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

Revenant Publications 90s banner

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…