by Adam Thas
Before Ronald Reagan, there were regulations in place from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that said you could only advertise so many minutes toward children per half hour block of television. If you aren’t familiar with the 40th president of the United States, Reagan was no fan of regulation and in 1982 unofficially ordered the FCC to deregulate advertising in children’s programs. This opened the floodgates to the toy companies. Say you’re a toy company -- Hasbro, for example. Hasbro has an idea for these toys called Transformers, and instead of spending the money on advertising they create the show as the advertisement. With syndication in full swing throughout the world, you could then lease out story arcs to different animation houses all over the world; instead of selling them as full seasons, you could sell them as blocks directly to TV stations. For a person of my age, born in the late '70s or early '80s, these were the golden years. Not only did we have the toys, but we had a daily dose of shows to go along with it. This deregulation spawned shows like He-Man, Transformers, Silverhawks, Thundercats, and GI Joe, etc.
The end was inevitable. Peter Lynch once said that toy companies are terrible investments because kids grow up and this year’s hot toy is replaced by another one next Christmas. The market had become flooded with new toy lines that mimicked the market model, the generation that grew up in the Golden Age of Deregulation was getting older and the toy companies that were responsible were about to go “all in” with a final money grab. In 1986, Hasbro released two movies; the first was My Little Pony, followed a few weeks later by Transformers: The Movie. Spoilers coming up, but seriously, it’s been 30 years! They were both box office disasters. No one went to go see My Little Pony and the few that saw Transformers were upset by the death of Optimus Prime. Not a good “family” experience when your kid walks out of the theater crying. The two movies were disasters and cost Hasbro millions. With the failure of My Little Pony and Transformers, Hasbro started to panic. It already had one movie in the works: GI Joe: The Movie. While the movie was too far along to scrap, they muscled through and went for a straight-to-video/syndication release. It was a big deal. My friend Ben, who had a birthday a few days before mine, bought it and we watched it for his birthday.
Masters of the Universe, 1987 pretty much marks the end of the Deregulation era for many of us children of the '80s, as both Mattel and Hasbro found the current business model was no longer financially viable. Between 1987 and 1988, we saw the end of cartoon productions like Jem, Glo Friends, My Little Pony, Silverhawks, Thundercats, She-Ra, GI Joe, and Transformers.
It wasn’t until years later that many of these movies and shows found a new life on DVD as the '80s generation tried to recapture its youth. The good news is that pretty much every one of these shows can be bought cheaply on DVD, and movies like Masters of the Universe and Transformers have found new life as cult classics and discussed ad nauseam in the stockrooms of comic book stores and lines at Comic Cons. For most of us children of the '80s, there are a lot of the fond memories spent with these toys, in front of the TV, or in the movie theater. It all came to an end in 1987.