Let the kids sleep:local stations cancel Saturday cartoons

June 24, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Say goodbye to Garfield, the Ninja Turtles and the Muppet Babies. In another example of the dramatically changing face of television, WBAL (Channel 11) yesterday announced it is canceling all Saturday morning cartoons as of July 18.

The CBS affiliate said it is dumping Saturday morning network programming and replacing it with a 4 1/2 -hour locally produced news show designed to look like CNN, with the cycle of stories repeated every half hour. The local news show will also run Sunday mornings, but Channel 11 will continue to carry CBS' "Sunday Morning" as part of its lineup.

"Prior to 6 p.m. on weekends, there is no local news and information available in Baltimore," said Phil Stolz, Channel 11's vice president and general manager. "We believe there is a substantial audience hungry for this local service." Stolz said people who want to watch cartoons can do so on other channels.

Not surprisingly, CBS brass in New York was not thrilled with the news. "What's my reaction? My reaction is that I don't ever like to lose a clearance [the industry term for an affiliate carrying network programs]. But it's part of a larger trend of weekend newscasts by local stations," said Scott Michels, the vice president and director of affiliate relations for CBS.

Network affiliates are going to local newscasts on weekend mornings in reaction to NBC's plans to launch a Saturday "Today" show this summer and as an attempt to "solidify" their audiences for news, according to Michels. The trend toward CNN-style newscasts by local stations on Saturday and Sunday mornings began about two years ago with KCRE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., which has improved its overall news ratings since.

The arrival of "Saturday Today" in Baltimore Aug. 8 will mean fewer cartoons yet. WMAR, Baltimore's NBC affiliate, will also cancel all Saturday morning cartoon programming as of that date to make room for "Today," Arnold Kleiner, Channel 2's general manager, said yesterday.

Michels and Stolz said the move by Channel 11 is not a reaction to the compensation bombshell CBS recently dropped on its affiliates.

The network has asked its affiliates to pay back $25 million of the $123 million the network pays its affiliates to carry CBS shows. Several affiliates have already announced they will buy syndicated shows or air local news programs and not carry the network offerings.

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