant and clever, forgot to be interesting or funny. It has the "adults think this is funny" feel. It's also about the ugliest show I have ever seen. The style borrows from every other show on the air, but forgot to have it's own look. The characters are a multicultural group of kids that could only exist in a cartoon that is trying to satisfy FCC requirements. I'll watch Space Goofs, it's a better tribute.

10:00 a.m.

More "One Saturday Morning" on ABC or The Legend of Calamity Jane on Kids' WB!. Only the two choices because Fox goes to live-action with Goosebumps.

I am amazed to see another show with a woman as the lead character on Saturday morning! I will watch Calamity Jane, mainly out of curiosity.

10:30 a.m.

The competition gets tough. Pinky and the Brain on Kids' WB!, Sam and Max on Fox, and The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show on ABC.

Pinky and the Brain still remains one of the funniest shows, and I will continue to watch it, while I pray for it to return to prime time. Sam & Max is a show that I've been anticipating for years. I like the comic book. I like the video game, and I'll bet the show will be funny too. I'll tape it. When they both go into reruns, though, it's back to Bugs and Tweety, who remain the funniest, even years later.

11:00 a.m.

Life with Louie on Fox, Animaniacs on Kids WB!, and Jungle Cubs on ABC.

Hey, do the writers of Animaniacs split their writers' fees with the people who actually wrote the stuff they are parodying in the first place? Just wondering. It's still funny, nevertheless, so I will watch Animaniacs.

Toonsyvlvania, now in production by DreamWorks Television Animation, will air on Kids' WB! starting in 1998. © 1997 DreamWorks L.L.C.

11.30 a.m.

The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on ABC, X-Men on Fox, and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, on Kids' WB!

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries is better than you'd think. But CBS is set to weigh in with The Weird Al Show, and that could be worth checking out, even though it is predominately live-action.

12:00 noon.

Science Court on ABC. Despite sounding about as much fun as chemistry lab, this may have potential. It's from the creators of Dr. Katz, and my guess is that if you can stand the Squigglevision, this could be fun. Enough fun to make you forget that your daily dose of educational programming is being heaped on.

We'll have to wait until 1998 for Steven Spielberg Presents Toonsylvania. Too bad. It will be interesting to see DreamWorks TV Animation in action.

Hmmm ... So, What Do I Think?

The good news is that Saturday morning is no longer the Jim Carrey Cartoon Festival. But the bad news is that it's still Saturday morning animation. More choices simply equals more of the same mediocrity this year.

For some of the shows, the attempt to be different and relevant has even made the shows the same as those that are on other channels. We are starting to see just a few too many fond paeans to youth all over the airwaves, and they are becoming repetitive. Thus, there are a lot of new programs, but nothing really new. Nickelodeon was successful in 1991 because they made shows that were different, and other show creators will probably have more success if they follow the lead of making shows that are unique, not replications of past successful shows.

Dexter's Laboratory started its new season this summer on Cartoon Network. © Cartoon Network.

In addition, the trend for the rest of the industry outside of Saturday network mornings is that programs are skewing a little older. Shows on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon skew towards the 8-12 set whereas the current batch of Saturday morning shows still skew toward the 5-8 age group. That's not a problem, as there are still plenty of five to eight-year-olds. Yet if viewers are used to shows seeming a little sharper and edgier, they may find some of these network shows a little bland.

Whatever the age skew, the issue really is, "Is the show entertaining, and will it get and keep viewers?" With the FCC requiring educational television for children viewers, most of the shows have some pro-social lessons, either hidden or glaring. But the overall note is that most of these shows forgot to put the "funny" in, and since they are supposed to be funny on some level, that's not a good thing.

If you are an animation fan, what can you do? Be thankful that not all animation is on Saturday mornings. There are two major trends that will save us - funny cable animation and animation for adults. Thanks to cable, there is animation all over the schedule. Nickelodeon has finally premiered new episodes of Rugrats. Cartoon Network is running funny new episodes of Cow & Chicken, Johnny Bravo, and Dexter's Laboratory. There is also a new round of "sitcom" animation with Daria and King of the Hill. On top of that, cable's version of animation for adults just keeps getting stranger and stranger, with shows such as South Park, Spawn, and Spicy City.

Besides, if I stay up late enough on Friday night to watch Spawn, I may sleep through Saturday morning anyway.

Martha Day works in the television animation industry. In her spare time, she watches far too much television.