How Nickelodeon won the hearts of ’90s kids

NOTNothing sells like nostalgia, and it is certainly the main commodity peddled by The Orange Years: Nickelodeon’s Story, Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney’s documentary about the meteoric rise – and lasting cultural impact – of the child-focused cable channel. Premiering in VOD on November 17, it is a warm trip to the early 80s-90s of the very young broadcaster, who drew on the hopes, dreams, desires and blockages of teenage viewers and, in the process, revolutionized the way television targeted its younger demographic groups. There are few reviews here, but a lot of affection.

The main attraction of the Barber and Sweeney documentary is its wealth of clips and behind-the-scenes footage of Nickelodeon’s flagship programs, as well as the participation of many personalities involved in its rise to power. The leader of these figures is Geraldine Laybourne, former president of Nickelodeon. Taking the reins of the network – which started out as a clumsy spin-off of a Columbus, Ohio-based interactive television company known as QUBE – Laybourne sought to appeal directly to the ensemble. pre-teens, even going so far as to have staff visit Montclair, the Watchung School in New Jersey, to interview students about their lives. The goal, she clarified, was to create something new: a place of entertainment that reflected the myriad of ways children thought and felt, in all their crazy, unruly and insecure immaturity.

“Geraldine Laybourne is the most progressive thinker the media world has ever seen,” says someone in The orange years, and while that may be a moot point, it’s hard to underestimate the seismic change it helped bring about with Nickelodeon, whose wild and irreverent spirit was embodied in its logo: a giant orange splash that s ‘is stuck all over the screen. It’s no surprise to learn that said logo was created by the same people behind MTV’s spray-painted one, since Nickelodeon felt like the younger brother of the revolutionary music network – a brash, gentle rebel who reveled in of his steps-for-adults. youth. Nickelodeon was something exclusively for kids, and to that end, its efforts were populated by a wide range of stars that fans recognized as similar to themselves.

The process of striking a chord among American teens began with You can’t do that on TV (a Canadian import) and Doubly dare– arguably the coolest kids’ show of the 1980s, or at least I remember my own college days – both of which made green slime the channel’s signature feature. They also announced the strategic path ahead for Nickelodeon, with You can’t do that on TV foreshadowing the abundant scripted comedies and sketches to come, and Doubly dare paving the way for a bevy of related game shows that revolved around slimy, gross and adventurous excitement. Marc Summers’ memories of his tenure as Doubly dare, enthusiasm and humor in her voice, illustrates how an infectious love for gonzo fun was at the heart of the appeal of this show and the entire channel.

The orange years hits on just about every memorable half-hour hit of Nickelodeon’s heyday, with many directors of those shows appearing, be it Hi guy (the first sitcom of the channel), Clarissa explains everything, All that, Are you scared of the dark?, Kenan and Kel (with contributions from both stars, as well as Coolio, who wrote his theme song), Blue indices or unconventional and wacky animated smashes such as Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, and Doug. No one has anything negative to say about the time he spent working on these and other formative Nickelodeon series. Given the authenticity of their feelings, it’s hard to go wrong with the dominant claim that what made the network so special was, above all, its relentless attention to the core experiences of its viewers during their various stages. from childhood, since preschool learning. between discomfort, doubts, perhaps the impudence of the devil and the formation of identity.

It seems like a natural approach for a network of kids, but at the time, Nickelodeon’s modus operandi was bold and pioneering, and its series exuded a playground-like energy that made kids want to be a part of the network. ‘action. Guided by the comments of its stakeholders, The orange years poses interactivity as one of the keys to Nickelodeon’s success. Whether through game shows like Doubly dare, or its studio at Universal Studios Florida – where visitors could tour the soundstages and locker rooms where their favorite shows were being produced at that precise moment – Nickelodeon drew everyday viewers in excitement, and it turned out to be reflected on the tastes of Blue indices and its call and response structure for tykes.

It seems like a natural approach for a network of kids, but at the time, Nickelodeon’s modus operandi was bold and pioneering, and its series exuded a playground-like energy that made kids want to be a part of the network. ‘action.

The orange years chronologically takes Nickelodeon’s fundamental milestones to his eventual status as an entertainment media goliath and, scattered all over the place, delivers some funny anecdotes, including Summers’ story about a strong cocked father Doubly dare branching off onto a big-screen TV so he doesn’t chase after them for nearly killing his son, as well as his later admission that he once sabotaged the microphones in his Universal Studios Florida makeup room in order to get a brief moment of intimacy. The only potentially juicy angle comes late, when the film enters the post-90s Nickelodeon phase, when Sponge Bob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer turned into such gigantic billion-dollar smashes that merchandising – which Laybourne had always been loath to exaggerate, fearing child exploitation – became an inevitably important factor in the company’s business practices. Hear people like Blue indices Co-creator Angela Santomero discusses this transition, the disappointment (and not-so-veiled censorship) is easy to spot.

For the most part, however, the Barber and Sweeney documentary is little more than a joyous and joyous celebration of a revolutionary network determined to push the boundaries. This likely limits its appeal to those who grew up spending hours in front of their TVs playing games with Steve Burns on Blue indices, relating to the daily dilemmas of Clarissa explains everything, laughing at the absurdity of Kenan and Kel, or be scared by campfire stories Are you scared of the dark? But in its greatest insight, it also illustrates a fundamental rule of television programming: knowing – and speaking directly to – your audience.

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