Being the age that I am, I had the great fortune of being the perfect age to enjoy many of the great shows that entertained millions during Nickelodeon’s “golden years”.
Many children’s shows nowadays just don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Obviously I’m not the target audience and maybe that is point of the shows in the first place. But, they just don’t seem to have the staying power and the attraction of the shows that came onto the scene during my youth (The behemoth that is “Spongebob Squarepants” is, of course, excluded from that statement).
I get all nostalgic when I remember back to the Nickelodeon lineup during my school years. Coming home from school and rushing to the television, despite my mother’s pleas for me to do my homework, and tuning in to the latest on Nickelodeon. So many of those shows during that time became instant classics, and they have such a strong staying power that I can still watch them today and enjoy them.
It would be impossible to really pick favorites. As a kid, you change so much from month to month and year to year, that your taste in entertainment and what you find funny is fickle at best. It would be easier to say that these following shows are the ones that I find the most memorable, and really bring on those warm waves of nostalgia. Hopefully, this will bring back a rush of memories for everyone reading this like it did for me while I was writing it. They weren’t always the most educational, or the most complex shows on television; but they sure were fun to watch. The following are some examples of when Nickelodeon was at the top of its game, at least in my humble opinion.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1993-1996)
Pete and Pete are two red-headed brothers living in the somewhat surreal town of Wellsville. Pete, the older of the two, narrates the stories about their adventures in everyday life. Will Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, have to leave town? Why does X=Y? Can Pete ever rediscover the Perfect Song? Tune in and find out!
I loved the humor and quirkiness of this show. It had a unique feel to it and made it so much fun to watch. By this time, I was a teenager and I identified with the older Pete as he narrated these strange situations that would arise in their odd little slice of suburbia. I miss this show, and I miss Artie “The Strongest Man in the World”.
The show lasted for 3 seasons, really 2 and a half, and then disappeared into the annals of history. This was one of the final Nick shows that I really got into and its demise pretty much marked the end of the Nickelodeon golden era for me and many others.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete do live on, however, through DVD. They have DVD’s available now for both season 1 and season 2.
- Watch “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing for “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”
- Watch the intro for “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” at Retrojunk.com
- More about “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”
Are You Afraid of the Dark (1992 – 1996)
A group of kids calling themselves “The Midnight Society” spends each episode sitting around a campfire swapping scary stories. Creepy, but never gory or excessively frightening, common subjects included haunted houses, what goes on behind the neighbor’s walls, and other things that go bump in the night.
This show was a lot of fun to watch and it offered a lot of variety as each week the stories were different from one another. While the cast making up “The Midnight Society” was mostly the same through each episode, there were all different sorts of characters and situations that made up the “tales” they told. This kept it interesting, and even if one of the episodes wasn’t that great; you knew you could tune in next week and it could be a homerun. I was never really “scared” by any of these stories, but I did find many of them to be interesting and thought provoking. Well, thought provoking for a young teenager that is.
Are You Afraid of the Dark ran for four seasons, finally ending in 1996. The show met its doom around the same time as The Adventures Pete and Pete, even further creating the sense of Nickelodeon moving away from the magic of the golden years. They tried to revive the show once again in 1999, but the quality of the cast and the writing just didn’t capture the magic of the original. It only lasted one season. As far as I know, none of the seasons of the original Are You Afraid of the Dark are available on DVD at this time.
- Watch “Are You Afraid of the Dark” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Are You Afraid of the Dark”
- Watch the intro for “Are you Afraid of the Dark” at Retrojunk.com
- More about “Are You Afraid of the Dark”
Clarissa Explains it All (1991-1994)
When you think about all the ridiculous stuff you have to put up with in school, on dates, and even in your own family, it’s no wonder you don’t always know how to handle it all at once. Luckily, there’s Clarissa. Clarissa’s a high school student who has to deal with a couple of ex-hippie parents and an obnoxious younger brother named Ferguson. Along with her best friend Sam, Clarissa somehow manages to keep her sanity through it all—as well as her sense of humor, her eye for fashion and her knack for making sense out of life.
This was one of my all time favorites, and I’m really not sure why. I always thought of it as a “girl’s show”, but there was just something oddly infectious about it. Who could forget that catchy theme song “Nah, Nah, NaNaNah”. The show perfectly captured many of unimportant events of school that, to us, were so dramatic and such a big deal. I had a younger brother as well and I really could relate to putting up with a lot of younger brother crap.
Clarissa Explains it all was one of the highest rated shows on Nickelodeon and lasted for 5 seasons before ending in 1994. They tried to revive the show later in a follow-up called “Clarissa Now” featuring Clarissa living in New York City and interning at a newspaper. The pilot for the show was filmed for CBS, but was not picked up. The first season of Clarissa Explains it All is available on DVD.
- Watch “Clarissa Explains it All” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Clarissa Explains it All”
- Watch the intro for “Clarissa Explains it All” on Retrojunk.com
- More about “Clarissa Explains it All”
Double Dare (1986-1988)
Double dare is undoubtedly the phenomenon that made Nickelodeon what it is today. The rules go something like this: Each round starts off with a toss-up physical challenge. Whoever wins gets $10 and control of the game. Host Marc Summers asks the winning team a question. If they don’t know the answer or think the other team doesn’t have a clue, they can dare them to answer it for double the dollars.
But they have to be careful because they can double dare the first team back for 4 times the amount. Then, they either have to answer the question or take a physical challenge. In round 2, dollar values are doubled. The winner of the game moves on to the obstacle course, where they navigate through 8 obstacles and they win a prize for each obstacle. If they make it through all 8 obstacles, they win the grand prize.
I watched this show all of the time and was one of the first things I watched when I came home from school. It was the quintessential game show for kids. The physical challenges were hilarious and everyone always got messy, which was of course the biggest draw to me and most other kids. My parents loved it because they felt that I was learning something, as the show featured informative questions and trivia. Honestly, I just sat biding my time until somebody announced “Physical Challenge!”.
The original Double Dare ran for two years, followed by many other variants including “Family Double Dare” and “Super Sloppy Double Dare”. It was easily the most successful and perfectly formed game show on television. I really enjoyed “Legends of the Hidden Temple” on Nick as well, but still felt that the Double Dare offerings were the best. As far as I know, Double Dare is not available on DVD in any form.
- Watch “Double Dare” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Double Dare”
- Watch the intro for “Family Double Dare” at Retrojunk.com
- More about “Double Dare”
11 year old Doug Funnie moves to Bluffington from Bloatsburg. “Doug” follows his adventures as he writes in his journal. He falls in love with Patti Mayonnaise and befriends Skeeter Valentine. They all are in grade 6 in the Bluffington School and Doug tries not to make himself look like a loser in front of everyone.
This show was one of my favorites and one of the more memorable ones for me. I was that kid who was new to town, kind of shy and withdrawn, and always worried about looking like an idiot in front of my peers. (Now I run a website showcasing my ability to look like an idiot in front of my peers, go figure.) Doug was the perfect, animated manifestation of everything that I was going through at that time. I even attempted to pen my own novel version of a Doug movie during this time, to no avail.
Doug was the very first “Nicktoon”, premiering alongside “Ren and Stimpy” and “Rugrats” in 1991. Doug featured some hilarious episodes and always had a good deal of “daydream” sequences as he would record his adventures in his journal. Through that journal he lived out his greatest hopes. From looking cool in front of Patty Mayonnaise, to saving the world as the belt and underwear encrusted “Quail Man”; Doug was a lot of fun for everyone.
The show ran for four seasons on Nickelodeon before being cancelled. In 1996, Disney bought the rights to the show and continued production. I personally feel the show lost its magic when it left Nickelodeon.
- Watch “Doug” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Doug”
- Watch the intro for “Doug” on Retrojunk.com
- More about “Doug”
Mr. Wizard’s World (1983-1991)
Don “Mr Wizard” Herbert brought science into all of our homes with his Nickelodeon show Mr. Wizard’s World. The show aired from 1983 - 1991 and reruns were shown until 2000. This makes Mr. Wizard’s World the longest running show in Nickelodeon’s history.
On all his shows, Mr. Wizard sought to make science accessible for everyone, and show kids how to perform scientific tricks with everyday materials, and to encourage them to ask questions about the world around them. Many people have credited Mr. Wizard with their career choices in science or computers.
I loved Mr. Wizard’s World dearly, and of all of the Nickelodeon shows I watched over the years, I would have to say that this one brings back the most memories. As a kid, I was fascinated with science. In fact, I still am. I did everything I could to make sure that I never missed an episode.
Mr. Wizard’s approach to teaching science made you feel like you could do anything. Experiment after experiment, he never talked down to kids or belittled their intelligence in any way. With Mr. Wizard at your side, you knew that anything from mastering electricity, to creating an erupting volcano was easily within your grasp. Mr. Wizard’s World inspired millions and generally holds a special place in the memories of most people that watched the show.
Later, newer shows would strive to bring science to kids. Beakman’s World and Billy Nye the Science Guy were some of the more popular ones that thrilled kids with the magic of science. But, in my opinion, none of them ever came close to matching the charm of Mr. Wizard’s World. Mr Wizard’s World episodes are available on DVD now through Mr. Wizard Studios.
- Watch “Mr. Wizard’s World” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Mr. Wizard’s World”
- Watch the intro for “Mr. Wizard’s World” on Retrojunk.com
- More about “Mr. Wizard’s World”
Ren and Stimpy (1991 – 1996)
An intense, hyperactive chihuahua (Is there any other kind?) and a happy-go-lucky, empty-brained cat share bizarre and often repulsive adventures. Their experiences usually involve hairballs, filthy litterboxes, “magic nose goblins”, sentient farts, jars of spit, outhouses, eating dirt, monkey vermin and any other imaginable disgusting substance.
No other show on Nickelodeon inspired as much controversy as this little gem. Ren and Stimpy took the genre of cartoons to a whole new level of gross and disgusting. It would be no small exaggeration to state that this show was responsible for redrawing the boundaries of cartoons and shaping the future of the medium. Its amazingly widespread popularity really made it the “Spongebob Squarepants” of its time. While it wasn’t technically a “kid’s show”, it was watched and loved by millions of kids; much to the dismay of their parents.
Ren and Stimpy was right up my alley. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with gross out humor when entertaining kids and teens; but Ren and Stimpy turned the utterly useless into utterly awesome. To this day, when I come across a useless or ridiculous product being advertised; all I can think of is that catchy jingle “It’s Log, It’s Log, it’s better than bad, it’s good!”
Obviously most parents, mine included, were not fans of this show and thought that Nickelodeon was taking it too far. Nickelodeon began to cave under that pressure as well and eventually replaced the production team to create a toned down version. That was the beginning of the end for Ren and Stimpy. Ren and Stimpy lasted a total of 5 seasons before it finally faded into the sunset. You can, however, purchase every season of the show on DVD; so all is not lost.
- Watch “Ren and Stimpy” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Ren and Stimpy”
- Watch the intro for “Ren and Stimpy” at Retrojunk.com
- More about “Ren and Stimpy”
Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992)
This is a great show about a group of kids at summer camp. The camp is run by the heard-but-never-seen Dr. Kahn. They spend their time trying to harass the camp counselor, Kevin “Ug” Lee.
Salute Your Shorts was an offbeat, hilarious take on life at a summer camp and was one of my favorite shows to watch everyday. Sure it was stupid and pointless, and was little more than a collection of elaborate pranks stitched into a half hour episode; but it somehow just managed to capture the fun of being a kid and being able to run amuck at camp.
This little nugget only lasted two seasons, but that was really more an indicator of the type of show it was, rather than its ratings. Shows like that can get old really fast, it is important to put shows out there that are funny and absurd; then, when the joke has run its course, you move on to the next show. It’s good business, and it’s the way a kid’s attention span works. Besides, a show with a theme song containing “Camp Onowana, we hold you in our hearts; and when we think about you, it makes us wanna fart!”, will only be funny for so long.
As short as its life was, it is one of the ones I fondly remember. I still remember people cheering in the theater when I went to see “Dude, Where’s my Car?”, and Donkeylips (Michael Bower) came onto the screen as one of the followers of “Zultan”. I have not managed to find “Salute Your Shorts” available anywhere on DVD.
- Watch “Salute Your Shorts” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “Salute Your Shorts”
- Watch the intro for “Salute Your Shorts” at Retrojunk.com
- More about “Salute Your Shorts”
You Can’t Do That on Television (1979-1990)
The show featured off the wall sketch comedy by Canadian actors. Originally airing in Canada in 1979, the show was purchased by the new Nickelodeon and began airing in the U.S in 1982.
This show was really before my time in all honesty. By the time I was old enough to understand it and enjoy it, production had ceased. The reruns continued, though, until 1993 and through the reruns I came to love the show. Besides, it would be a grievous error to not include it in this list as it was the show that really launched the golden age of Nickelodeon in the first place.
Many of the sketches were hilarious, featuring all kinds of backwards thinking and off the wall antics. It had a very Saturday Night Live meets Monty Python kind of feel to it. The most memorable part of the show, and the reason for its fame, was the sliming of any foolish mortal who uttered the words “I don’t know”. Several people were covered in green slime on every episode, and for a kid that just never gets old.
The tradition of green slime continued on in the Nickelodeon culture long after the cancellation of this trademark show. I have yet come across any DVD’s featuring seasons of You Can’t do that on Television.
- Watch “You Can’t do that on Television” videos on YouTube.com
- The IMDB’s listing on “You Can’t do that on Television”
- Watch the intro for “You Can’t do that on Television”
- More about “You Can’t do that on Television”
Those were just a few of the ones that I remember the best. There are many other shows that aired during that same time period that I’m sure would fire up the memories of hundreds of old Nick fans like me. Here are a few other honorable mentions (Links go to the video selections available for free viewing at YouTube.com, if available):
I personally don’t think that Nickelodeon or any other kid-targeted channel will ever be able to match the sheer power of the Nickelodeon lineup back in those days. They turned out one good show after another, and it has left many people crying out for Nick to “Bring them Back!” Petitions and “old school nick” sites have sprung up all over the internet demanding that these shows appear on the air again, and many fans have been using these sites to come together and share their memories of the magic that was Classic Nickelodeon.
If you have any great classic Nickelodeon resources, or have some interesting facts or memories to share; please feel free to post them in the comments. If you have a favorite classic Nick show that was so awesome, and you can’t believe I was foolish enough to not add it to the list; post it in the comments and I’ll see about adding it to the page.