September 14, 2012

When lions were kings (of breakfast cereals)

How many of you remember the 1960s Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lionhearted? (Not to be confused with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, another cartoon featuring a royal lion, or Linus Van Pelt, the blanket-carrying philosopher in Peanuts.) Perhaps you're more familiar with one of the characters that appeared on Linus—Sugar Bear, the ubiquitous cereal spokesbear? Ah, but therein lies the tale.

Linus the Lionhearted ran on CBS and ABC from 1964 to 1969. The characters were created originally as advertising for Post cereals—hence, Sugar Bear. In 1969, the FCC ruled that children's show characters could no longer appear in advertisements on the same program as their characters appeared, and ABC was forced to cancel Linus.*

*I hadn't thought of this before, but King Leonardy was sponsored by General Mills, the archrival to Post. What the appeal of animated lions for cereal companies was, I don't know.

Of course, one might wonder whatever happened to that FCC ruling, since so many cartoons on TV today seem to be nothing but full-length commercials that don't even try to tell a story. (I seem to recall having seen a Pokeman cartoon a few years ago that seemed to consist solely of kids playing the game; if that isn't a commerical, I don't know what is.) Unfortunately, this was the era of the so-called "reform" of children's programmng, spearheaded by groups such as the Children's Television Workshop, which in reality served primarily to destroy local children's TV by wiping out the necessary relationship between host and sponsor that kept these shows on the air.

Here is a complete episode of Linus the Lionhearted, including commercials, and you'll notice that the commercials are so well-integrated into the program that it is, indeed, kind of hart to dell where the show leaves off and the commercials begin (although I have no doubt that the savvier kids of today would be able to figure it out). You'll also recognize the aforementioned Sugar Bear, who somehow survived everything and continues (unlike the others) plugging Sugar Crisp before being P.C.'d into its current name, Golden Crisp. I always thought Sugar Bear was supposed to sound like Bing Crosby, and apparently others thought so as well. I don't know why the other characters failed to survive as commercial icons; perhaps someone else has the info.

The question remains though, as it so often does: was the cure worse than the disease? With all the ads that children were subjected to back then (as they continue to be today), were they really better off getting rid of Linus the Lionhearted at the expense of losing the local hosts that provided so much for them? You be the judge. TV  

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