Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids have been solving mysteries for 50 years.
The children’s cartoon “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” debuted on CBS on September 13, 1969. Five decades later, TV viewers of all ages are still watching the goofy dog and his four human friends on their wild adventures.
But the birth of “Scooby-Doo” wasn’t just by chance. It was a response, scholars argue, to the political and social turmoil during the late 1960s.
Here’s what led to one of America’s most enduring children’s shows.
There was anxiety around media violence’s effects
Violence and unrest filled Americans’ TV screens in 1968 with major news events including the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and various counterculture and civil rights protests.
All of those happenings were triggering great anxieties over media violence, said Kevin Sandler, an Arizona State University associate professor who specializes in film and media.
“There’s this belief from the left and right that film and television violence is – for right or wrong – playing a part in the violence on the streets and the violence overseas,” Sandler said.
And that included children’s TV programming.
The Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1967-1968 debuted several new action-adventure shows. Some advocacy groups worried the cartoons, such as “The Herculoids” and “Birdman and the Galaxy Trio,” featured too much violence.
“There’s no comedy,” Sandler said. “It’s all monsters and aliens and spies trying to pulverize each other. That’s it.”
Civic organizations, such as the Action for Children’s Television and the National Parent Teachers Association, demanded the government do something to safeguard children’s TV programming – a reaction that contributed to what some sociologists call a “moral panic.”
Cartoons with better ratings was still the business
The major broadcast networks – CBS, ABC and NBC – were leaning in to engage the youth demographic on Saturday mornings. But they wanted cartoons in 1968 that would bolster their morning ratings even more.
The networks told the studios to “turn out more of the same – in fact, to go ‘stronger,’” Sam Blum wrote in a 1968 New York Times column. Blum said the theory, which later proved to be correct, was the more horror, the higher the ratings.
So instead of creating more slapstick comedies, such as “The Flinstones” and “Tom and Jerry,” studios doubled down on shows about world domination, spies thanks to the James Bond craze, superheroes and space exploration.
“It’s the only thing we can sell to the networks, and we have to stay in business,” Hanna-Barbera co-creator Jospeh Barbera once explained. The studio was one of the largest creators of animated television programming at the time.
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy was the spark that got the government’s attention to investigate the public’s outcry.
Before his death, Kennedy advocated for more regulation of children’s TV programming when he worked with the Federal Communications Commission as attorney general. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence just hours after Kennedy was shot.
“[Kennedy’s] stance on communism may not have been consistent, but his pro child persona was incontrovertible,” media scholar Heather Hendershot wrote in her book “Saturday Morning Censors: Television Regulation Before the V-chip,” “and censoring in his name, for the good of child viewers, was like a tribute.”
‘Scooby-Doo’ was and still is a show of relief
The networks and studios took the government’s investigation seriously. While several action-adventure cartoons were still on air, cartoon creators, including Hanna-Barbera began brainstorming new series with gentler story lines.
That’s how “Scooby-Doo” came on the scene: A series that featured not a superhero out to destroy his arch nemesis, but a group of teens and their dog chasing down humans disguised as monsters.
Hanna-Barbera’s “Scooby-Doo” was among the several new shows in 1969 that had an opportunity to win parents’ approvals and maintain the youth demographic for the broadcast networks.
“People needed relief from all of the terror and from all of the dystopia and from all of the anger, and ‘Scooby-Doo’ is groovy,” said Sandler, who is working on an upcoming book about the show. “Kids get scared, they watch, they think life is good, the monsters aren’t real.”
Through all of the political and social shifts since 1969, Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, along with their talking Great Dane Scooby, found a way to stay relevant in pop culture.
After its debut on CBS, “Scooby-Doo” ran for two seasons and later spun off 15 series. Fans can still watch the cartoon on Boomerang.
The love for Scooby and his friends has been passed down from generation to generation, Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of franchise management and marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products said in a statement.
“With the release of content, unique experiences and a new assortment of products we’re giving fans an opportunity to celebrate Scooby in every way imaginable,” she said.
Warner Bros. and CNN share the same parent company, WarnerMedia.