The Heyday of Nickelodeon

You know what I miss? Nickelodeon shows from my childhood. That might have something to do with my ruminating over my love of Hannah Montana. Or it could have to do with the fact that I’ve been working my way through both seasons of Salute Your Shorts. Maybe a little of both. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites from when I was a kid. All nostalgic, all Nick.

Hey Dude was about a group of friends working at a Dude Ranch. I always assumed that it was summer, but they never gave any indication that this was just a summer gig. They seemed old at the time, but now I wonder how it was believable that a bunch of young teenagers ran an entire Ranch with only the help of horse-wrangler, Lucy, and city slicker owner, Mr. Ernest. But who cares, really, cause this show rocked.

In fact, it was by far and away my favorite show when I was little. I remember one day when we had something else to do while a new episode was airing and my dad promised to tape it. It was the episode when Ted was supposed to come back from summer school. It was a big deal. The show aired at 5:30 and my dad always arrived home at 6:00, so you can imagine my horror when I discovered that he had set the VCR to record from 6:00 to 6:30 and not 5:30 to 6:00, because he recalled Hey Dude being on when he arrived home everyday. Despondent, I screamed “That’s because it’s ending!” I took my Hey Dude very seriously, clearly. I have all the episodes on DVD now, they’re bootleg crappy copies but they’re accessible. I never realized how poor an actor Danny was, or who much everyone overacts, or the completely melodrama of the stories. But I don’t care. It’s still the show I remember.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

There are so many episodes that spring to mind when someone mentions Hey Dude, if only for that fact that I hung on every word out of the characters mouths. But the ones that push themselves forward the most are probably the episode where Ted has to got to summer school and doesn’t tell anyone while he attempts to get Brad to go on a date with him before he leaves. Another is when Ted is trying to buy a saddle previously owned by John Wayne and starts slacking off his duties in order to do other jobs. Then an overtired Melody drops a rucksack in the lake and has to pay back eighty whole dollars.

The Adventures of Pete & Pete is probably one of the most ridiculous shows that’s ever been put to air. It’s completely absurdist from start to finish, which is probably why I adore it so well. Pete & Pete started out, not as a show, but as a series of short episodes between shows. They soon expanded into holiday specials, and then eventually into a full blown series. Which… thank god, cause they were funny. It’s about a boy named Pete, his brother Pete, his best friend Ellen, the strongest man in the world, and Petunia, the enormous tattoo on Little Pete’s forearm. They live in a town called Wellsville and everything seems to be named something Kreb (like Kreb of the Loom). It boasts bullies by the names of Endless Mike (I really don’t know where this one came from), Openface (he likes the sandwiches), and Paper Cut (he likes to give people paper cuts, obviously, with little knives shaped out of paper). Oh, and their mother has a metal plate in her head that can pick up radio stations from other countries if she concentrates hard enough. Big Pete is sort of your run of the mill, average guy, while Little Pete is… slightly quirky. He builds things like machines that run on burps, schemes to collect the most candy ever on Halloween, and maintains a friendship with Artie, the strongest man in the world… who likes to wrestle bowling balls.

And then there’s Petunia.

We’re never given the story of Petunia, except something along the lines of the fact that Little Pete disappeared for a bit and then came back with a massive tattoo of a woman covering his forearm. He can make her dance. But the real charm of Pete & Pete is that through all the absurdity the character behave as though it’s completely normal, and in that way, it becomes so.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

Like all the rest, there are bits and pieces from a lot of episodes floating around in my brain, but the overwhelming memory I have of this show is from the episode “The Ringing Phone” which was shamelessly ripped off by K and I in a drama class at the Playhouse when we were kids. The story (of the episode) goes a little something like this: Every summer Wellsville has been plagued by a ringing pay phone on the outskirts of town. It just keeps ringing and ringing and ringing. Support groups are set up to help people deal with the trauma of constantly hearing this phone ring. It’s distracting and has been driving everyone crazy for years. But, of course, no one has ever considered the fact that they should just answer it. Until Little Pete takes the initiative. I’m imagining that most of you readers are adults and unlikely to ever care enough to watch this episode so I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you. The call is for the Petes’ mother. When she was a teenager she heard the ringing phone, knew it was for her, but didn’t answer it. It was an admirer of hers. And throughout the years he just kept on calling, hoping that someday she’d hear his call. When it was time for him to get a job, he got one with the phone company so that he could continue his vigil. It’s… all a little insane, but that’s what made this show work for me. And, this episode was damned memorable. [ps. In the ripped off version the caller was some sort of killer and K and I both got to die really dramatic deaths.]

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a part of SNICK. Saturday Night Nickelodeon. It was for all those adolescents that were too young to actually go out and spent the evening watching television with friends. SNICK was just for them, and it was a collection of, generally, pre-teen oriented shows. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a collection of stories told by a group of kids that met in the middle of the woods, called the Midnight Society. Each week another member of the society would share a scary story that would then be acted out by actors for the audience. So, the bulk of each episode starred a new group of people. A lot like The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, except for kids. So the stories were never really that scary, but I remember, as a kid, being creeped out a couple of times. It was the perfect kind of introduction for many a kid who’d grow up to become hardcore ghost story and horror fans. Like me. Except, I was watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents way before this debuted, so I guess that point’s a little moot. Regardless, I loved this show, even if it never delivered any real thrills.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

I always used to say “The Prom Queen” episode as being one of my favorites. So, I’ve no doubt it was a good one, however, it doesn’t seem to be all that memorable since I can’t, for the life of me, remember what happened beyond there being a dead prom queen. So my selection for this show goes to the episode where a girl is sent to live with her cousins for the summer, which she’s none too pleased about. Next door is a creepy old house with a sad old woman. No one speaks to her and she’s too weird to make the initiative to say hello to anyone else. So as part of a dare the main character breaks into the home and discovers all sorts of secrets. The daughter of the house had disappeared years before leaving the mother an empty shell. But it turns out she didn’t disappear, she’s trapped in a mirror world, scrolling the words EM P LEH over and over. And I remember, the first time I saw this, really feeling as if it was a revelation when the main character discovers that EM PLEH was HELP ME backwards. She was writing from inside a mirror, see? In the end mother and daughter are reunited in some sort of in between world, escaping both their respective prisons. It was a story for kids, but this one I still think has potential if it were retooled for the general populace.

Clarissa Explains It All was about a funky pre-teen named Clarissa Darling (Melissa Joan Hart). She lived in a completely ordinary house with her family; mom, dad, and brother Ferguson. Her best friend, Sam, climbed through her window with a ladder daily, and I think she had a pet lizard named Elvis. As far as gimmicks for shows go, Clarissa was pretty tame. She could draw things on the screen and we’d see them in print, but beyond that we were just watching a regular girl with ridiculously normal parents battling sibling rivalry and not being old enough to drive. The thing that set Clarissa, as a character, apart was her sense of style. And attitude. But we’ll focus first on her sense of style. I loved Clarissa’s clothes. They weren’t anything too special, they were, in fact, a lot of the same clothes that I had in my closet. But the way she pieced them together, in my young mind, was completely genius. I was so convinced of this that I made a little book so that when I watched the show I could draw the outfits she put together, label them with item color, and then put something similar together later. And I think I may have mentioned, in an earlier post, that I once dressed up like her for Halloween. Then there is her attitude. She was fun, nonchalant, assertive, and completely cool. As in evidence to when she put on a Joan Jett-esque wig, renamed herself Jade, and went to the mall. Okay, so she met a guy who she was then lying to and eventually had to come clean, but who hasn’t done that? She was also obsessed with driving. Despite the fact that she was too young, Clarissa couldn’t wait until she got her license, and continually begged her parents for the use of their car. They always, wisely, said no, but she did get creative in her pleading. Once even telling them she was planning to “shave her head, paint it red, and worship a lima bean” just so when they rejected that idea lending her the car wouldn’t seem so bad.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

My vote for most memorable episode goes to the one where Ferguson borrows Clarissa’s walkman and it then gets stolen by the school bully. Now, Clarissa and Ferguson don’t get along, but as with most siblings (most certainly mine) no one can do mean things to her brother if it’s not her. She confronts the bully, to no avail, and then starts preparing to fight him. So, you can imagine everyone’s surprise when the bully, who’s largely silent and has his sidekick do all his talking, gets down on one knee and begins to croon out “You Are So Beautiful To Me”. I can’t remember whether or not Clarissa takes him up on his offer of a date, but the outcome of the episode isn’t important here, just the bulk of it.

When I first started going to camp at age ten people often questioned me about what it was like. “Was it like Bug Juice?” they continually asked, but Bug Juice was on the Disney Channel and I was strictly a Nickelodeon girl. For me it was all about Salute Your Shorts. Set at Camp Anawanna in an unnamed state that apparently has the beach and the airport less than fifteen minutes away, not to mention a burger joint within walking distance, Salute Your Shorts is about a group of campers. Three girls and four boys. They sport such names as Sponge and Donkeylips.

Camp Anawanna was run by Doctor Kahn. You never see Doctor Kahn, he is pretty much just a disembodied voice over a loudspeaker announcing to both the campers and the audience what is going on that day or that he is greatly disappointed in the shenanigans going on at camp again. But besides him the camp seems to be run by one counselor, named Kevin Lee, but who the campers affectionately rename Ug. I have often wondered if Ug was supposed to be a middle aged guy who was just impossibly goofy or if he was supposed to be an adult’s version of a guy in his early twenties [I looked this up actually, the actor playing Ug was thirty-nine and forty at the time of taping, it doesn’t answer the question, but it’s some fun useless trivia]. Either way Ug’s favorite activities appear to be lounging in his folding beach chair, cutting the grass with scissors, and applying massive amounts of zinc colored sunscreen to his nose. Compared to reality, the kids are largely allowed to run amok, going to activities only when they feel like it and spending the majority of the time trying to “get” each other and their counselor. The formula of the show usually goes something along the lines of someone trying to get away with something, getting caught and punished by their one counselor, and then something transpires so Ug is the one with egg on his face.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

The award of most memorable episode probably has to go to the one entitled “Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In”, which has remained very vivid in my mind all these years. See, Donkeylips is overweight, and Sponge is a scrawny little thing, but they both want to join the wrestling team, both for glory and for the free lobster dinner that comes with it. The only problem is that both are just out of their respective weight class. Donkeylips needs to slim down and Sponge needs to pack on a few. Thus they engage in a week long scramble to do just that. Donkeylips diets and does copious amounts of exercise, while Sponge starts pigging out on candy bars and milkshakes. Meanwhile the camp bad boy, Budnick, is organizing a massive order from the aforementioned burger joint for the rest of camp. Outside food being not allowed it’s all very covert, of course. His enlists Donkeylips and Sponge to pick up the food, and then take out the garbage on the same day as the final weigh in. Of course, because nothing can go right or else the episode would be boring, the bag explodes and in oder to hide the burger evidence from Ug, Donkeylips stuffs his shirt and pockets with empty wrappers. And then doesn’t have time to remove them before the weigh in. Because of all the trash (which… well honestly, how much can a few wrappers really weigh?) he’s one pound over the weight limit, making him ineligible for both the glory of the wrestling team and the lobster dinner. He despondently walks away until it’s discovered that the scale is off and, even with all the trash, Donkeylips is one pound under. Wrestling and lobster commence.

The Secret World of Alex Mack came around later than the other shows that I’ve mentioned. Still well within my Nickelodeon watching days, but more towards the end. Still, since I’m a fan of high concept shows, this one really appealed to me. Alex Mack is the story of a girl, Alex Mack, who’s walking home from school one day in her town where everyone works at the local chemical plant and is accidentally doused with an experimental chemical when the inept truck driver gets into an accident. Pretty soon she starts to discover that the chemical has given her powers, that’s right; powers. She can move things with her mind, shoot some sort of electricity, and make herself dissolve into a silvery looking puddle. Only her best friend and sister know, because they just know if anyone else finds out they’ll use her for experiments. The chemical company, of course, will not take this lying down. They know there’s a kid out there that was doused with their chemical, and they want to find that kid, both to do the feared experiments and also to keep them quiet. I’m pretty sure the chemical wasn’t FDA approved. Luckily for Alex she was wearing overalls, a flannel, and a baseball cap and the chemical company doesn’t even know if she’s a boy or girl. Things are complicated still because Mr. Mack works at said chemical company and even though he doesn’t know what the chemical does, he’s on the lookout for strange occurrences. It’s a good thing Alex’s sister, Annie, is some sort of biology genius and Alex can literally turn into a puddle should she need to get away quickly.

Most Memorable Episode(s):

Like any high concept story, the pilot is clearly the most memorable episode. And that’s not just because they show a brief synopsis of it at the beginning of every episode. It’s hard to forget the way superheroes get their superpowers. And while I wouldn’t really describe Alex Mack as a superhero, she does have some nifty abilities to work with. The chemical dousing is what makes Alex stand out from all the other kids in her school, and of course, they can’t know anything about it. The chemical is what makes Alex special, so it’s not all that surprising that it would be the main thing I remember from the series. That or the one where she can’t shut her powers off and things start flying around the bedroom, knocking it off just in time for her mother to say goodnight, then resuming right where they left off.

These weren’t the only shows I watched on Nickelodeon, by far, there were so many others, cartoons (Doug, Ren & Stimpy), game shows (Double Dare, What Would You Do?, Wild and Crazy Kids), but I can’t talk about everything. So what about you? Do you remember anything I forgot?

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About Lindsay

I have a C'est Moi page, you should probably just read that.
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2 Responses to The Heyday of Nickelodeon

  1. Sarah says:

    Remember when, years after ‘Hey Dude’ was off the air, we went to the taping of ‘Say What Karaoke’ in NYC and Ted was a guest judge?! Great day.

  2. ladylinzi says:

    That was the best day EVER.

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