Slimed: Nick’s History – Part 2

“What’s the point of being safe? Let’s be raw…We hoped our irreverence and the voice we were speaking in would inspire kids.” – Will McRobb, “The smartest guy in the room at Nickelodeon”

And inspire they did. As promised last week, we’re going to dive back into Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, a fun book that tells the story of the network’s heyday.

So, why was 80s-90s Nick so great? At the time, it was edgy and different. All of the shows were completely different from one another, and sometimes they had little-to-no budget to make it all work. It wasn’t pretty sets and people; it was real kids doing real things. Kids played and competed in healthy ways, got dirty outside, made fools of themselves – and it was good.

Back then, Nick’s mission was to be “the network for kids”, and they succeeded by raising a generation of people who love cartoons and still have a great sense of humor (well, most of us). It wasn’t politically correct, and it wasn’t afraid to address real-world issues. If you ask anyone who grew up in the 90s if they had a favorite Nick show, they’ll say yes. They’ll probably list a few. In fact, I own all available seasons of Are You Afraid of the Dark, Salute Your Shorts, Hey Dude, and Clarissa Explains It All.

Here are a few more highlights from the book:

  • Characters – I found it interesting that certain actors are very different from the characters they played on the show. For example, Joe O’Conner and Elizabeth Hess, who played Clarissa’s parents. O’Conner played a very laid-back dad, whereas Hess played the more rigid, health-conscience mom. Their interviews showed that O’Conner was kind of uptight, and Hess supported Melissa Joan Heart and her controversial career decisions.
  • Child Actors – We hear so much about child/teen actors cracking from the celebrity-status pressure. I was relieved to read that most of these stars turned out well. Many of them have families and normal lives, and some continued their acting career and stayed in the business. There are a few that seemed to struggle, but that’s life, and considering how big Nick was in the 90s, it’s nice to know stardom didn’t ruin their lives.
  • Doug – I’ve always wondered why Doug moved to Disney, and the book tells the story. The show wasn’t the same; it was almost too cutesy and lost what little edge Doug had (compared to other Nick cartoons). I didn’t continue to watch it, and if I wanted Disney, I’d pop in a movie. Nick knew how to do cartoons.
  • Ren and Stimpy – Did you know the creator was kicked off his own show? I’m not telling the full story – because you’ll want to read the book – but it involved money, censorship issues, and a controversial episode called Man’s Best Friend, which was banned. The episode is now available on DVD, and after doing some digging, I don’t see the big deal. There are way worse things on now in content and quality.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and check out the book. It’s worth the read!

I also want to send out a special shout-out to the author Mathew Klickstein who messaged us this week and thanked us for our review. It helped restore my faith that some people are just so cool. Happy reading!

Slimed: Nick’s History – Part 1

Ah… slime. I’ve been watching people get slimed on TV for most of my life. It’s gross, slippery, and green. It’s a staple of the best kid’s cable network, Nickelodeon.

Last year, I read Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very excited to get a behind-the-scenes look at my favorite shows and characters I watched while growing up.

I’ve had a few people ask if they’d like it. My answer is this: If you loved Nickelodeon in the 80s and 90s, yes. I don’t want to spoil TOO much because there are some doozies and surprises – some even shocked me. There was a lot of drama, hurt feelings, good times, and of course, slime.

This week I’m focusing on the random things that stuck out, and next week I’ll get into the drama – and there was a lot of drama. But, let’s keep it light and have some fun!

  • Scott Webb was one of the early creator’s of the network, and he’s described as “bleeding orange”. He was diagnosed with an eye disease early on and became legally blind. It didn’t stop him though, and with his team, they did some amazing things. If you look at some of the sets and designs, it’s pretty inspiring that a blind man helped create that.
  • You Can’t Do That on Television was one of the most controversial kids shows ever. I remember my mom banning me from this show, but I watched it at other people’s houses (sorry, mom). But, after reading all about it, I can see why she did. It was dark. It was raw. For example Barth’s Burgers joked about cutting human meat into burgers. There’s no way they would get away with that today!
  • Many of the kids wore their own clothes. If you go back and watch the shows, you can see the ones that were really low budget (You Can’t Do That) and the ones that weren’t (Clarissa). They recruited a lot of kids from Canada and had them as they were. At one point, they gave a kid $100 bucks for clothes and said buy whatever. If you know Nickelodeon today, you see a big difference because everything is modern and trendy.
  • The kid actors were schooled on set. There were several tutors and relatives who helped out. One lady was a hearing-impaired foreign language teacher, and many of the actors talk about how crazy it was because she could read their lips and tell whether they were speaking the language correctly.
  • The crews really cared about the kids. They talk about not using focus groups and talking to the kids instead. They made sure they were safe and educated. And it’s interesting that most of them ended up becoming regular adults with jobs and families; they didn’t get into drugs and partying and blow up the press.
  • The story of slime. I definitely don’t want to ruin this, but I’ll give you a hint. It was an accident, and the original idea started with rancid food. Alan Goodman, a writer and creator, says that the problem with slime today is that “grown ups got a hold of slime and made it pretty.” It wasn’t pretty back in the day.

Be sure to read next week as I talk about characters, the drama behind Doug and Ren and Stimpy, and the mess that went down when it all changed!

Salute Your Shorts: Revisited

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Do you know the words?

We run, we jump, we swim, and play.

We row and go on trips.

But the things that last forever

are our dear friendships…

If you kept singing or know the song, you must have grown up in the 90s. That’s the opening verse to Salute Your Shorts, the show about a group of kids at summer camp.

When I was younger, I liked the show a lot, but I liked Are You Afraid of the Dark and Clarissa Explains It All more. I couldn’t really relate to any of the characters on SYS, and I hated the one time I went to summer camp. I still think summer camp is overrated.

As an adult, I realize I miss 90s TV shows. I miss the simplicity, the minor drama, the awkwardness. Today, shows try to do too much or get way too serious. At 12, I didn’t want to hear about 15-year-olds agonizing about sex, and I still don’t.

Salute Your Shorts was simple. Each episode had a situation or conflict, and it was resolved by the end. In 24 minutes or less. So, here are some of my observations (old and new) after watching two volumes:

1. Bobby Budnick still reminds me of Axl Rose. Every time I see Budnick, I think I bet that’s what Axl Rose was like when he was 13 – smart, cunning, mean, and a natural leader.

2. I really dislike Dina Alexander. I never even thought she was cute. She was a terrible, terrible person, and I did not understand how anyone would want to even be in the same room with her. Had I been in her bunk, I would have hung her on the flagpole.

3. Most of the characters still irritate me. The only character I relate to now is Z.Z, the nerdy tree-hugger type, so I’m not sure what that says about me as an adult.

4. The show holds up, but it’s nostalgia that keeps it going. Would it survive if it aired now? No. There’s not enough drama and fighting; there were no tears. It was just kids doing kids things and solving their own problems without it being Earth shattering.

5. I can still sing the opening song word for word. And I’ll admit something to all our great readers out there: Until two weeks ago, I thought the song said “… are our dear friend Chips.” Yes, chips. It didn’t make any sense at the time, but I never tried to figure it out. Two weeks ago, when I heard it again, I said … “OH….” and laughed and laughed. And felt really dumb.

I encourage anyone who enjoyed Nick’s 90s era to revisit Salute Your Shorts. Amazon has two volumes for $6 each, and it’s worth it just to relive a time where things weren’t so dependent on technology and dramatic. If you want to learn what made us late 20-somethings and 30-somethings who we are today, watch the old Nick shows.

For extra fun, here’s a video from a “scary” episode. It still creeps me out a little…

10 Halloween Specials: RevPub Picks

They just don’t make Halloween specials like they used to… And to honor the great tricks and spooks of the season, we’ve compiled our 10 favorite Halloween specials for your reading pleasure. Feel free to click on the links to watch an episode, and we hope you enjoy this eerie trip down memory lane. We sure did!

James’ Picks

Disney’s Halloween Treat (1982) –This special was essentially an amalgamation of several Disney shorts.  I distinctly remember the Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia; the Skeleton Dance, which is STILL an incredible piece of music and animation; Donald Duck and the Gorilla, which has some incredible classic humor, gags, and fun cartoon scares; and my favorite, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Disney’s version remains the most impactful, potent, and well-choreographed version of this story I’ve ever seen.  Disney may get some stick for being an oversized profit-factory now, but this special shows how effective and talented Disney Studio was, especially in the ’20s-’40s.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure  (1985) – This Halloween special was the special-to-end-all-specials for me as a kid.  I still say “candy-candy-candy-candy-candy” whenever candy is present, and I still get a BIT creeped out by the old man telling the pirate story.  This was the peak of Garfield’s might – I had the plushes, stickers, and books including the comic book version of this episode!  I still love the lazy orange cat, and it’s one of the rare comic strips I’ll stop to read.  This special was by far one of the best single-episode specials (it wasn’t an episode of Garfield and Friends, it aired in prime time every season) ever and remains an absolute favorite.

Roseanne “BOO!” (1989)  – Roseanne had some of the best TV Halloween episodes, but this one is by far my favorite.  When I looked it up to get the title, I had no idea it also had been nominated for awards and was the FIRST Halloween episode they ever did.  I remember it as one of the most fun Halloween family environments I’d seen on TV.  Dan and Roseanne have a “who’s scarier” competition that escalates throughout the episode (from fake injuries, to a roaring chainsaw, to a TRULY terrifying conclusion I won’t dare ruin!), and they happily play pranks on their kids and each other.  It’s the TV-show budget version of the kinds of things my family did for Halloween.  I still love it.

Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror “ Episodes 1-8 (1990-2002) – It is IMPOSSIBLE to pick a favorite Simpsons Halloween special.  From the first one that taught me Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven when I was 9, to The Shinning, to The Homega Man, these episodes were full of some of the funniest moments the show ever produced.  They’re lack of continuity and fantasy-world nature meant they could get away with anything in them.  Major characters died, fourth walls were broken, and horror conventions spoofed.  Many cartoons since have tried to follow the format, and some have been good, but not as good.  The Simpsons ran their course for me by Season 9, but the first eight episodes of “Treehouse of Horror” are still hilarious for any fan of the horror genre.

AVGN Halloween  (2006-2013, so far!) – It’s hard to pick, but I may have to go with Friday 13thNightmare on Elm Street NES game reviews with a close second being the Dracula and Frankenstein reviews.  I had that Nightmare on Elm Street game, and it was one of the first AVGN episodes I saw (after Ghostbusters and TMNT, games I had as well, though I had Ghostbusters on the Atari Computer).  I had the exact same experience as James Rolfe while playing the Nightmare game, and he not only Captures the mood of the season but also the true strangeness and awfulness of the game.  The Halloween-Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari episodes, Ghostbusters run, the Castlevania-thon, and Ghost n Goblins are all also amazing Halloween/Video Game entertainment.

Raven’s Picks

Home Improvement “The Haunting of Taylor House” (1992) – I never watched Home Improvement much, but I managed to catch their Halloween shows. This family was the tamer version of Roseanne’s but still fun. I always remember thinking how cool it would be to have a family Halloween, like the Connors and Taylors. It’s hard to beat the costumes, makeup, and insults that fly around in those houses. In this episode Tim builds a haunted house downstairs, and the costumes are hilarious. Poor Raggedy Andy. For a less kiddie episode, check out “Crazy for You” and watch Tim squirm as the secretive Rose sets out to win Tim’s heart. Bum, bump, bum, bump…

Dawson’s Creek Four Scary Stories” and “Living Dead Girl” (2001-2002) – Thanks to my recent binge watching of the show, I came across these little teen-gems. The choice is tough because there were only two Halloween-type episodes, and both were done well. “Four Scary Stories” is exactly that, and a couple are pretty intense for a teen show as they deal with stalking and road rage. “Living Dead Girl” is more traditional by taking place at a costume party on a “haunted” movie set during a costume party. “Four Scary Stories” is creepier and mood-based, and the other is more action-packed. Both are super fun though, and you’ll see a very young Jensen Ackles from Supernatural!

Hey Dude “Ghost Stories” (1996) – Ok, you can tell I’m a sucker for ghost stories and teens. In this episode, the teens play tricks and tell stories to try to one-up each other, especially Brad and Ted. The kids work in several urban legends, and it’s harmless Nick teen fun. Any Hey Dude fan will love this episode. The acting isn’t great, and it’s silly, but it’s of fun with cheesy effects. Even severed hands…

Rugrats “Candy Bar Creep Show” (1992) – Remember Reptar Bars? The delicious chocolate bars filled with green sugary ooze. This is one of the first Rugrats and super cute. The babies learn all about Halloween and wander around trying to get a Reptar bar. They’re too small to go trick-or-treating, but it doesn’t stop them from getting candy!

Psych “Tuesday the 17th” (2009) – I’m kind of cheating with this one, but this episode had to be on my list for three reasons: 1) It’s an awesome tribute to Friday the 13th; 2) I have watched this episode 50 times, and I’m not exaggerating; 3) It’s one of the best Psychs ever. Tuesday the 17th mixes comedy, classic slasher horror, and Psych antics to create a show I must watch every year when I need a good laugh or a good scare. It’s not a traditional Halloween show, but you have to give it props of clean writing, suspense, and a twist. Because there’s always a twist. BWAHAHAHA….

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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In the middle of the woods, a group of teenagers sit around a campfire telling ghost stories. They start each tale with, “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story…”

Recognize it? It’s the opening of my favorite 90s show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? by Nickelodeon.

Last Saturday, I realized that Are You Afraid of the Dark is streaming free on Amazon Prime. All six seasons. Free. And I was so excited I could barely contain it – like buying my 350Z excited!

Back in the Day

Are You Afraid came on Friday nights, and I watched in my grandparent’s room because we didn’t have cable at my house. I closed the door, turned out the lights to watch it in the dark, and shut out the world – much like I do now with Psych. That was my time.

It was never scary, especially considering I grew up watching horror movies, but it was just creepy enough to make you feel uneasy. Most of the characters are teens acting, thinking, and speaking like teenagers. It’s believable and sold the story.

Does it still hold up?

Absolutely. If you’re looking for gore, sex, and loud jump scenes, you’re out of luck. The show’s tales are pretty clean, but they address adolescent issues such as fitting in, family, and dating. However, it being the 90s, some of the costumes are pretty ridiculous; this was before the everything-must-be-CGI era.

Looking Back

Now that I’m more mature and somewhat grown up, there are a few things I found noteworthy:

  • We were way more lax in the 90s. In one episode, there was real fire in a fun house hallway, and a kid gives someone a box of cigars he somehow bought. As a kid, I never questioned those things, which shows we’re way too nit-picky about stupid crap. Nowadays, parents would have rioted.
  • The show promoted adolescent creativity. Are You Afraid of the Dark was better than shows like Goosebumps because the kids wrote the stories (that’s the premise, anyway). Each kid wrote a story and brought it to the group to share. It’s a wonderful example of imagination, comradery, and keeping an open mind. Similar shows were based off books or stories written by an adult – these tales are straight from the kids.
  • We need a show like this now. I love some modern shows like iCarly and Victorious, but some, Pretty Little Liars, Secret Life, and Degrassi, are way too serious. Adolescents have it pretty tough, so why should we show more drama? The world has more than enough. A good scary tale helps us release tension when we scream or jump, and these episodes always taught a lesson. Reminding kids how to be kind and tolerant (in a fun way) never gets old.
  • It doesn’t always end well. My favorites are the one with a twist. Everything doesn’t always end happily ever after, and some episodes are pretty disturbing.

With that said, here’s one of my favorites. I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed 🙂

Off the Charts: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

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I was an avid TV-watcher as a kid.  Between Saturday morning cartoons, after-school afternoon shows, all-day Nickelodeon-a-thons, and NES my young life revolved around the Television.  Well that and action figures.

Despite all the TV-ing I did there was only ever ONE show I remember being excited about the premiere: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Honestly I don’t know how I heard about it, what the promotion for the show was, and even if I was a huge Fresh Prince fan before the show (I knew several of the songs but I was deep into Guns N Roses love at this point…) but for some reason I have a distinct memory of my sister and I ending playing outside early (unheard of!) to run inside and crowd around the second TV in my parents’ room (sitting on a giant desk and occasionally requiring a SMACK on the side to work properly) to watch the very first episode.

As part of my 90s nostalgia I bought and re-watched the entire show from start to finish over the last couple of weeks.  There was a lot I’d forgotten, a lot that I remembered (and couldn’t WAIT to get to!), and some changing opinions on the show itself.  Here are my thoughts:

The show starts, as many shows do, with a cliché premise.  This one is “fish out of water.”  Will Smith, from West Philadelphia (born and raised), moves in with his rich relatives and their clash of cultures causes hilarity.  I remember as a kid only seeing the Will-side of things and reveling in his bucking of the establishment.  Watching as an adult I realize it’s more complex than that.  In the very first episode Uncle Phil (James Avery) sets Will straight, he might be a kid from the streets now, but being an adult on the streets isn’t appealing, Phil worked hard to get where he is and while Will’s revolutionary spirit is often the white hat of the show, you see the value of the Banks’ ethics too.  Similarly in another episode Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) comments that Will mocks him for being the “bourgie” guy he is, but in doing so he’s being as unaccepting of Carlton’s personality and much as he (Will) claims the Bel Air society is unaccepting of him.  It’s much deeper than just watching wild-Will run amok as I thought as a kid.

The show is full of lots of running themes; Will’s “look to camera,” cartoon effects, Jazz being thrown out.  A lot of common threads that are undoubtedly “Fresh Prince.”  It’s like watching live-action Looney Tunes in a way.  Even the serious moments I hated as a kid are effective now.  Try watching Will respond to his father leaving and not be affected!

The show also has some of the best bloopers I’ve ever seen.  The only unusual aspect of the show is the high number of clip shows they do.  Even in the early season.  I learned from audio commentaries on The Simpsons that this is something networks do to save money and this may be the case here.  It’s not a complaint as the clips are always the best of the show, just strange to have a second season clip show.

Another strange thing that hit me while watching it is how much has changed in the intervening time between the show’s original run and now.  The stars they mention who we lost way before their time (specifically Heavy D, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson), and the fickle nature of the trends as celebrities on the show who received raucous cheers who are now in the midst of relative obscurity.

My favorite aspect of the show is Jazz.  DJ Jazzy Jeff, in addition to being one hell of a DJ (a REAL DJ.  Ya know…with records…) is absolutely a riot every time he’s on screen.  You can tell he’s not a trained actor, but his part is so funny it doesn’t matter.

Here are some of my personal favorite moments:

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Bel Air I say pick it up.  It’s one of the rare shows from the 90s that, while it does have its dated moments, is as funny now as when it was made.

Below is the REAL FULL theme song of the Fresh Prince.  As far as I know it never aired.  Only an extended version during the first two episodes.  It’s still missing two sections in the middle.  But to answer a long standing question, no the Prince didn’t take a cab from West Philly to Bel Air!