The need children of my generation felt to spend as many waking moments as possible watching TV was quite intense. My next-oldest sibling is a mere four years older than myself, and I can not recall him ever plopping down and sitting TV for hours on end like I did (short that week wherein we watched “Rad” a whole lot). Yet for nearly as long as I can remember, I was always watching TV all the time. I can remember before I was even in school watching Scooby Doo every morning, and not being able to reach the cable box on top of the television, yelling to my mother to turn it off as the credits rolled to avoid “stupid Fat Albert” (remotes were a luxury in 1986, and my brain had yet to grow the complexity to enjoy such subtleties as the humor of Fat Albert). I enjoyed both Sesame Street and its lesser Canadian counterpart, Pinwheel, and many other stereotypical kid shows. But the real addiction didn’t come until a few years later, and like many former Mouseketeers I can blame my addiction on Disney.It was the bloodiest frisbee accident on record.The Disney Afternoon technically debuted in the Fall of 1989 on NBC. Boasting a lineup of Gummi Bears and DuckTales, it was an obvious afterschool choice for me. Gummi Bears had been a staple of my Saturday mornings for some time. I had viewed DuckTales once by chance at my great aunt’s place in Carver, providing a glimpse of sunlight in an otherwise dark home filled with bitterness and the refrain of a long-retired dental assistant asking to see my and my siblings’ teeth (my brother once took one for the team, literally, to get us out of there; it was the bloodiest frisbee accident on record). Given my affection for this pair of shows, you can only imagine my excitement when in 1990, the lineup was doubled in length and officially dubbed “The Disney Afternoon”. Newcomer “TaleSpin” combined the plot of The Secret of Monkey Island with The Jungle Book and airplanes, and “Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers” found a permanent home after being paired up with non-Disney programming for the prior season.
Never before had I or any of my classmates or relatives seen such a one stop shop for post-school entertainment. These shows were a regular source of discussion and the generation of urban myths (“In New York, they showed an episode where Baloo got killed, but they couldn’t show it here.” “No way!”, “I think Dale is based on Magnum, PI!” “I think you’re right!” etc), and inevitably gave way to Disney’s participation in the explosion of Nintendo game development at the tail end of the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s. DuckTales in particular encouraged the sort of fanaticism that inspired people to later create videos like the following and for people like me to find them (note the creepy shot of the person’s house):
When not watching The Disney Afternoon, my contemporaries and myself were discussing it in school while ignoring our not-that-important-in-the-grand-scheme-of-it lessons, renting the Nintendo games, or pleading with our parents to take us to the inevitable DuckTales feature length film, “The Legend of the Lost Lamp”. In hindsight, writing that sort of frightened me, and it provides some insights into the intensity of my nieces’ and nephews’ current interests.To me Goofy was always the dimwitted dog who somehow rolled better than Pluto in the evolutionary game of dice.The Disney Afternoon began season two with a slight surprise; Fall 1991 saw Gummi Bears pushed to the earlier 2:30 slot, before most elementary school students were home, the rest of the shows moved up a half an hour, and a new show, Darkwing Duck, took Gummi Bears’ place at the end of the slot. Darkwing Duck was (and still is; it holds up) one of the best of the lot. Following the exploits of a bumbling superhero that inexplicably also employed guaranteed alcoholic pilot Launchpad McQuack, Darkwing was a clever addition that managed to add a hint of film noir darkness that would be fully realized in the 1994 debut of Gargoyles. Other shows would debut in this fashion each season, as well; notably, in 1992, DuckTales was dropped, a decision with which I still disagree, to make room for the far inferior Goof Troop. I never wondered what Goofy’s life was like outside of his animated shorts. To me he was always the dimwitted dog who somehow rolled better than Pluto in the evolutionary game of dice.
And so it continued. Bonkers was later added at the expense of TaleSpin, and eventually multiple quality shows were removed at the expense of multiple inferior shows. Nonsense such as The Shnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show, Aladdin, and The Mighty Ducks (based on anthropomorphic alien ducks who wore hockey gear…I’m not making this up) began to fill the space once occupied by DuckTales, Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, and TaleSpin. Even Gummi Bears had a modicum of thought behind it; the later shows did not. Consequently, it’s not surprising that the power of The Disney Afternoon began to wane in the mid-90s, and the successful block breathed its last in 1997. Disney still controlled a ninety minute block on alternately NBC and Fox, but by 2000 even this short lineup had stalled entirely. Personally, my television addiction grew before it collapsed. The Disney Afternoon built up my tolerance, and I soon endured things like Punky Brewster, Saved by the Bell, and California Dreams (if you don’t remember this one, picture Saved by the Bell but every episode is one of those “they have a band now” episodes) simply to have something to watch. Eventually as I grew older, television played a much smaller role in my life, and I all but abandoned it as a teenager. I’ve gone through phases of watching shows that I enjoy, but I currently do not have cable: a thought that the eight year old me could have never conceived.The legacy of the first couple of lineups lingers on.As for The Disney Afternoon, the legacy of the first couple of lineups lingers on. DuckTales was released on DVD in Europe as late as last year. Capcom also announced a remastered version of their DuckTales video game due to be released this Summer. Similarly, a port of the Darkwing Duck NES game has been released for Java-compatible touchscreen phones. Darkwing also enjoyed a brief comic book miniseries in 2010-2011. To absolutely no one’s surprise, neither The Shnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show nor Bonkers have really had that sort of fandom survive the end of the mighty afternoon lineup that bore them.