In my previous article, I discussed programming on Nickelodeon’s beginning years and ones I remember watching as a young child but another staple of Nick would soon take over my adolescence. Being a kid growing up in the 90’s, there wasn’t a heck of a lot for you to do on a Saturday night. Nickelodeon saw this opportunity and made Saturday night the coolest time of the week for any child by creating their own 2-hour block from 8-10 pm. SNICK debuted in 1993 (when young Matthew was just 7-years-old) and took the network by storm, creating legendary characters and memories.
Promos for the weekly event aired on the channel featuring an orange couch that soon became its trademark.
I’ve already talked about “Clarissa Explains It All” in detail in a previous article (*cough*http://culturecrossfire.com/movies-tv/tv/why-i-like-crap/#.UqGMXMQ_tMc*cough*) so I won’t write too much about it here. This was the first show to ever air on SNICK, starting off in the 8 pm slot. Melissa Joan Hart starred as the eponymous Clarissa Darling, a hip teenager with a unique fashion sense, as she goes through her adolescence with her weird family and best friend, Sam. The one thing most people remember about this one? Its catchy theme tune. The thing I remember most from this show? Clarissa’s love for Pearl Jam!
Airing immediately after Clarissa was “Roundhouse”, a unique television show not just for Nickelodeon but for television itself at the time. Half musical, and half sketch comedy, this one, like most Nick sketch shows, introduced a theme at the top of the program. That theme would then be acted out in various sketches usually containing a dance sequence or big musical number. Another detail was its frequent dramatic moments that would occur in addition to its comical aspect. The entire show was filmed on a set resembling a large warehouse before a live audience. This set contained various props that the cast would use for their skits, a lot of which were bare.
The show’s use of dance and music were definitely the forefront here and set it apart from other sketch shows at the time.
Ren & Stimpy was the first Nickelodeon cartoon (or Nicktoon as they called it) to air on SNICK and was positioned in the 9 pm timeslot. Pretty late to show a cartoon, right? Well if you knew what the show contained then it wouldn’t shock you. The animated adventure starred Ren, a chihuahua who was a bit on edge and Stimpy, a loving, but idiotic housecat who find themselves in “who the fuck thinks of this shit?” situations.
Some recurring characters included Powdered Toast Man, a fictional superhero whose head was a piece of toast, and Mr. Horse, a giant man-horse hybrid. Yes, someone thought of these characters.Two great repeated gags on the show were the infomercials for “Log”, a piece of lumber that was marketed as a popular children’s toy, and “Happy Happy Joy Joy”, a ridiculous song and dance routine between the titular stars.
Its abundance of adult jokes, subjective content, and references to the main characters’ homosexuality upset parents worldwide and some scenes were even prevented from airing in the states. Years after its run, Spike TV decided to bring the show back in 2003 with strictly adult themes, playing up the subtle mature humor that littered its former series. It was cancelled after one season.
One of my all-time favorite television shows, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, aired in the 9:30 timeslot so when the young’ns called it a night, the mature kiddies stayed up to watch and be spooked. Its intro is still one of the most genius things ever broadcasted in my opinion.
The show consisted of a group of pre-teens called “The Midnight Society” telling stories around a bonfire in the woods. These creepy tales ranged from fantasy to suspenseful to even a little slapstick horror. Even though each episode contained a completely different cast, there were several characters that appeared in multiple arcs such as Mr. Sardo, the hapless owner of a magic shop selling questionable accessories and Dr. Vink, a villainous scientist. Inevitably, some of the episodes don’t hold up very well but most of them still frighten me to this day. Some of my favorites included: “The Tale of Midnight Madness” which saw a pair of movie theater workers try to escape the legendary monster, Nosferatu after an ancient print on his movie reaches their cinema. “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard” which portrays a kid trying to complete a real life video game at the mall after he plays a forbidden pinball machine, and “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” which shows a clown stalking a teenager after he steals his rubber nose at a haunted house attraction. Believe it or not, a season three episode entitled “The Tale of the Dream Girl” actually inspired one of the most critically hailed films of the 90’s, “The Sixth Sense”.
Some future stars even appeared on the show such as Neve Campbell and Ryan Gosling along with current stars of that era like Boy Meets World’s Will Friedle, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Tatyana Ali, and even Tia & Tamera Mowry. The program was rebooted in 1999 but featured more stories of the slapstick variety which wasn’t as well received by fans.
Someone else soon took the reigns of the 8 pm time slot after Clarissa ended and actress Larisa Oleynik gave Melissa Joan Hart a run for her money. The Secret World of Alex Mack told the story of a teenager who while walking home from her first day of middle school, avoids a collision with a van which swerves and douses her with a rare chemical called GC-161. The chemical gives her supernatural abilities, such as being able to morph into a liquid puddle and shoot bolts of electricity through her fingers. She uses these powers to navigate through her everyday life at home and at school while keeping it a secret from everybody except her best friend Ray and older sister, Annie. As Annie tries to figure out a cure, Alex tries to evade company that produced the deadly substance who is tracking her down with cruel intentions in mind. The show was also notable for featuring Jessica Alba, who played Alex’s rival early on, before anybody knew who she really was.
Not since “You Can’t Do That on Television” was there a sketch show on Nickelodeon featuring young kids. That all changed in 1994 when “All That” took over the 8:30 slot on SNICK. This basically was a kid-friendly version of Saturday Night Live, complete with a performance by a musical guest to close each episode. Pre-teens and teenagers performed various skits throughout the half-hour which included: Earboy, a high-schooler with big prosthetic ears who bands with a few misfits with deformities of their own, Cooking with Randy & Mandy, which showed two chefs demonstrate various recipes where the secret ingredient in all of them is chocolate, and Vital Information, where a woman gives simple, everyday advice in a hilarious manner. One of my personal favorites was Ask Ashley, where a young Amanda Bynes would read rather stupid questions from various fans before losing her temper and answer by screaming at and insulting them.
The show also featured the famous “Good Burger” sketch which was eventually adopted into a full-length feature film in 1997.
It was also the world’s first exposure to current SNL star, Kenan Thompson and Mr. Mariah Carey himself, Nick Cannon.
The sitcom, “Kenan & Kel” was a spin-off of sorts from “All That” featuring key cast members, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. Set in Chicago, Kenan played a mischievous, scheming teenager while his sidekick, Kel played the dim-witted comic relief. This standard comedy also starred horror movie mainstay, Ken Foree, as Kenan’s father. One of the only things anyone remembers from this show was Kel’s obsession with orange soda.
It also sticks in my mind as the last show on SNICK that I ever really got into. While the plot wasn’t anything we haven’t seen up to that point, the charisma and comedic timing of the two leads made it hard to not love this one.
A pre-Freaks & Geeks Linda Cardellini even appeared in an episode!
Another unique show for it’s time, “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” was armed with a fantastic theme song containing unintelligible lyrics performed for us by the band Polaris.
Airing on SNICK periodically throughout the 90’s, “Pete & Pete” was pretty much the epitome of random. It follows two brothers, both named “Pete” (just in case you couldn’t guess), who live in the fictional town of Wellsville. Both guys, along with their peers, guide themselves through some of life’s problems which to us don’t seem like a huge deal but to them, meant everything. Just how random was this show? Younger Pete had a tattoo of a scantily clad woman named “Petunia” whom he couldn’t show his mother because it would disturb the metal plate in her skull. He was also followed around by Artie, a striped shirt wearing superhero who as he himself states is “the strongest man…in the world”.
Still confused about what this show is exactly about? Well to give you an example, the plot for a season one episode showed little Pete and the neighborhood children attempting to stay up all night and when someone passed out, they treated it like death. Yes, people would mourn and act like murder was involved. The show also became known for its cameo’s from different musicians such as Iggy Pop, Michael Stipe, and Debbie Harry among others.
Most of these programs were filmed at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. In the final chapter of this trilogy, I’ll examine the final wave of classic shows that were filmed in the sunshine state along with ones that you’ve probably forgotten about. The nostalgia train is still rolling on. Get hyped!