My Favorite TV Stations Part 3
Comprehensive Nickelodeon retrospect - Part 2 of 4
The first article in this series covering my favorite TV stations growing up covered TNT and TBS, which yielded some fine broadcasting content, while the second article focused on the iconic Nicktoons of the 90s. This article, although titled part 3, is really an addendum to the Nickelodeon article as I feel Nick brought 4 different genres of shows to the table, and to cover all 4 in one article would be an unpleasant reading experience. This particular piece will focus on the the live action and sketch comedy shows. To me, these shows played just as big a role in making Nickelodeon the station destination of choice in its golden years, as did the animated classics in the previous article. So kick back, relax, and put your mind on retro mode as we recall some of the classic Nick live action productions of the 1990s.
You Can't do that on Television - 1979
Although originally aired on a non-Nickelodeon channel in Canada, it still remains in my memory as a Nick show. The layout was similar to that of In Living Color, Saturday Night Live, or more recently, All that, but was nearly all cast with, and geared toward teens. Being that this show started its syndicated Nickelodeon run earlier in my childhood I don't recall this show as well as the later hits on the Nick network. However, one of the more memorable sketches was one that had the cast siting in a restaurant owned by Barth, a disgusting short order cook who slurred his words and constantly informed the recipients of his burgers horrific ingredients, or of the unsanitary preparation of their food after theyve already indulged. Another sketch was called Firing Squad which entailed one of the teen cast members getting ready to be executed by a Spanish military officer (the same actor that played Barth). The premise was for the teen to find a way to get out of being executed which usually ended in success, although I seem to remember the execution taking place from time to time. Ah the days when capital punishment was a source of entertainment for teens. It is worth noting that it is this show that sparked the use of slime on Nickelodeon shows (at least from my observation, although I don't have any documentation of that claim). YCDTOT used the green slime gimick when the phrase I DONT KNOW was uttered by one of the cast memebers. One final interesting fact on this show is that it starred Alanis Morisstete as a regular cast memeber. This was, in my opinion, the show that served as the main inspiration for many of Nickelodeons most successful trademarks, shows, and style.
Hey Dude - July 14, 1989
Hey Dude centered around a group of teens working on the Bar None dude ranch for the summer. Most of the cast members dont carry much in the way of credentials or notoriety, save for Christine Taylor who went on to act in notable films Dodgeball and Zoolander, as well as marry Hollywood actor Ben Stiller. The story lines were nothing original, but the characters are what brought this show to life for me in my childhood. There was Ted, the arrogant ladies man of the show, Brad, the love interest of Ted who also comes from a wealthy family which yields a slight smugness to her persona, Melody, who was portrayed by Christine Taylor, Danni, a Native American who seems to be the more realistic and mature of the bunch, Mr. Ernst, a city boy who buys the ranch to escape big city life, and his son Buddy, who annoyed everyone. As much as I would like to indulge in a few memorable episodes sadly I cant seem to remember much about the shows story other than Brad constantly turning down Ted, and Mr. Ernst being completely clueless. Still, this show was one of my favorites. Remember the opening song....Heeeey Duuuude (in a deep cowboy voice).
Are You Afraid Of The Dark - October 31, 1990
Now we come to one of the best parts of the live action Nickelodeon shows. Are You Afraid Of The Dark was like Tails of the Crypt for those too poor to afford HBO, and too young to actually watch the show if they did. Even though AYAOTD was for kids, or at least teens, it was a freaky freakin show. Even the opening bumper gave me, and still gives me chills to this day. I can still remember that creepy heartbeat backed by those children laughing, while the camera slowly pans up through a ceiling into an attic revealing some old luggage trunks with random items scattered about such as a porcelain clown siting in the corner, as well as a cut to an empty swing set swinging at night time, while the final shot of the bumper showed a hand igniting a match revealing the title card then quickly being extinguished. The show centered around the Midnight Society, which was essentially a group of kids who gathered around a campfire in the woods to tell ghost stories. The show always started with that weeks story teller reaching into a bag and pulling out some kind of powder, throwing it on the fire which caused the fire to flame up momentarily, and saying Submitted For The Approval Of The Midnight Society, at which that point the name of that show would appear as the camera closed in on the blazing campfire. AYAOTD was actually banned in my house (I came from a rather conservative household) because of its rather twisted stories, and the apparent underlying tones of black magic. I always managed to watch the show though, and Im glad I did. A lot of the stories told on the show were variations of other works, but at that time most of these childrens horror shows and books circulated the same stories with minor changes. My favorite tale was the one where these kids dare one of their friends to go into a fun house, steal one of the clowns nose, and come back out to prove their courage. This is one of those shows that deserves a DVD release as it would be perfect to watch around Halloween time.
Welcome Freshman - 1991
So Welcome Freshmen falls in that category of worthy enough to mention, but doesn't give yield enough recollection in my memory to warrant a major chunk of this article. Still I hold Welcome Freshmen as a show that helped bolster the roster of great live action shows being amassed by a young Nickelodeon Network. As for the shows format, from what Ive been able to research, is that the show started as a sketch comedy show for the first couple seasons, then switched to a sitcom style show, which is the way I remember Welcome Freshmen.
Clarissa Explains It All - March 23, 1991
Now we are getting to the part in this article that I like to call the sweet spot. This is the period in time that Nick really began to hit their stride with live action genre. Clarissa Explains It All was one of the earlier shows in the 90's Nick lineup, but managed to find the perfect mixture of comedy, and teen cultural relevance. A mixture that would serve Nickelodeon live action shows well for years to come. Clarissa Darling, played by Melissa Joan Hart of Sabrina The Teenage Witch Fame (although I'll always relate her to CEIA first), was a teenage girl with a quirky fashion sense, and a flair for the dramatic. Her best friend, Sam, was known for his entrance into her room which consisted of a guitar chord struck, then whammied while a ladder clanked at the window of her room and Sam soon entered. Clarissas brother was Ferguson, although his name usually got an endearing twist added by his loving sister (i.e. Fergbreath). Ferguson was a self proclaimed intellectual and reveled in spoiling Clarissas plans. Her parents, Janet and Marshall Darling, are portrayed as stereotypical 60s hippies who have grown out of their Woodstock ways, but retain that peace and love Aura. Clarissa Explains It All was a perfect snapshot of life in the 90s. It seemed less complicated, carefree, and full of life. This was the start of the tween marketing demographic.
Salute Your Shorts - June 1, 1991
My favorite Nickelodeon live action show of all time would have to be the classic Salute Your Shorts. Maybe its because I grew up going to summer camps, or the fact that I tried to be a scham artist like Budnick, but whatever the reason this show captured my attention for it's short 2 season stint. The cast of Budnick, Donkey Lips, Z.Z., Sponge, and a host of others created an on screen chemistry that really allowed for some classic teen hi-jinx that everyone wanted to emulate. The best part of the show was the head camp counselor Kevin "Ug" Lee who acted on behalf of the never seen and very mysterious Dr. Kahn, the camp owner. Set at the fictional Camp Anawanna, a group of teens try to find ways to survive cruel hazings, schemes, bad camp food, and the oppressive rule of Ug. Perhaps the most memorable episodes were Zeke The Plumber, where the camp legend of a ghostly character called Zeke The Plumber terrorizes the campers (a play on the Jason Series), and Capture the Flag in which the campers engage another camp in a game of capture the flag with water balloons as ammo. However, to get the full effect of just how influential this series was you would have to watch it in its entirety. I especially loved the Awful Waffle hazing ritual, or the time that Budnck ran a black market candy store only to be caught by Ug who smuggly takes his stash and chomps on his licorice shoe laces as an act of victory, only later finding out Budnick switched out his real shoelaces for the candy ones. I could even write an entire article on the theme song itself....Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our heart, and when we think about you, it makes me wanna fart!!! All in all this show was a perfect fit for the times. influenced and supported by movies such as Ernest goes to Camp, Heavy Weights, and Camp Nowhere, Salute Your Shorts was simply the icing on the cake for my weekdays.
Roundhouse - August 15, 1992
As a teen version of In Living Color, Roundhouse used the previous success of You Cant Do That On Television to bring the teen sketch comedy genre to the next generation. With a hip logo, flashy bumper, SNL flavor, and hip hop stylings Roundhouse was ahead of its time. The fact that a show with a live band, excellent stage design, and quality sketches was played a network for kids and teens was a huge gamble. It ran for 4 seasons, but didn't catch on the way it should have. Although I wasn't allowed to watch the show (conservative parents) I remember being mesmerized by the shows bumper. It was new. It was fresh. It was relevant. It was cool. It was for me and my age group. Unfortunately it only lasted 4 seasons, but it served to open the door for one of the best sketch comedy shows of all time....maybe not all time, but we will talk more about Roundhouses protege show later. As for Roundhouse I will always remember it as the cool show I couldn't watch, which made it all the more tantalizing to my senses.
Weinerville - July 11, 1993
Mr. Rogers, Lamb chop, Fragel Rock. What do all these shows have in common? They all have a form of puppetry without the word Weiner in the title. Thats what made Weinerville such a weird show. In fact, some of you may not even remember this show, as I almost forgot about it completely before I started writing this article. The show was the brainchild of Mark Weiner, who was the host, and actor behind each puppet as well. It centered on the town of Weinerville, which was an elaborate stage set, and consisted of several reoccurring characters in different sketches. The show took place in front of a live audience, which is amazing considering the puppets Mark used were small doll-like bodies with Marks head on top dressed to character. Perhaps the most intreguing part of the show was at the end when Mark would bring two studio audience members on stage and Weinerize them (essentially make them into puppets). A show with the word Weiner so prominently featured would never make it on air today, especially if targeted to kids, like this one was. With all the quirks the show entailed Weinerville actually was a critical success, but that didn't translate well on the viewer side. It only ran 2 seasons, then the Weiner was gone. Although not a staple of my childhood Weinerville was part of my regular TV viewing schedule for a short time, and for that I say thank you Mr. Weiner for the memories.
All That - April 16, 1994
With a theme song by the then red hot trio TLC, its no wonder why All That became a staple of Saturday night Nick lineup. Hilarious sketches, unforgettable catch-phrases, great musical guests and performances (for a teen show in the 90s), as well as a giant ear of corn all became staples in the shows 10 season run. Using the path created by Roundhouse All That became a huge success in the teen market due to its hip hop influence, as well as its ability to appeal to the 12-18 demographic. The show also launched other notable shows and movies such as Good Burger, The Amanda Show, and Keenan and Kel. While the cast lineup underwent change throughout the shows run, the original lineup of Kel Mitchell,Josh Server, Lori Beth Denberg, Katrina Johnson, Angelique Bates, Alisa Reyes, and Kenan Thompson was my personal favorite. Still the 4th season addition of Danny Tamberelli seemed to bring back some of the magic from the first season lineup. Noteworthy sketches include: Vital information, Everyday French, Good Burger, Ask Ashley, Repair Man Man Man Man, Super Dude, and the Loud Librarian. Also the constant prodding of the obsessive compulsive stage manager, Kevin, before the start of the show was a brilliant way to begin the nights events (5 minutes everyone...5 minutes). Perhaps it was the completely random comedy offered I can still remember the opening theme song being an anthem that brought in the relaxation of my Saturday nights as a youth. One of the greats.
The Secret World of Alex Mac - October 8, 1994
Though Nickelodeon was king of TV in my childhood, that doesnt go without saying there were some shows that were...well...just ordinary. The Secret World Of Alex Mac falls in that category. It wasnt a bad show by any means, but it didnt beg for my attention either. The story of a teenage girl who has some kind of chemical accident and suddenly acquires supernatural powers just didn't seem to grab my attention the way the other shows on Nickelodeon at that time did. That didnt keep me form watching the show if there was nothing else on, but it wasnt somethig a rushed home to see. Still The Secret World Of Alex Mac had enough of an impact that I am writing about it 16 years later.
My Brother and Me - October 15, 1994
One of the few shows on Nick that focused on an African-American family, My Brother and Me was one of the funniest shows that Nick produced in the 90s. Take a slice of the Cosby Show, add a pinch of Hanging with Mr. Cooper, and top it off with sprinkles of the Steve Harvey Show, then center it on two brothers and their friend Goo and you have My Brother and Me. This show really appealed to me because I was a huge Charlotte Hornets, and Alonzo Mourning fan, and both were referenced throughout the show. Sadly the show that followed older brother Alfie (older), and Dee Dee (younger) Parker through their various exploits never really struck a chord with Nicks viewers, and was canceled after only 13 episodes. But those 13 episodes yeilded some great comedy, such as the episode where Alfie, Dee Dee, and Goo wanted a dollar sign shaved into their head like their favorite rapper....classic stuff. Plus any show with a character named Goo is instantly funny (Its a scientific law).
Space Cases - March 2, 1996
Again, In the world of TV there are hits and misses, and Space Cases was a near miss...NEAR miss. Although this teen version of Star Trek was poorly produced it did provide a decent alternative if there wasn't anything else on. Somehow the intro to this show reminds me of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I don't remember much about this show, maybe because it only lasted 2 seasons, but where it lacked in production value it made up for by being on Nickelodeon. Thats right, Nickelodeon was such a force during the 90s that a less than average show could be made into a watchable show by mere brand association. If Space Cases had been on any other network theres no way I would have watched it. Being that Space Cases was on Nick, well, that makes it a piece of nostalgia to me, and therefore it is worth mentioning in this article.
The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo - March 16, 1996
Preceding the Nick movie Harriet The Spy (based on a book written in 1964) was a similar show called The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Despite the allusion to a teen X-Files spin off, the show was more a teen Nancy Drew adaptation that relied heavily on the who done it style of mystery story telling. Again, this was another show that only got my attention because it was on Nick. I cant say I remember any episodes, but the fact that it ran for 4 seasons means someone was watching. That being said I would gladly watch this show compared to the junk thats on Nickelodeon today. That goes to prove how much Nickelodeon was a part of my youth. Even lower priority shows on Nick in the 90s had a way of becoming a part of my childhood.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete - May 1, 1996
In all honesty I did not grasp the genius of this show until it was too late. Sure, I watched it and laughed, but the comedy timing and style of The Adventures of Pete and Pete was brilliant. They based an entire show around finding out who the inspector of one of Petes pants was (you know the little papers we all find that say: Inspected by number 33). Simply genius. The premise followed the Wrigley Family on a wide array of mundane adventures. First, the fact that any parent would name two of their children Pete is just funny. Second, the cast and quirks of this show are the things legends are made of. Villains like Endless Mike, and Pit Stain were only out done by the dancing tattoo on little Petes arm (Petunia), and local super hero Artie the worlds strongest man (a Screech, Steve Urkel hybrid poured into tights and a cape). The use of over the top villains echos the Dick Tracy cartoons, but it was the little things that made the show memorable: The plate in Pete and Petes moms head, the unexplained tattoos of little pete (a Jr. High aged kid), the presence of a dorky superhero named Artie, and the awesome theme song (a kid friendly version of the grunge style music from Seattle at that time....More pop than grunge) all helped bolster the cult following that Pete and Pete gained after its 3 season run. Trivia: Danny Tamerellie (little Pete) joined the cast of All That during its 4th season.
Kenan and Kel - August 17, 1996
Ahhhhhh Here it goes! If you haven't noticed yet I am completely obsessed with show theme songs. Im not sure why, but that really seems to be a huge part of the show for me. Sure it may have hurt Coolios street cred to rap for a kid show after pumping out Gangsters Paradise, but to me there was nothing better than seeing his wacky hair on the bumper of Kenan and Kel. Spinning off of the success of All That, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchel (who is not dead by the way) starred in their own Saturday night sitcom that signified the beginning of the end for Nick live action shows. This was the height of the Nickelodeon reign as the king of kid networks. The show was simply about the misadventures of Kenan and Kel. Kenan would try different schemes to make money, or get girls, and Kel would screw it up. An archetypal abbot and Costello if you will. Such adventures include Kenan turning his work, Rigbys grocery store, into a night club called Da Bomb, or following Kenan and Kel as they visit the President (presumably Clinton) and watching as Kel accidentally shuts the president head in a secret room door. Also the recurring gag of Kels orange Soda always seemed to find its way into each episode. Kel would often proclaim this love with a soliloquies that is as follows: Who loves orange soda? Kel loves orange soda! Is it true? UMMMM hMMMMM!!! I do. I do. I dooooo!!! The closing of the show features yet another memorable recurring joke. As the nights mishaps were recaped by the shows stars in front of alive audience (breaking the 4th wall), Kenan would suddenly have a crazy idea. Without telling Kel the details he would rattle off a list of random items for Kel to get, then end his dialuge with telling Kel to met him at an absurd location. Kel would get overwhelmed, throw his arms int he air and saw Awwww here it goes! The show ran for 4 seasons, and managed a TV movie, which was hilarious, but I will save the details for a different time. All in all Kenan and Kel was an awesome show (I loved the way they both dressed, which is weird, but hey thats what I remember) that had a huge impact on my life as a child. Ill never be able to eat a can of Tuna without first checking to see if theres a screw in it.....I....Put The Screw.....In The TUNA!!!!!!!
The Journey Of Allen Strange - November 8, 1997
The Journey of Allen Strange, which ran for 3 seasons, was a show that sadly marks the end of my fascination with Nickelodeon shows. By 1998 I was in Junior High, and became interested in other things. This show wasnt a bad show, but it came at a time when I was drifting away from my childhood viewing preferences. The show revolved around an alien that is trapped on earth who takes the form of a teen boy. With his alien powers he helps his host family in sticky situations. Though Allen Strange didnt get a lot of screen time on my TV, I still remember watching it from time to time. The writing of this show seemed to lack where others like Kenan and Kel seemed to excell.
Animorphs - September 1998
Sadly this is the only show in the Nick 90s that I know absolutely nothing about. I remember the commercials for it, but I never actually watched an episode. Animorphs is on this list because I always wanted to watch this show, but it got canceled before I could. I was so caught up in Jr. High life that I missed this show completely, which is sad to say. I vaguely remember it being about kids who can turn into animals, and thinking it sounded interesting, but I never got around to watching it. Animorphs will always be the fish that got away, and thats what I remember about it.
Cousin Skeeter - September 1, 1998
The last breath of life in the 90s Nick live action show era was in the form of a puppet. Why this show was so funny Ill never know...but it was. Bobby was the protagonist in the show, and all heck breaks lose when his cousin skeeter (a puppet voiced by Bill Bellamy) moves in with him and his family. I guess no one really noticed that cousin skeeter was a puppet. Beside that small little glitch in the storyline the show was really funny. At this point in my life I wasn't watching a lot of TV so I usually caught the reruns, leaving some gaps in my time line of this show. Each episode followed the same basic plot: Bobby encounters an issue common to most teenagers. Cousin Skeeter jumps in to help, and everything goes crazy after that. Most of the stories included Bobbys love interest, Nina, who seems to be oblivious to Bobbys crush. The most notable part of the show was, you guessed it, the theme song. Trivia: The actor who played Bobby in the show, Robert Ri'chard, also starred in the first episode of Nickelodeons Sports Theater hosted by Shaquille O'Neal.
100 Deeds For Eddie McDowd - October 16, 1999
Eddie McDowd was a school yard bully until his actions are punished by a man known as the Drifter who turns Eddie into a Dog. He is then told he will remain as such until he completes 100 good deeds. Only one other person can hear Eddie; Justin Taylor. Justin just so happens to be the last kid affected by McDowds bullying. Lasting only 3 seasons 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd became the icing on the cake for me and my love for Nickelodeon in the 90s. It was a bitter sweet show as I knew that the end of an era was near. The show itself was actually good, but growing up, and the demographics changing it just seemed to cater to a different audience. By the time this show came out most of the shows, cartoon and live action alike, on Nick were gone. Not even reruns were playing as Nickelodeon was making way for the next generation of shows to come. I will always remember 100 Deeds For Eddie McDowd as the last great live action Nick show of the 90s.
The Amanda Show - November 6, 1999
The Amanda Show was technically the last live action Nick Show of the 90s era, but to me it was the first of the 2000s. This show was an attempt to replicate the success of All That with a new generation. For me, the golden years of Nick were over. The Amanda Show was basically All That with out the cast, save Amanda Bynes (Ask Ashley). I watched the show a few times, but the pain of knowing that my time with Nick was truly over never allowed me to appreciate the show for what it was; A gateway for the next generation.
Even though Nickelodeon was king of cartoons in the 90s, somehow this animation giant tapped into the live action genre and created some of the best shows of my youth. I will always think about Kenan and Kel whenever I see orange soda. Anytime I see a horse I faintly hear a deep voice saying Heeey Dude. Whenever the phrase I DONT KNOW is uttered I will wince in fear of being dowsed with green slime. Every time I see the 2/$1.00 candy deals at gas stations, with one of the options being licorice shoe laces, I will check to see if they have been swapped out for the real thing. Before I tell a ghost story to my kids I will submit its approval to the Midnight Society. The fact is...I love Nickelodeon live action shows. Always have. Always will.