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While this may be earlier than its 35th year as the network as it’s known now, Nickelodeon has been the longest running network on cable that caters to a younger audience. Anyone who was a kid between 1979 to now, and had/has access to cable grew up with the network in some capacity. Nickelodeon really began to grow into its own in the late 80’s, thanks largely in part to the game show ” Double Dare”, which alongside “You Can’t Do That On Television” gave the channel its own identity, namely covering kids in slime. Going into the 90’s, Nickelodeon began producing more of its own content, and even opened its own studio in Universal Studios Florida in 1992. The 90’s for Nickelodeon could be seen as its “golden era” for the network. The channel relied less on Canadian imported shows (although some of the shows from this decade did come from Canada), and less on older animated content. It began producing its own animated content in 1991 with “Doug”, and eventually followed that with “Rugrats” and “The Ren And Stimpy Show”. The game shows continued on throughout the decade, and the network rolled out its own Saturday night lineup, called “SNICK”, which aired original programming until 10 pm. On typical weekday nights, the regular Nickelodeon programming would end at 8 pm, and make way for the Nick At Nite portion of the programming block, which was devoted to classic sitcoms. In 1996, Nickelodeon bumped their kids-oriented programming up an extra half-hour, taking over the 8pm slots that the Nick At Nite slot held.
So, after that long introduction, here’s a list of my personal favorite shows made within the 90’s. Yes, not everything is here, and you’re probably not going to agree with all the choices I have on here, or what I chose to leave out. The preference of shows will vary from person to person, so this list is fairly subjective. Please also take into consideration that some shows did NOT debut in the 90’s, so if there was something you were hoping to see on here, but it’s not, maybe it was produced after 1999. And one more thing! There’s also going to be a list of shows I hated that will precede this, so look forward to that one. Ok, here we go!
#10: Nick Arcade – Ok, this wasn’t a great game show, and I’ll admit that right now. It was awfully corny, and it didn’t seem like the producers had a full grasp of gaming culture (although in the 90’s, this is about the best we could do). But the show was ahead of its time in terms of technology. The final round was basically what we see now with the Xbox Kinect sensor, where kids were actually part of the game. If there was a fantasy that the show provided, it was the idea that you could be in a video game, even if it looked like something you would never play.
#9: Hey Arnold! – Again, this is another show on Nickelodeon than was much smarter in its execution than most shows on for kids now. The cartoon was a little slower in pace, not slamming kids in the face with quick action and slapstick comedy. It actually bothered to tell a story, and actually had fairly developed characters that kids could identify with. It was like Nickelodeon’s version of “King Of The Hill”.
#8: Clarissa Explains It Al l - Yes, I’m a male, and I have a show that seemed like it was aimed at a female demographic on my list. But Clarissa really didn’t pander to the female demographic; it just provided a fairly grounded role model for teenage girls. The show had enough appeal to both genders, since it was a show aimed squarely at kids. The real saving grace of the show is how it didn’t talk down to its audience, and make them feel dumber for watching the show. It was a show that was smarter than much of the programming on ABC’s TGIF lineup at the time, and MUCH smarter than what Nickelodeon or Disney has produced in the 2000’s.
#7: All That – A good move on Nick’s part to produce what was basically a version of SNL for kids. As a part of the Saturday night lineup, All That was a sketch comedy show for a younger demographic, and unlike Disney’s resurrection of “The Mickey Mouse Club”, the show was actually funny. Where else were we going to get our Vital Information from?
#6: Figure It Out – Figure It Out was an amusing diversion, where a contestant had a certain talent or ability that a panel had to guess. The real fun was not in the contestant, but the panel’s reaction to the props and the slime that came down from above. The new version kept most of the original show in-tact, with a much glossier set, and much more slime. In all honesty, the new set looks much better than the old show, especially in HD.
#5: What Would You Do? – This was the second show that Marc Summers hosted on the network, and was a departure from the game show he was hosting at the time, Family Double Dare. What Would You Do was less a game show, and more of a variety show, which put people in situations and asks, well, what would they do? There were hidden camera bits, as well as activities in the studio. At the end of the show, every member of the audience would have a card on their forehead (including Marc); with an act they had to perform. If they did it, they would get a prize, if not; they would take a trip to the Pie Pod. Eventually, the Pod was popular enough to be warranted to be a prize. The Pie Pod eventually became the Pie Wash, then the Pie Coaster. Between What Would You Do and The Richard Bey Show, the pie industry seemed to do pretty well in the 90’s.
#4: SpongeBob Squarepants – Yes, this cartoon actually debut in the 90’s, and we should all feel much older for knowing that. Premiering in 1999, SpongeBob was a low-budget cartoon for the network that has now become Nickelodeons most successful franchise. This is a cartoon that appeals to every one of all ages, that is, if those people are willing to shut off their brain for half an hour. SpongeBob’s man-child sensibilities call back to Paul Reuben’s Pee-Wee Herman character of the 80’s, and could actually be considered a spiritual successor to “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”, minus the educational content. Yes, the show at times could be broad, but it’s also still a guilty pleasure.
#3: The Ren And Stimpy Show – This was a cartoon that really turned kids programming on its head. The content seemed like it was intended for adults, but it aired on a kids network. Ren And Stimpy seemed to see how far the envelope could be pushed when it comes to kids’ entertainment. It was a show that was so ribald for the network, that it was aired later in the night on the SNICK lineup (although it did re-run during the morning on Sundays). While the show pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable for kid’s television, at least it implied certain subject matter, unlike the “Adult Party Cartoon” that aired on Spike many years later (and was just outright terrible). Despite how controversial the content may be in some circumstances, the show also just took pleasure in the inane, like the “LOG” toy, which was just that, but with a catchy jingle. The show was an exercise in bad taste, much like an animated version of a John Waters movie, but at least there was no other cartoon like it on TV, then or now.
#2: Rocko’s Modern Life – Rocko could be mistaken for being a Ren And Stimpy clone at first look, considering that both shows have a whacked-out sense of humor. But much like Animaniacs, Rocko’s humor was much more subversive, and contained adult jokes that flew over kids’ heads. Like Ren And Stimpy, there was content that pushed the boundaries of what would be acceptable for kids, but unlike the mentioned show, Rocko never seemed to be intent on grossing out its audience or push the envelope for the sake of doing so. Rocko was more of a satire on the everyday things that everybody does, whether it’s getting a credit card or joining a gym. Maybe that’s why the show didn’t run as long as it did, because much of its concepts were oriented towards adults, wrapped up in a talking animal package for kids. But again, it’s another cartoon that seemed smarter than it should have been. Oh, and let us not forget that the theme was performed by The B-52’s.
#1: Family Double Dare – Sure, the game show began in 1986, and the original Family Double Dare concept premiered for a brief period in 1988 on FOX. But the Family Double Dare variant of the show began on Nickelodeon in 1990 and aired until 1993. This was actually the best version of the show, since parents were dragged into the mess, along with their kids. The show was much more fun to watch, and with the move to the studio in Florida, the set was much larger, and the obstacle course was better than it was when the show began. The show was also much, much messier in this format, which was always entertaining to watch. Some of the best toss-up rounds involve a big bucket that has to be pulled down to finish the round, which creates some of the biggest messes on the stage. Family Double Dare was truly a show the whole family could watch, and the way the show was designed was always pretty brilliant. The game show awarded mental ability just as much as physical ability, and it’s a balance that no other game show has seemed to have touched. It was one of the best half-hours of programming on television, and is a show that Nickelodeon should consider bringing back after the brief resurrection that was Double Dare 2000 (although the budget for a show like that now is probably why we haven’t seen it since).
Other notable shows that didn’t bother me that much, but didn’t make the list:
Are You Afraid Of The Dark – It’s like a kid’s version of the Twilight Zone, but a little more on the macabre side. The show was a Canadian import, and was part of the SNICK lineup.
KaBlam! – This was an animated series that seemed like a testing ground for cartoons. There were different short cartoons every episode, although there were repeat shows like “Action League Now!” which was a live-action show using action figures as characters.
Aaah! Real Monsters! – From the same animators as Rugrats, Real Monsters was a different kind of cartoon for the network. It was sort of like Monsters Inc., except Real Monsters debuted years before the Pixar movie.
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