When you talk to people over a certain age you’ll get a lot of “back in the day” and “when I was kid” comments thrown around. Usually it’s just them waxing nostalgic, but every now and then they’ll hit you with something that truly is a gem. Since I AM one of those people over a certain age I’m going to drop a gem on you right now. Back in the day, when cartoons were something special that you only got to see en masse on Saturday mornings, there were these shows that would air towards the end of Summer right before the new TV season started. These shows were like Christmas presents a few months early – the anticipation of them weighed so heavily it was all you could do to not explode. By now you’re wondering (assuming you totally missed the title of this article), what kind of TV show could create such a palatable craving, yeah? Well, I’ll tell ya’ – I’m talking about Saturday morning cartoon preview shows.
Starting in the late 60s, and running fairly regularly throughout the 70s and 80s, each of the three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) would air these shows which featured popular actors of the time that either had an appeal to kids (like the Brady Bunch kids or “Weird” Al Yankovic) or characters/actors from an actual show that would air (Kaptain Kool & The Kongs or ALF). ABC was the most consistent of the networks, airing a special nearly every year until the late 90s, with new kids on the block like FOX and the WB/CW getting into the game late as the 90s turned into 00s. The shows began to dwindle in their popularity in the later part of the 80s as FCC guidelines regarding the content of kid’s programming (which basically said it needed to be educational or informational and less like 30 minute advertisements to sell toys) and media companies began to buy one another and create specialized channels for the booming cable TV industry.
The shows themselves would have a scripted plot in which the “host” and other guest stars creatively found ways to show sneak peaks of the upcoming cartoons. One special that stands out in my mind, but that I don’t remember too many specifics of (I was only seven!), was from ABC in 1974 that starred Lee Majors as his character Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man. In it, we were going to be treated these previews of the Saturday cartoons, but some nefarious fink had somehow managed to steal the film. So, in a smart move, Steve Austin was called in to find the crook and safely return the film canister that contained our cartoons. I want to say we got to watch most of them as the bad guy had his own private viewing party, but I might be wrong. Regardless, it was fun seeing Steve Austin outside of his own show, if not a little confusing to see a fictional character helping out with something “real”. The one I remember best was when I was a little older (by, oh, eleven years) in 1985 on CBS when ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper “took over” a show that was to be hosted by Herve Villechaize. Being a huge Roddy Piper fan (and a kid at heart who still watched Saturday morning cartoons), it’s no surprise why this one is my favorite.
Sadly, very few of these specials have survived to this day. Some of the later ones can be found in their entirety online, while the older ones – those from the 70s – were obviously not recorded by someone on a VCR and so you’re lucky if you can find more than segments or snippets although I was able to find a complete recording of one of the older ones from the 70s:
1974 NBC Saturday Morning Preview
And one from the 80s:
1987 NBC Saturday Morning Preview