It’s hard to believe that there was a time in my life when Saturday mornings weren’t made for sleeping…but rather, getting up “at the crack of ice” (as my pal Maureen likes to call it) and blissing out in front of the set to watch the endless parade of TV animation. Those fondly-remembered “days of cold cereal and footy pajamas”—as I have nicknamed them in the past—come to life in a new book that will be released on October 23: It’s Saturday Morning! A Look Back at Four Decades of Cartoons, Pop Culture, and Tradition. Published by becker & mayer!, It’s Saturday Morning! brings bestselling author Joe Garner (whose books include We Interrupt This Broadcast and Made You Laugh) and screenwriter Michael Ashley (Girl Versus Monster) together to collaborate on a wonderful nostalgic wallow that brought back fond memories of the time when my father would yell at the top of his lungs: “It’s six a.m.! What the hell is he doing up at this hour of the morning?!!”
It’s important to note that this book is subtitled “A Look Back at Four Decades of Cartoons, Pop Culture, and Tradition” because Messrs. Garner and Ashley stray on occasion from their animation mission: for example, there’s a chapter on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and sections on such fondly remembered kidvid commercials (under the heading of “After These Messages”) for the likes of Slinky and Alpha-Bits Cereal. While I’m on the subject, the authors are also not always faithful to their “Saturday Morning” concept: shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers might have aired in that time period but not on any network schedule that I’m aware (they were syndicated series). These are just minor nitpicks, however; Garner and Ashley have a none-too-shabby batting average when it comes to their stroll down memory lane, providing lovely memories of the Saturday-morning-cartoons programming that vanished from those networks years ago.
Joe and Michael stress from the get-go that It’s Saturday Morning! is not an encyclopedia—to cover the entire history of Saturday morning animation would require an immense tome the size of Toon Town. Instead, they do a little cherry-picking, singling out those popular series that have managed to endure throughout the years…so if you’re like me and you remember risking my father’s sleep-deprived wrath to watch The Space Kidettes or Hoppity Hooper you’re going to be a little disappointed. Their section on the 1960s, for example (I’m emphasizing this because it’s the era in which I grew up), highlights entries on The Bugs Bunny Show, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Adventures of Jonny Quest, Underdog, The Archie Show, and Space Ghost (what—no Dino Boy?). The second section on the 70s covers such iconic shows as Scooby–Doo, Where are You?, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and Super Friends.
I have a small confession to make: as I matured into adolescence (and began working Saturday and Sunday mornings at my hometown’s radio station) my devotion to cartoons started to wane…which means the later sections on the 1980s/1990s didn’t hold my interest to the extent that the first two did. As such, those of you of a more younger vintage among the TDOY faithful might be a bit more enthusiastic about series like Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, Garfield and Friends, Darkwing Duck, and Animaniacs. Where It’s Saturday Morning! does succeed, however, is providing each series covered with a comprehensive background (though taking care not to go too far into the weeds) and little bits of trivia here and there to maintain interest. There’s also a brief section on the studio that 60 Minutes once nicknamed ”The General Motors of Animation,” Hanna-Barbera Productions, supplemented with informative side-trips on the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Cabbage Patch Dolls, and Mentos (the Freshmaker).
“We had so much fun researching the stories behind the cartoons,” observes author Joe Garner about the book. “As often as possible, our goal was to make sure that no matter how much our readers think they know about a particular cartoon, we tried to make sure to include something in the story that may surprise them.” It’s Saturday Morning! is also—to quote an old Firesign Theatre sketch—profusely illustrated (nearly 400 images including concept art and archival images), with a foreword from Howie “Deal or No Deal” Mandel, whose Bobby’s World also gets a few pages in the publication. (Okay—I’m probably not the best judge of a TV cartoon’s popularity…but can you honestly argue this show continues to have staying power? Well, what I do know—I was always baffled by the cult success of Battle of the Planets, which also rates a substantial mention.) It’s Saturday Morning! would be an ideal addition to any coffee table, allowing guests to leaf through its ample pages and reminisce about cheerier times while their host tries to figure out why the damn charcoal won’t light. (Many thanks to Steve Roth at The Quarto Group for providing the review copy.)