Television scheduling today looks to be so much neater, perhaps more professional, than in my youth. There was a time when programmes would start and finish at all sorts of odd times, with the awkward gaps filled in by cartoons; now programmes seem far more likely to begin almost religiously on the hour or half-hour, and the cartoons have been replaced by trailers and other promotions. Whether this is down to greater discipline on the part of programme makers, or to refinements in the schedulers’ art, I don’t know.
What I do know is that I find it a shame. The uniform regularity of the schedules, the lack of surprise, feels dull. I miss the occasional cartoon; more’s the point, I miss them on behalf of my kids, who it appears will never know the pleasure of the TV announcer revealing that there is just enough time between the end of Grandstand and the start of the News to squeeze in a Daffy Duck cartoon, or the extra special thrill of discovering as that cartoon ends and another starts that you are to be treated to a double bill.
The cartoons are still out there, of course, on their own digital subscription channels, and on DVD; perhaps it was the recognition of the money to be made from these commercial opportunities that spelt the end of the filler cartoon on the main networks, but if so it seems short-sighted to me. Sure, it worked in my case – fearing my son would miss out I bought several Tom & Jerry DVDs, and I urge you to do the same; you’ll want to stop at volume 5, mind, when the sublime comedy and Scott Bradley’s joyous Gershwinesque scores give way to tatty drawings, grating music and unfunny jokes – but I can’t help thinking that lacking a presence on terrestrial TV is akin to the cartoon makers shooting themselves in the foot. There must be kids growing up today who have no idea who Tom & Jerry are, and that is nothing short of a disgrace.
Thank heavens for the Internet, then, where free cartoons live to be stumbled upon again, and which hasn’t so much improved on the “old media” as to have taken up the mantle they have so willingly cast aside. For ages I wanted to track down one of my favourite childhood cartoons featuring a chemist who falls asleep and dreams that one of his potions has made him shrink to just a few inches tall while his bottles of witch hazel and ammonia spring to life and dance around him. Interrogating Google meant that I learned that it was called Bottles and was an MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon from 1936, but try as I might I couldn’t find out where to buy it. Then, periodically chancing my arm on YouTube, I finally located the whole 10-minute cartoon the other week, to my – and now my son’s – delight. So here it is in all its glory, my Christmas present to you all, and as a kind of placeholder until I write something here again, probably in the New Year. So until then, take care, and I’ll see you in 2008.