If you grew up in the 1980s, chances are that your favorite babysitter was Nickelodeon. Because the channel came with every basic cable package, it brought an array of kid-friendly programming into households throughout America. On any given day young viewers could experience the wholesome adventures of a gnome named David, learn about the wonderful world of science with Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert, laugh as Canadians get drenched with slime, or dream about grabbing a flag from a comically oversized nose with hopes of winning a trip to Universal Studios, Florida. To quote Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, it was a glorious time.
The strength of the network was that it was more interested in actually engaging the minds of its young viewers than just simply throwing programming at them. Nickelodeon rightfully earned a reputation as a channel that not only appealed to children, but understood them and their viewing needs as well. As a result, it presented kids programming that still makes former viewers misty-eyed. While the network still churns out worthwhile shows, the sheer volume of competitors it faces these days doesn’t earn it the same type of reverence that it possessed during Nick’s golden age from roughly 1984-1994. In celebration of that wondrous era, today’s Daily List focuses on 15 of the greatest classic Nick show. Did your favorite show make the cut? I don’t kn…read on and see for yourself.
15) The World of David the Gnome In the early days of Miramax Films, Bob and Harvey Weinsten imported the Spanish cartoon David el Gnomo to the United States, hired Christopher Plummer and Tom Bosley to provide voicework on the redubbed English soundtrack and sold the series to Nickelodeon. Soon, The World of David the Gnome became one of the network’s most beloved programs, and a welcome alternative for parents who didn’t want their kids constantly watching shows that were nothing more than thinly veiled toy commercials. In other words pretty much every other toon that aired in the 1980s. 14) Special DeliverySimilar to Nick’s 16 Cinema, Special Delivery was a hodgepodge of “movies, sports, cartoons and stories about kids” that constantly found new ways to entertain pre-pubers with basic cable. Although it seemed like every other week featured a rebroadcast of Psst! Hammerman’s After You (which was a 1970s afterschool special and had nothing to do with the “Pray” hitmaker), there was enough variety featured here to make young viewers forget that Special Delivery was really nothing more than a bunch of programs network execs got cheap and didn’t know when the hell else to schedule.
13) Don’t Just Sit There It was just The Tonight Show geared towards adolescents, but Don’t Just Sit There made 1980s kids feel like there was finally a show that cared about their interests. Above you see Weird Al plugging UHF while fielding questions from one of the series’ young hosts (a lineup that included a pre-Boy Meets World Will Friedle). Looking at the show from an adult perspective, its easy to dismiss the series as just another way to get children to buy music and see movies. Yet as a less-cynical middle schooler at the tail-end of the 1980s, Don’t Just Sit There‘s melding of music, comedy and interviews seemed to be tailor-made for me–and revolutionary. 12) Clarissa Explains It All
I still don’t know what the hell “Na-Na” means, but I am certain that at least one of you reading this right now has a few Clarissa and the Straightjackets songs on your iPod and does. That makes me sad. 11) Rocko’s Modern Life Lovable wallaby Rocko and his O-Town buddies never reached the acclaim of Rugrats, Doug or any of the other animated shows that the network ran in the early 1990s. Shameful though this fact may be, discerning viewers understood that Rocko’s Modern Life was the best of the bunch…with the exception of a certain cat and chihuahua combo. More on them in a bit. 10) Standby: Lights, Camera, Action! Exactly when did Leonard Nimoy find time to sleep in the 1980s? When not appearing as Mr. Spock, tracking down Bigfoot on In Search Of, or inadvertently being responsible for that urban legend about the ghost that appears in Three Men in a Baby, he hosted Nick’s behind-the-scenes movie show Standby: Lights, Camera, Action. Without every being condescending, the series featured in-depth info on film production that rivals the best DVD and Blu-ray special feature documentaries. Unfortunately it has as never been reissued on either of these formats, so fans are left to rely on the occasional YouTube clip and their own fading memories to recall the show’s brilliance.
9) Finders Keepers I’m guessing most kids just watched Finders Keepers for the surreal thrills that came from seeing their messy bedrooms recreated on a game show. As far as Double Dare knockoffs go, this was the Vertigo to Fun House‘s Leonard: Part 6. 8) Mr. Wizard’s World Beacause of some awesomely wiseass editors, the above supercut paints Mr. Wizard’s World star Don Herbert as an egotistical ass. Nick viewers know this isn’t the case. Herbert was a man who made science fun for countless kids thanks to his long-running show. Even if he was a bit ornery at times. Like Galileo never had an off day.
7 & 6) Danger Mouse/Count Duckula Danger Mouse and its spin-off, Count Duckula, were the most gleeful British TV imports since Monty Python’s Flying Circus set up its tent on U.S. shores. Like all great cartoons, these shows appealed equally to kids and their parents. Furthering their appeal was an offbeat British comedic sensibility that meshed perfectly with other UK series of the era ranging from The Young Ones to Red Dwarf. In other words, it was in good company. Revisit them now before inevitable reboots taint their legacy.
5) Nick Rocks In the holy trinity of music video shows, Nick Rocks ranks alongside of 120 Minutes and Night Flight. The series often featured left-of-center clips that were more likely to be seen on Post-Modern MTV than Friday Night Videos, introducing viewers who would otherwise be listening to the teeny bopper pop of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany to actual, you know, worthwhile music. For many viewers (myself included) Nick Rocks was their first exposure to groups like They Might Be Giants that illustrated how there was life beyond the top 40. I’m still grateful for this, how about you?
4) The Ren and Stimpy Show Forget about the legal clusterfuck and diluted mess that The Ren & Stimpy Show became and watch the above clip to revel in a now-faraway time when a psychotic chihuahua and a semi-concussed cat restored anarchy to its rightful place within cartoons.
3) You Can’t Do That on TelevisionSince You Can’t Do That on Television featured a laughable budget and cast members who weren’t exactly telegenic, the success of the show can be summed up to one factor: slime. For reasons best left to child psychologists to explore, when kids saw cast members get covered in green goop they lost their goddamn minds. Word spread rapidly on schoolyards throughout the country about how the arrival of slime was triggered by the magic words “I don’t know” and other aspects of the show–including Barth’s burgers and how the kids on the couldn’t quite master how to properly say “about.” Meanwhile, by simply importing a Canadian TV show, Nick had its biggest hit of the early 80s. You can revisit Moose and the gang with the above video. Just be warned that doing so will be yet another reminder of how things you thought were great when you were younger now seem impossibly lame.
2) Double Dare When I was in sixth grade, a classmate of mine had her first period while climbing a rope in gym class. (Making matters worse, she was wearing white shorts). I imagine this incident still haunts her to this day. As far as I’m concerned though, a much bigger embarrassment occurred two years later when her team lost during an appearance on Double Dare. As a kid who had just gotten cable around the time that the series debuted, the game show became an all-consuming obsession of mine. Making matters worse was the fact that it was filmed in my hometown of Philadelphia and regularly recruited students from middle schools in the city…including the pit of misery that I attended. Even though I had about as much athletic ability as Stephen Hawking and regularly was ridiculed my classmates due to my utter inability to get a ball through a net, I became determined to get on the show. (Something that seemed briefly possible when my mom casually mentioned that her co-worker’s husband was good friends with the series’ announcer, Harvey). Alas, I was unable to work this dubious connection into something real, and the closest I ever came to having my wishes fulfilled was playing the video game version of the show on my Commodore 64. The point I’m trying to make here is that something about Double Dare whipped viewers into a frenzy. It wound up having a “family version” spin-off on Fox and became a merchandising juggernaut that inspired some truly baffling products and rip-offs a-plenty. The most awesome aspect of the series’ legacy? Host Marc Summers has been known to host Dunkel Dare events in the Philly area that revolve around beer-themed questions. Maybe my dreams will come true after all…
1) The Adventures of Pete and Pete In an era before anyone ever even heard of Wes Anderson, America got its fill of twee preciousness with The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Ostensibly about two brothers who share the same name, the show featured captivating ruminations on everything from the secret life of ice cream vendors (Mr. Tastee) to personal superheroes (Artie, the Stronge
st Man in the World). The talented cast headed by Michael Maronna as Big Pete and Danny Tamberelli as Little Pete was regularly joined by such cool guest stars as Michael Stipe, The B-52s’ Kate Pierson, Iggy Pop and Steve Buscemi. These cameos gave the show a hip factor to be sure. Realizing that quirkiness can only get you so far, show runners Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi made sure that the scripts were intelligent and funny without ever veering off into Twin Peaks season two weirdness. Throw in an amazing theme song by Polaris and you’ve got the most clever show in Nick’s long history. Unlike many of the entries on this list, The Adventures of Pete and Pete is just as enjoyable today as when it debuted nearly 20 years ago. Between recent cast reunions and the publication of the Waiting for October zine, we are currently in the midst of something of a Pete and Pete revival. It’s about time.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.