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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In Memory of Nickelodeon

AKA: The longest Blog entry I've ever written. Be warned. Get popcorn. Make yourself comfortable.

Now, I know what you're thinking (well, I don't, but I can pretend I do); how can you memorialize something that very clearly isn't dead? Well, in most situations, you can't. However, when I say Nickelodeon, what I really mean is classic Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon as it was during the mid-late nineties, back when All That was still all that and Rugrats wasn't all grown up. Back when orange soda could make you laugh, a camp fire could scare you in the dark, and things were still filmed at Nickelodeon Studios.

That's right, apparently, as of April 30, 2005, over three years ago, Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida officially closed it's doors. The last program ever to be shot there was Nick Splat! in August 2004, in May 2005 the iconic slime geyser was removed from the front of the building, and finally in January 2006, the giant orange Nickelodeon splat sign was removed from the top of the building. As of 2006, it stood empty and abandoned, still bright lime green with splats of orange, but lacking any of the iconic items that made it what it once was. It has since been remodeled and now serves as a venue for, of all things, the Blue Man Group.

Now, I realize it's 2008 and I'm a little late with this, but honestly, I had no idea this happened till just this morning when I, out of complete and utter curiosity and boredom, decided to wiki Nickelodeon Studios only to discover that it no longer exists. Seriously, nobody tells me anything.
I'm sure I'm not the only one that remembers watching Nickelodeon in the nineties and constantly hearing "_____ was filmed in front of a live studio audience in Nickelodeon Studios, Florida" after every live action program. Even with Nicktoons, there was always something that said it had been produced there. It was a constant presence in my life, that studio, despite the fact that I had never actually been there, and now, never will. It's closing is sad, and I think, marks the end of an era. Nickelodeon really came into it's own in the 1990's, and though it started in the mid 1980's, it didn't really mature to the familiar channel we all know and love till the 90's.

Despite having been only nine when the nineties ended, I'm still old enough to remember the classics. Nickelodeon was my life when I was little, I would constantly imagine being on a show like The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, or Clarissa Explains It All, I watched Nicktoons almost religiously, and I have vivid memories of doodling Rugrats characters on my papers in second grade. I am not ashamed to say I was addicted to television as a child, mainly because it was good television I was addicted to.

And so, in honor of the now-defunct Nickelodeon Studios, because it's never too late to honor something so important, I now give you a tribute to 90's era Nick. Nelly's Guide to Classic Nickelodeon, my thoughts on the golden age of children's television, show by show. I'm going to include a few Nicktoons in here, even though most of them weren't actually produced in the studio, but the list would just seem incomplete without them.

Here are my highlights:

Clarissa Explains It All - I LOVED this show. Granted, it was probably aimed more at teenagers or pre-teens, but seriously, it was funny enough to appeal to anyone. It stared Melissa Joan Hart as the quirky Clarissa as she battles typical teenage problems like crushes, school, zits, family, and friends. I remember Clarissa liking to break the fourth wall a lot to let the audience in on her inner thoughts, which, living in an era before the vast amounts of interactive children's TV we have now, I thought was the coolest way ever to tell a story. The fun opening theme consisting basically of "na na na na na" was always fun to get stuck in your head during spelling the next day, and her best friend breaking through her bedroom window to the same iconic guitar rift as she greeted him with "Hi Sam" was fun to watch despite it happening every single episode. All and all, the show was fun, light-hearted, and quirky, and just the sort of thing I liked when I was seven.

The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo - I don't know how many people remember this show, it's entry on Wiki is a tiny, tiny stub, and it only lasted about 40-something episodes, but I completely adored this show. I'm a big fan of mystery shows, detective stories, whodunnit kind of things, and the fact that a a kid, a modern, not-nearly-as-cheesy-as-Nancy-Drew kind of kid could solve mysteries like a real detective was just about the most awesome thing in the world for me. I remember liking to pretend I was Shelby Woo, or rather, a character much like Shelby Woo, and would frequently be seen running around my house on a mystery solving adventure. It's sad how little love this show got, and I really wish it had lasted a bit longer.

All That - In complete contrast to the last show, who doesn't remember All That? Seriously, SNL-like sketch comedy for kids. It was a brilliant idea, executed perfectly in the beginning, and despite it's sort of dodgy last few years, continues to hold a place among the greats. I remember my favorite sketch was always Vital Information with Lori Beth Denberg, and later Danny Tamberelli, where they'd basically sit a desk and give you random little life-lessons like "You say potato. I say potahto. You say tomato. I say look at us, we're two idiots talking about vegetables." The humor used on the show was perfect for kids, it was effective, quick, clever, and delivered perfectly from every actor involved. It had it's golden era during the first few seasons, before it vanished for a year, only to be re-launched with an entirely new cast and different sketches. The re-launch was ok, it wasn't terrible, but really, everyone knew the older stuff was just a bit better. It's not the fault of the new cast, they were all very good, it's more the fault of an audience that had gotten so attached to the old stuff it simply couldn't accept the new. For me, All That will always be the classic stuff, since by the time the new stuff came about, I'd gotten just a bit too old for Nickelodeon, and sort of lost interest. Despite this though, All That was another one of those shows I always used to dream of being on.

Legends of the Hidden Temple - I swear to GOD, no one could ever put together that freaking silver monkey! It was so simple! There were only three parts! They always got stuck in that one room, the freaking Shrine of the Silver Monkey, they always ran out of time there because they could never assemble a three part monkey!! Although, I suppose if you're running on a clock inside a really dark, somewhat eerie temple with really scary temple guards ready to jump out and grab you around every corner, assembling a three-part silver monkey to unlock a secret door to the room with a lost, prize-wining artifact, might be a bit more difficult. Seriously though, I'll still watch re-runs of this show, I'm not a game show person, but this one just owned.

Double Dare - I didn't watch this one much, despite being able to remember it pretty vividly, I was never really into it. I liked it, but I think after a while I got bored of it. It earned a spot on this list because really, you can't deny that it is a classic of children's game shows. Whether you liked it or not, it kept coming back as Super Sloppy Double Dare, Family Double Dare, Celebrity Double Dare, and the rather short-lived Double Dare 2000. So clearly, someone must have watched it more than I did.

Figure It Out - I SO wanted to be a panelist on this show. Like, seriously, I knew I wasn't nearly talented or cool enough to be a contestant, I never invented any awesome labor-saving device, or trained my cat to do math, and honestly, that didn't really bothered me. Being a panelist always seemed like so much more fun, and I honestly preferred solving the puzzle to actually seeing any of the contestants do their thing. I know that sounds cruel, but you know, kids are cruel sometimes.

Kenan and Kel - A spin off of All That that just totally rocked. They were hysterical, their hijinks never got annoying, and despite my passionate hatred of orange soda, made me want to drink it anyway. Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchel had such great chemistry together, the way their very different characters managed to bounce off each other so well, and the way, no matter how much trouble they got into with each other, they still managed to remain the closest best friends on television. I really hope they put this show on DVD sometime, I'd love to watch it again.

Rugrats - The first of the Nicktoons that I shall be mentioning, it's hard to not mention this one. This was the show everyone watched, even if it was only once while channel surfing at your grandparents house, you knew what it was and what it was about. Early Rugrats was brilliant, the simple, clever, creative way of story telling, the cute characters with their own personalities, even the adults were fully realized with witty banter and subtle humor that you have to be just a bit older than the target audience to really understand. The sheer amount of imagination that went into this show was amazing, the things they managed to do with such a simple concept; if babies could talk, what would they say? And who could honestly forget Reptar on Ice? Or just, Reptar in general. This is one of those shows that will continue to hold a place in your heart, and is one I would willingly go back and re-watch. The early years occasionally re-run really early in the morning, go back and just listen to the dialogue from the adults, appreciate the voice acting, really, just go back and give this show a bit of love, because whether you liked it or not, it is, pretty much, the cartoon that defined it's generation.

Doug – The second of the great 90’s Nicktoons, not quite as popular as Rugrats, but in my somewhat bias opinion, just as good. It told the story of Doug, this awkward, imaginative, introspective boy who kept a journal and doodled in class. He was basically a sort of quiet, normal guy thrown in the middle of a crazy family, bizarre friends, and an overall quirky town. I loved Doug for how he just seemed to go with things, how he moves to a town obsessed with beats and just goes “Ok, beats are good.” And that’s the end of it. As with Rugrats, it coined a lot things I still vividly remember and will reference in everyday conversation. The Beats, were one of them, their hit song “I need more allowance” telling the story of basically every kid I’ve ever met that got an allowance. Quailman was another. Seriously, how can you forget Quailman, the “strange visitor from the planet Bob” who wore his underwear outside of his pants? I’ll still have conversations with my mother that will involve one of us going “I am helpless and stupefied.” God, I loved Doug. When it moved to Disney, I cried.

Hey Arnold – Ok, before you start yelling at me, this is a 90’s Nicktoon. It first aired on October 7, 1996, in it’s current form, though it did spend about a year or so beforehand as a claymation cartoon on Sesame street. Hey Arnold is quite possibly my favorite 90’s cartoon ever. It may be the city setting, I have a thing for cities, it may be the opera episode, I don’t know. I just absolutely love this show. I love the way the different characters are set up, the way every character has their own place in the society of the school, everyone plays a specific part, yet the show was not afraid to constantly break that part. There was always a grey area, you never knew who the bad guy was, even the bullies were constantly portrayed as sympathetic characters, which was such a different way of doing it. Most shows about schools always had such division, the popular kids, the bullies, the good kids, the nerds, but on Hey Arnold, they all mixed and matched and were never confined to one label. The plots were new and interesting, they were clever, they were well written, and well performed. Real kids played the kids on the show, which made it a bit more authentic than most kids shows. Watching it now reveals the allusions to pretty much everything, the hysterical yet actually touching Romeo and Juliet episode, the BRILLAINT opera episode (“My names Don Arnold, please have a carmel, do you like my pants? They’re made of satin, the cape’s pure Latin, I had it tailored in the South of France” to tune of Carmen), and of course, the episode that is pretty much an elementary school re-telling of 12 Angry Men. I also loved the whole “Helga-hates-but-loves-Arnold” thing, which has been done so many times in so many different things, but only few have done it as effectively as this. Taking out a locket and launching into a passionate, poetic soliloquy of unrequited love only to have it suddenly ruined by the heavily breathing presence of Brainy behind her, who then gets punched immediately after, it never seemed to get old. Really, I could go on and on about this show, and still not say enough.

As this is currently surpassing four pages on a Word Document, I think it’s probably within everyone’s best interest if I stop here.

We shall forever miss you Nickelodeon Studios, despite the fact I only discovered you were gone this morning, we shall forever remember the glory and splendor that was 90’s children’s television filmed in your studios. It is indeed a grave loss to society, and to the world in general. I hope to God the Blue Man Group appreciates their new venue.

Farewell Nickelodeon Studios, and farewell to the Golden Age of Nick.




Ophelia said...

OMG! I totally forgot how much I love "Hey Arnold" and Doug. I haven't thought about it in years. But I totally remember Quailman's "I am helpless and stupefied". And I remember loving how amazing sweet Arnold was and how incredibly sorry I felt for Helga.

And the Blue Man Group? Seriously? I don't even like the Blue Man Group.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.

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