The Decline of Classic Nick
The Rise & Fall of Our Childhood
Thinking over the glory days of my childhood I always feel incredibly blessed that I was of the generation who experienced Nickelodeon at its prime. Anytime the topic of this once great network is brought up in conversation it is impossible to predict when it will ever end. There was far too much quality entertainment on Nickelodeon in the early to late '90s that it made you wonder how things could possibly turn sour? But, by before the '90s took its final bow, things took a turn for the worse. Our beloved shows that we grew up on were being stripped off the air and appalling new shows took their spots. The Nickelodeon of yesterday takes much credit for the person I am today and it depresses me to see the network that made mine and many others' childhoods worth living turn to shit. Will Nickelodeon ever bounce back to the way it was almost 20 years ago? Doubtful. But, for the time being let's relive all those things that kept our eyes glued to the tube all those years.
Being born into this world in 1987, my childhood was set in the 1990s where most kids (who had cable) lived and breathed one network: Nickelodeon. Nick was the first ever network devoted entirely to kids... Yes, you heard right. Kids. Not our parents, not our grandparents, but a network devoted to us and what we wanted to see. How generous I thought. While Nickelodeon was spitting out wonderful shows in the late '80s, it wouldn't be until 1991 that those shows joined the shows of the '90s that changed our lives forever.
Shows from the previous decade such as "Double Dare" and "Hey Dude", a live-action show that detailed the lives of teenagers working on a ranch just outside of Arizona, proudly marched their way into the '90s. Awaiting them was a whole slew of new programming that was sure to blow the socks off of all kids watching Nick at the time... and it did. The early '90s welcomed incredible new shows such as: "Clarissa Explains It All", "Welcome Freshman" and "Wild & Crazy Kids" which was a game show that involved 3 color coted teams of kids competing in athletic events. These shows were revolutionizing children's broadcasting due to their excellent sense of humor and well crafted ideas.
"Clarissa Explains It All" was an amazing new program that starred an up and coming, young Melissa Joan Hart as Clarrisa Darling. The show revolved around Clarissa dealing with typical teenage problems ranging from zits to an annoying little brother named, "Ferg-Face"... I mean Ferguson. Clarissa would normally speak directly to the audience to update us on her life which was interesting because at the time I always thought she was talking directly to me... Sure, I had issues, but who didn't. To make things cooler, Clarissa owned a pet baby alligator named Elvis and had a male best friend named Sam. Sam would always enter Clarissa's bedroom window via ladder and would be introduced by the sound of a guitar. I always waited for an episode to come that would pit Clarissa and Sam hating each other and Sam crawling into her window at night to snap Elvis's head off... Unfortunately, the episode never came. The show was a hit and celebrated 5 seasons on the air and eventually ran in reruns for years to come. The rise and popularity of these live-action shows would only increase thanks to a show about a group of kids at summer camp... Camp Anawana to be precise.
"Salute Your Shorts" joined the Nickelodeon line-up in 1991 and only lasted 2 seasons despite what many people feel was a longer run. Perhaps this was due to the show running in reruns until the mid-late '90s. The hilarious comedy focused on Budnick, Donkeylips, Sponge, Michael (who was replaced by Pinsky midway through the show), Dina, Z.Z. and Telly and their adventures at summer camp. A constant hobby for the kids was to annoy their camp counselor, Kevin "Ugh" Lee as much as humanly possible. They often succeeded in this department. The show's cast was greatly responsible for bringing the humor that the show possessed. "Salute Your Shorts" was also not afraid of being politically incorrect at times which worked to the show's advantage. For example, in the pilot episode "Michael Comes To Camp", when Michael and Sponge ask Budnick and Donkeylips what will happen to them if they refuse to steal from the girls' bunk, Budnick explains that Donkeylips will sit and fart on their heads. By today's Nickelodeon standards, do you think you'd ever hear a crack like that made? I think not. But, before we conquer the territory of what happened to our great network we still have a long road to travel.
On August 11, 1991, Nickelodeon welcomed their first 3 original cartoons, cleverly titled "Nicktoons". The original line-up consisted of: "Rugrats", "Doug" and "The Ren & Stimpy Show", all of which are now considered true Nickelodeon classics. As a child, as far back as I could possibly remember my eyes were glued to the screen anytime these shows were on. The cunning conversations that went on among talking babies in "Rugrats" always kept me interested and "The Ren & Stimpy Show" was a work of genius that I still hail as one of the few cartoons that can still make me hysterically laugh. Meanwhile, "Doug" was a show that all young kids could easily relate to. Besides, the fact that he had a dog who was smarter than most people and friends that were oddly multicolored, specifically his best friend Skeeter who was blue. "Doug" told the story of Doug Funnie, who was roughly 11 or 12 years-old, dealing with typical childhood experiences such as: the school bully Roger Klotz,
concealing his crush on Patti Mayonnaise and hanging out at the Honker Burger with his best buddy, Skeeter and others. Doug was a creative daydreamer who, in every episode, wrote in a journal about generally everything there was to know about him. The show was also remembered for its many pop culture references ranging from Doug's favorite band The Beets (a spoof of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones). As well as, Doug's daydream fantasies of being fictional characters such as: Quailman (a spoof of Superman), Race Canyon (a parody of Indiana Jones) and Smash Adams (an obvious reference to James Bond). "Doug" was a memorable show that taught kids wonderful lessons in a very humorous and helpful way. Personally, "Doug" taught me the true way to a girl's heart is by strumming on a banjo and singing to them about how they are
the mayonnaise on my hamburger and the ketchup on my french fries.
By 1992, Nickelodeon was riding high with the success of their Nicktoons line-up and live action programming which still consisted of the newly renamed "Family Double Dare" and "Clarissa Explains It All". In addition, "What Would You Do?", a part game show/talk show that was hosted by Marc Summers (host of "Family Double Dare") aired on Nick in 1991 and ran for 3 seasons. By 1993, Nickelodeon's popularity skyrocketed with kids of my age thanks to their latest projects. "Guts", hosted by an extremely loud Mike O' Malley, was an intense sports show involving 3 kids competing against each other in different events. The final event called for the 3 competitors to climb "The Aggro Crag", a mountain type structure, that required them to hit a series of actuators before reaching the top. Scores from the entire competition were tallied at the end and whoever had the most took home with them a gold medal and "a glowing piece of the rock".
In addition, 1993 brought also another game show that not only tested the competitors physical power but also their mind power. "Legends of the Hidden Temple" pitted 6 teams of 2, who were assigned different color quoted animal names such as The Blue Barracudas and The Silver Snakes. The teams would face off against each other in elimination type obstacles that required them to answer a history type question or compete in a physical competition. 1 team would make it to the final round of entering "Olmec's Temple" to recover an artifact in 3 minutes. If the team was successful, they were awarded with various prizes. I always loved this show because it was incredibly challenging but I always had one, small issue with it. Generally speaking, if you were a contestant on the show at the time of its airing, you'd imagine that you would have seen the show on television a lot. For some reason, 95% of the kids who made it into the Temple acted as if they never had a fucking clue where to go even though Olmec explains it in detail beforehand. While we're on the subject... and I know that anybody who was a fan of the show will know exactly what I am talking about.
Inside the Temple there was a room called "The Shrine of the Silver Monkey"... catchy name, right? Nevertheless, the obstacle in that room was to assemble a statue of a monkey that was scattered in three pieces: the feet, the body and the head. The monkey needed to be properly assembled in order to unlock the next door and for some reason these god damn kids could never do it. FEET, BODY, THEN HEAD! Come on guys... was it really that difficult? These kids, on a regular basis, would normally screw themselves the grand prize of a week at NASA's Space Camp all because they couldn't put together a fucking monkey!.... On the other hand, looking at that grand prize again, perhaps their stupidity with the silver monkey may have been a good thing.
Along with Nick's success of their new popular game shows, 1993 also welcomed 2 of their greatest and most beloved shows of all time. "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" was a horror themed show about a group of teenagers who call themselves "The Midnight Society" and gather around a campfire every week to tell ghostly tales. The story that the teller begins in the first few moments of the show became the episode that the audience viewed. For a kid who grew up idolizing Freddy Kruger and staying up late to watch "Tales from the Crypt" on HBO, this seemed right up my alley. Considering this was a Nickelodeon program, the episodes still managed to often be very scary and creepy. Some episodes put dark twists on fairy tale characters, while others showed a creepy clown haunting a teenager and new neighbors turning out to be vampires. The show became an instant classic to me and still holds up today after nearly 15 years since it debuted. Submitted for the approval, of the Midnight Society, I call this essay... "The Tale of Why Nickelodeon sucks balls today". I'm sorry... I'm getting ahead of myself. We still have a tad to go.
In addition, the success of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" may have sealed the deal for anyone watching Nickelodeon at that time in their lives. For me, it certainly did. My theory was with everything that was on Nickelodeon already, how could things possibly get any better? I continued to watch my television set in my playroom only to be drawn into the odd town of Wellsville where two brothers, both named Pete, resided. This show was truly something unique and special. "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" has always been a show I've held close to my childhood even though I wouldn't understand some of its humor to the fullest until years later. The simplest way to describe what Pete & Pete was to me was beautiful and weird. I guess there's a fine line between those two things but that's the only way I could describe the show. "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" centered on two brothers, one younger and the other older, who are both named Pete. The inhabitants in their town of Wellsville are just as odd and intriguing as the twisted situations they found themselves every week. Characters such as Artie, the strongest man in the world, who was Little Pete's personal superhero declared
something strange and hilarious was going on in this show. Especially when this hero, who was a grown man, dressed in red and blue stripped pajamas battling ocean waves and taking on an entire gym dodgeball class with his little companion. The show through its often weird storylines allowed for so much heart to come through its message, that you walked away knowing a lot more then expected from a Nick show about friendship, love and life. The show is also occasionally remembered for its appearances from actors Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Selma Blair, LL Cool J and Adam West. An incredible ingredient that made this show so beautiful was its usage of indie recording artists such as: Luscious Jackson, The 6ths, The Magnetic Fields and Polaris (who sung the opening theme song). The music of the show captured a spirit and atmosphere that could only have been done by these talented artists. My love for "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" may also run as deep as I'm expressing because the show was my first real life encounter with a film set and actors. In my hometown of Westfield, NJ, "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" were in town shooting an episode from Season 3 entitled "Crisis in the Love Zone". I had heard from word of mouth that they were shooting at the local pool, where regular cast member Ellen Hickle (played by Alison Fanelli) was being filmed on the tennis courts. My mother and I went there where many other kids had shown up in hopes to get an autograph from her, which we did. It was amazing to see at such a young age, all the lights, equipment and hard work that everyone was putting into making this show a reality. It could also explain why I'm so terribly obsessed with pop culture and have no grip of what having an actual life is like anymore. As a mere side note, I was told by an acquaintance as she was leaving that Little Pete (played by Danny Tamberelli) was leaving from another area of the pool. My eyes lit up and my mother and I tracked him down as he was walking out of an exit door and kindly received an autograph from him... Sucks for all those kids who didn't have the inside information... While at the same time, sucks for me harder because I lost the autographs and pictures I took with Alison Fanelli years ago... Son of a bitch.
As if 1993 couldn't get any better for Nickelodeon, the network added a brand new Nicktoon to the current line-up. The new Nicktoon's premise was about a wallaby's life in his city of O-Town and his interactions with his hilarious friends. "Rocko's Modern Life" became a perfect addition to the now classic line-up of original Nicktoons and is considered to be one of Nickelodeon's most beloved Nicktoons. Rocko, along with his dog Spunky and best friends Heffer and Filbert constantly found themselves in the most awkward and equally hysterical situations since "The Ren & Stimpy Show". The show's animation was fresh and the quality of humor coming out of it was incredible. "Rocko's Modern Life" quickly became the next cartoon, since "The Ren & Stimpy Show", that still to this day could make me sincerely crack up. The show has become a prominent cult classic and all though its been demanded by fans for years, Nickelodeon has never released an official DVD release of the series.... Fuckers. Looking beyond the raunchy humor of the show, I took a lot of worthwhile life lessons from "Rocko's Modern Life"... For instance, I never turn a page of anything without washing my hands immediately after.
Enter 1994. Nickelodeon welcomes the addition of 2 more live-action shows and another Nicktoon. Am I already content with Nickelodeon? Yes. Could I go for more? Fuck yes. Nick puts "The Secret World of Alex Mack" and the sketch-comedy variety show "All That" on that airwaves. Now, I'll be the first one to say it and say it proudly... Alex Mack was hot to trot. Larisa Oleynik was a fox and I had a very large, intimate crush on her. Considering she was 13 years-old when she started Alex Mack and I was 7 years-old watching it, I figured my chances we're skyrocketing high. For the show's premise to have a teenage girl get chemical waste dumped on her and gain powers from them and secretly conceal them to everyone (except her big sister Annie and best friend Ray, of course) you'd imagine the powers being a little... cooler. I mean turning into a puddle? Shooting yellow laser-type bolts out of your fingers that were barely harmful? I'll give the makers of the show full credit for wanting to be original, I just always felt they could have dug a little deeper. Although, turning into a puddle of water could have its perks especially if you see someone walking towards you who is going to annoyingly talk to you for 30 minutes... Consider me a puddle of piss in the alleyway.
"All That" became Nickelodeon's next big hit by creating an SNL type variety show using teenage actors. The show lasted an unbelievable 11 seasons until eventually being canned in 2005 after 181 episodes.
But, we're not here to talk about those other seasons. We're here to talk about the ones that we grew up on that actually had hilarious sketches with talented young actors breathing life into them. The original line-up of actors from the first few seasons had a great sense of humor that was spread like wildfire thanks to the characters they created. Could anyone forget Kel Mitchell as Ed, the cashier at "Good Burger"? According to Ed, anything you ordered from the Good Burger menu would be $8 bucks. What about Josh Server as Earboy along with his buddies Pizza Face, Tinsel Teeth and Four Eyes who had to deal with being made fun of because of their looks. Vital Information with Lori Beth Denberg in the early seasons always managed to be a great outlet for dry humor especially in one particular segment where she received a phone call and had to travel backstage to free Katrina from a locker. While the adventures of "Superdude" and the help of "Repairman" always managed to be some of the funniest skits that "All That" ever came up with. Finally, it'd be a crime not to make mention of Everyday French with Pierre Escargot, Detective Dan and of course Baggin Saggin Berry. "All That" was a show that proved how funny it could be when great writing meets great talent. The show was also recalled for its musical guest stars that would perform on stage at the end of the evening's show. At times the musical guest choices such as: Bow Wow, Nick Cannon and Coolio were often incredibly cheesy while other guest choices including: Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears seemed like bigger acts than expected.
By the time 1997 rolled around, Nickelodeon had added the last 3 shows that would be considered apart of the classic Nicktoon line-up. "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters" debuted on the network in 1994 and lasted 4 seasons, but like many Nick shows, ran in reruns for many years after. The cartoon focused on 3 monsters who attended a school for monsters that taught them how to frighten humans. The show had wonderful voice talent provided by such people as Christine Cavanaugh (voice of Chuckie Finster on "Rugrats"), James Belushi and Tim Curry. The animation proved to be just as impressive as the voice cast mainly due to its use of detail and unique colors. In 1996, Nickelodeon welcomed "Kablam!" and "Hey Arnold!" to their successful line-up of programs that only increased Nick's popularity.
"Kablam!" was a very unique program that was hosted by the animated characters Henry and June. The show utilized several different forms of animation to tell their various shorts which proved to be very effective in keeping the show fresh. Many will remember the shorts: Sniz and Fondue, Action League Now!, Life with Loopy, Prometheus and Bob and The Off-Beats segments. I always particularly loved Action League Now! which circled around a team of 4 super heros: The Flesh, Thundergirl, Stinky Diver and Melt Man who had the power to... melt. The show used real action figures in household settings to tell its stories. The superhero's were always clueless to how useless their "powers" were to saving the world but they didn't care. I envy them. I wish that by me diving through toilet water would cure cancer but I guess life isn't always sunshine and flowers. Meanwhile, "Hey Arnold!" was another new Nicktoon that I quickly began describing as Doug for city kids. "Hey Arnold!" told the wonderful story of Arnold, a 4th-grader living with his grandparents in a boarding home. Arnold, unlike Doug Funnie, actually had normal skinned friends. But, unfortunately our main character possessed a football shaped head that he was constantly teased for by Helga Pataki (The class bully who secretly loved Arnold). Arnold was a good hearted kid who managed to always make the right decisions and enjoy endless adventures with his best friend Gerald. The coolest thing about Arnold wasn't his sensitivity
or his understanding of the problems that faced him. It was his room! Arnold's room was the most fascinating a room that a 4th grader, or anyone for that matter, would have wanted. He had a high-tech computer, a couch that came out of the wall, and skylight window ceilings. If that's not enough for you... everything in this kid's room was operated by remote control. Anytime Arnold came home from a long day of school, the pound of a button would pull the couch out and turn on smooth Jazz music. What a lucky bastard. This special program was most likely the last Nicktoon that showed a tremendous amount of heart put into it unlike the shit that's seen on Nickelodeon's airwaves today.
In addition, to the wonderful shows that ruled our beloved Nickelodeon, the network will always be remembered to me for its little things. I always loved the holiday seasons (specifically Halloween and Christmas) because Nick would play their great holiday episodes of the shows that always managed to get you in the spirit of the season. I recall the Halloween episode of "Doug", entitled "Doug's Halloween Adventure", that found Doug and Skeeter attending the theme park Funkytown on Halloween night to enter the haunted Blood Stone Manor. Upon entering Blood Stone Manor, it seems as if things truly are haunted until it is revealed that Roger and his gang secretly fooled Doug and Skeeter. The real ghost of Blood Stone Manor agrees to help the two friends get even with Roger by pretending they are ghosts. The scheme is successful and Doug and Skeeter end their ghoulish night off victorious. If that were not enough, on Halloween, Nickelodeon used to have a contest air during commercial breaks called "Nick or Treat". The contest had kids call in and participate in a trick or treating spree on their televisions that either had prizes or tricks hiding behind each door they chose. I always wanted to be apart of the contest but I never got through on the phone. Secondly, Nick will be fondly remembered for its Saturday night line-up, called "Snick", that was promoted on commercials by its "mascot" which was a big, orange couch.
"Snick" debuted in 1992 with a 2-hour programming block of shows originally including: "Clarissa Explains It All", "Roundhouse" which was an early sketch comedy show that incorporated teens in comedy and dance routines, "The Ren & Stimpy Show" and "Are You Afraid of the Dark?". For kids like us who were too young to go out or do anything late on evenings, Snick was just the right ingredient for us. Interestingly enough, I'm currently 20 years old and I'd still rather be home on Saturday nights enjoying classic Snick line-ups. I guess beggers can't be choosers after all. Finally, when Nickelodeon wasn't sliming kids or setting them up in a Toys R' Us to go on a shopping spree contest, Nick cared about the environment. It's a shame as a little tike I didn't give a shit as much as they did.
Nickelodeon's "The Big Help" was a community outreach program that aired every year on television and was active all year around. The purpose was for kids to do their part in keeping the environment safe and clean for all to live in. Around the time of the televised event, cast members of various Nick shows were taking phone calls from kids all over the country and marking down how many hours they were willing to pledge to clean up their community. My sister and I would constantly call the line in hopes of being live on the air with a cast member. Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to speak to any of them. Instead, we were greeted by a friendly recording asking us how many hours we were willing to pledge. I, alone pledged over 100 hours of environmental service to my community... It's just a shame that I never gave a shit to pick up trash in elementary school due to an agreement I made with a voice recording. Plus, at the end of the televised event it was revealed to the live audience and those at home how many hours kids pledged to "The Big Help".... Are you fucking kidding me? Whatever those figures were, year after year, I'd be willing to bet that hardly any of them were ever served. Unless your Jesus Christ himself, I doubt kids actually got their asses up and roamed around their community trying to find shit to pick up. I sure as hell didn't... I had my Nickelodeon to attend to.
I am willing to admit that just because Nickelodeon was the most incredible thing in the early to late '90s, that didn't mean everything they touched turn to gold. For instance, the mediocre new Nicktoon additions, "CatDog" and "The Angry Beavers", barely scratched the surface of my imagination the way other Nicktoons did.
While crappy live-action shows like "The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo" and "The Journey of Allen Strange" made their way onto Nickelodeon time slots, they did nothing but annoy me. And this is where we begin to go downhill... The '90s were almost up and Nickelodeon had started washing its hands of its old Nick shows and making way for new ones. Classic game shows like "Family Double Dare" were now being replaced by a horrible new game show called "Figure It Out" which happened to annoy me just as much as Shelby Woo and Allen Strange. I never became tired of reruns of my favorite Nick shows, they were exactly what I loved. But, I assume that Nickelodeon grew tired of them and made the harsh decision of taking them off the air to give Nick a face lift. I understand that Nickelodeon is the first kid's network and they had to roll with the times but selfishly I always felt that Nickelodeon was our channel. The kids of the '90s channel. In a very sad way, the decline and fatal end of our classic Nickelodeon marked something else too... It was the end of our childhood. It was a depressing reality to face that the removal of television shows is what marked my physical exit of being a kid. Nearly 10 years have passed since our channel died but I still regard classic Nickelodeon as the reason for not losing my childhood spirit. In 2007, we live in a world where Nickelodeon is ran by computer animated boy geniuses and teeny bopper "comedies"... or at least what they consider comedy. I'd long for the day to see a Classic Nick channel hit the airwaves where I can celebrate the wackiness of Camp Anwana, tell ghost stories with the Midnight Society and jam to the Beets... or if the current pricks running Nickelodeon get smart and release our beloved shows on DVD in their entirety. Whatever comes first.