#90sAreAllThat: Nickelodeon Nostalgia

I am not ashamed to admit that I grew up on Nickelodeon television of the 1990s. Heck, one of my shining moments as an elementary school kid was getting my name printed in Nickelodeon Magazine, as an Honorable Mention in one of their contests. Zelda the Dog even made a comment on my entry! Thus, you can imagine my excitement when earlier this year, TeenNick announced a new retro programming block of 90s-era television, to air weeknights 12-2am beginning July 25th.

I ask my fellow 90s Nickelodeon compatriots, when adult life has beaten us down, haven’t we all longed for the days when we could cozy up on the big, orange SNICK couch? Or just stay home during the summers with our pal, Stick Stickly? Or gather around the campfire and listen to ghost stories told by the kids of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I, of course, answered “yes” to these queries and thus fit squarely in this escapist programming’s target audience.

After the premiere broadcast, I did what anyone in my generation would do, and went straight to the social networks.

No sooner had I tweeted the above, than two minutes later, Kevin McHale, who portrays Artie on Glee and is also around my age, tweeted this to his over 400k followers:

Upon first glance, his tweet may look like a nonsensical string of letters, but I instantly picked up on TLC’s musical stylings of the All That theme song, along with hundreds of others who retweeted Kevin’s sentiment and shared in his, for lack of a better term, glee. [Side note: I own “All That: The Album.” Brandy. Coolio. Aaliyah. Those were the good ‘ol days…] Thanks to advocates like McHale and other media outlets, the nostalgic aim of TeenNick’s programming was successful in getting its message across.

The premiere of “The 90s Are All That” debuted with four Nickelodeon classics: All That, Kenan and Kel, Clarissa Explains It All, and Doug. Fittingly, Kenan “What Up With That?” Thompson, arguably the most recognizable and successful of the 90s Nickelodeon actors, kicked off the night with this phat intro:

This generation of 20-somethings and 30-somethings is quite a nostalgic and devoted bunch. The trailer for the newly-released film, Winnie the Pooh, uses Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” to great effect. The music and imagery tugs at the heartstrings and exudes a yearning for childhood memories. “Oh simple thing, where have you gone? I’m getting old and I need something to rely on…” Those lyrics cut right to the chase. I had more than a few friends online share this trailer based on the nostalgia factor alone, all intentions of seeing the actual film aside.

Ah, nostalgia. What a powerful tool. Nostalgia is in. Retro is cool. And this cool factor dictates media consumption and popular culture. Our generation seems so fixated on snark and cynicism, that this escapist yearning for a more innocent time makes perfect sense.

When combined with grassroots campaigning and social networking, the magnitude of the influence of nostalgia skyrockets. The internet is a breeding ground for nostalgia junkies. It has become easier than ever to engage with others who share the same memories and to unearth the nuggets of our past together. We actively seek out this communal experience.

Remember the Facebook movement to bring Betty White to SNL? We go back to the cool factor. How many of those who jumped on the Betty White bandwagon do you think actually had fond memories of Blanche, Rose, et al? And yet, it is so cool to support the Golden Girls vet. Remembering good times past, simply makes us happy. It seems as though Emmy voters are still riding on a nostalgia high, nominating Betty for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hot in Cleveland this year.

Keith Dawkins, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Nicktoons and TeenNick, embraces a similar movement. In a live Q&A from The Washington Post, the day “The 90s Are All That” launched, Dawkins acknowledged the power and influence of social networking and the sweeping momentum of nostalgia:

We’ve always thought that these classic Nick shows still had value to an audience…but the ground swell of fans giving voice this on places like Facebook and Twitter really moved mountains. To hear millions of people saying that they want the Nickelodeon of their childhood back is a powerful statement. It’s one that we just had to react to.

TeenNick has done an excellent job in marketing the “The 90s Are All That” campaign, launching a website (which by the way, is streaming the full episodes), Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter presence. The night of the premiere, the hashtag #90sAreAllThat, displayed on-screen, became the top trending topic worldwide, joined by “Teen Nick,” “All That,” and “Kenan & Kel.” The generation who grew up on these series came out in droves online and with their tv sets. According to Vulture, the nostalgic programming block was a ratings smash:

Among viewers 18-34, the demo Teen Nick is targeting in late-night, The 90s attracted ratings roughly 850 percent higher than the channel’s previous time period average in the midnight to 2 a.m. block.

Now comes the question on everybody’s mind. Does the programming hold up, some 15-20 years later? The short answer is yes and no.

Kenan and Kel’s mugging and over-acting are amusing, yet border on grating. The wacky antics and crazy hi-jinks of such iconic All That sketches as “The Loud Librarian” and “Goodburger” may have been hilarious to my seven-year-old self, but are unsurprisingly loud, brash, and one-note today. While the plot and narratives of Clarissa Explains It All may be a bit uninspired, the innocent interactions and friendship between Sam and Clarissa are a welcomed sight.

Doug, somewhat unsurprisingly, holds up the best of the four series. After all these years, we can still empathize with the nasally new kid who so desperately wants to bag a “neematoad” in order to fit in and be accepted. I remember watching Doug as a child, hiding underneath my pillow, unable to watch the titular character go through an embarrassing situation. My heart went out to him then, as it does now. The simple pathos of Doug holds true to the core.

But does it matter if the shows have aged? Of course not. In approaching “The 90s Are All That,” I knew that this experience would never match up to my fond childhood memories. That’s to be expected. But boy did it bring a smile to my face to see Lori Beth Denberg’s “Vital Information,” Patti Mayonnaise, Ferguson Darling, and more, grace my television set once again.

TeenNick has stated that more shows from the 90s will appear later this year, with voting for content taking place online. It’s a smart move in engaging this audience of consumers. No doubt there are viewers who sill stop at nothing to have their voice heard on the interwebs: “WHERE’S MY HEY DUDE?!?,” “I WANT THE ADVENTURES OF PETE & PETE!!!,” “MOAR RUGRATS PLZZZ!!!!!”

I’m hoping to see Roundhouse and KABLAM! hit the airwaves myself. Oh, and also that spring cleaning episode of Rocko’s Modern Life.

R-E-C-Y-C-L-E, recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E, conserve! Don’t you P-O-L-L-U-T-E, pollute the rivers, sky, or sea, or else you’re gonna get what you deserve!

What about you? Any nostalgic childhood programming you’d love to revisit?

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4 responses

    • I know, right?! So awesome of Nick to satisfy our cravings! It’s also streaming online at 90sareallthat.com. I’d be interested in checking out Hey Dude as well, if only because my memory is more hazy with that one. I only really recall the “Heeeeey Duuuuude” theme song, Christine Taylor, Brad, Ted, and I think maybe there was a mine or something in one episode…

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