Nickelodeon is one of the most beloved kids’ networks of all time. The network has given us about as many stars as Disney has. Without Nickelodeon, we wouldn’t have celebrities like Ariana Grande, Amanda Bynes, Josh Peck, Drake Bell, Jeanette McCurdy, Victoria Justice, and more. We also wouldn’t have iconic characters like Doug, Invader ZIM, SpongeBob Squarepants, and more. This is great, especially for a network that was circling the drain as recently as thirty years ago. However, every empire has its skeletons, and Nickelodeon has more than most. There are a lot of things about the history of Nickelodeon that the network definitely doesn’t want you to know.
Some things that Nickelodeon doesn’t want you to know concern the shows themselves. Shows like Ren and Stimpy, SpongeBob Squarepants and Rugrats have had more than their fair share of drama that they don’t want the average fan to know about. Other secrets involve some of Nickelodeon’s weirder branding decisions, like making Nickelodeon branded toilet paper and what the famous slime dumped on countless kids and celebrities is really made of. Still, others get into the machinations of the network itself, like why some shows got canceled, what shows they’re kicking themselves for passing up, and how awards used to get doled out. Here are fifteen secrets behind Nickelodeon that the network definitely doesn’t want you to know.
15. The Early Stars Got Nothing And Parents Weren’t Allowed On Set
We often think that if someone gets on a hit TV show that they’re set for life. After all, that is what happens nowadays. However, back in the 90s, people weren’t negotiating as well as they could have been. The child actors that we grew up watching didn’t end up striking it rich the same way that celebrity kids often do today. The early shows on Nickelodeon weren’t union and were made on a lower budget, so none of those kids ever got residuals, which is partially what allows the kids to have a steady income. On top of that, big shows like You Can’t Do That On Television wouldn’t let the kids’ parents on the set. Additionally, none of the kids were allowed to take their scripts home. Thankfully, Nickelodeon can’t do that on television today, but it is disheartening that so many kids had to deal with this sort of thing.
14. Nickelodeon Toilet Paper
Many corporations put their branding on weird, innocuous products. However, Nickelodeon took it to a much higher level when they started making toilet paper with the Nickelodeon Studios logo on it. The only reason why they stopped doing this was that visitors kept stealing the paper. After all, there’s no place where you can find this toilet paper other than at the studios. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if people stole rolls upon rolls of the stuff, only to sell it off roll by roll to make money off of them once the rolls stopped being printed. This isn’t even the only fun toilet-themed trivia about Nickelodeon. The entire set of Double Dare was designed to look like a bathroom, weirdly enough.
13. Kid’s Choice Awards Polling Before The Internet
ABC has the Oscars, MTV has the VMAs, and Nickelodeon has the Kids’ Choice Awards. The first KCAs were done in 1988, making next year’s ceremony the 30th anniversary of the award. During the show, there are a ton of celebrity appearances, musical acts, and slime poured on everyone. The most awarded show in the history of the show is SpongeBob Squarepants and the most awarded people are Selena Gomez and Will Smith. Out of everyone who has achieved the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) collection of awards, the only person to have won a KCA on top of that is Whoopi Goldberg. Nowadays, polling happens online, but before computers and the Internet became a thing, Nickelodeon needed a way to get the opinions of kids across the nation so they could have awards to give out. Nickelodeon was known to poll for the Kids’ Choice Awards in McDonald’s restaurants or amusement parks.
12. Harassment Behind The Scenes Of Rugrats?
Rugrats seems like one of those cute shows where babies do what babies have to do. There was even a spin-off show that had the babies as junior high school kids navigating life. However, the show has a dark underbelly of secrets that not many people know about. For example, Tommy’s mom Didi was the source of a lot of behind the scenes fascination. According to Didi’s voice actress, the animators posted up naughty pictures of her character all over the walls of the restroom at Nick Studios. I don’t know about you, but something about that seems kind of creepy. Didi’s parents, Boris and Minka, were on the show all the time until the anti-Defamation League complained that they were offensive caricatures of Jewish people. On top of that, creators Gábor Csupó and Arlene Klasky divorced while working on Rugrats, but they’re still business partners.
11. Kids Got Slimed For Not Knowing Things
We’re used to people getting slimed during awards shows on Nickelodeon, but kids would often get slimed for no reason at all. Some kids even got slimed for not knowing things. Roger Price, the guy who made You Can’t Do That On Television would do it because he hated when kids would say “I don’t know.” He’d also dump water on them for saying the words. Once the cast started complaining, they’d get $25-$50 extra for getting things dumped on them.
Vice did a report about the history of slime, which showed that sometimes, people who were very high up in Nickelodeon’s hierarchy had no problems dumping whatever on kids for no good reason.
In Mathew Klickstein’s Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, producer of You Can’t Do That On Television Geoffrey Darby, said there was once “‘…eight inches of green crud growing over the top of the bucket.’ But time was running too short to make a new bucket of refuse. ‘We had to get the scene. We couldn’t get more slop… So we said, Dump it on the kid anyway.'”
While this sounds pretty far-fetched and also terrible to do to a child, it’s worth mentioning that Klickstein torpedoed his career by giving a career-killing racist and sexist interview while promoting the book in question.
10. Doug Things
Doug is one of the most underrated shows of the 1990s cartoon era. This show isn’t without its weirdness, though. The show is chock full of references to things from music to classic literature. Doug’s sister Judy got her name from a Virginia Woolf poem, while the Beets were obviously a play on world famous band The Beatles. The woman who played Patti Mayonnaise is Yoga Jones on Orange is the New Black, and the character was inspired by two girls creator Jim Jinkins had a crush on in middle school. This means that somewhere out there, there is a girl with the last name that’s either reminiscent of mayonnaise or actually the word “mayonnaise.”
There’s also Doug’s actual name. According to Virginia Woolf, the woman who wrote the poem Judy was named after, if William Shakespeare had had a sister, her name would have been Judith. This makes Doug himself a reference to Shakespeare to the point where we could accurately call him Doug Shakespeare.
9. Rocko’s Modern Life Was NOT For Kids
Rocko’s Modern Life was a great show, but in hindsight, it might not have been for kids. The show was famous for its sexual innuendoes. Rocko’s held weird jobs like underwear model and even a phone sex hotline operator. They went to a restaurant that used to be called the Chokey Chicken and played a game that literally had them spanking monkeys. Rocko’s hobby is “jacking” and his dog’s name is Spunky.
There are also a bunch of gay-themed jokes in Rocko, like the time Ralph Bighead polls his assistants on his creative work and they literally quote lines out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
There’s another episode where Rocko’s car dies, and when his soul returns to the car, a bunch of poles in the garage in the background spell the letters HIV. The characters have also stayed in a hotel called the “No-Tell Motel.” While we all remember this show fondly as kids, a lot of the show’s themes and jokes went way over our heads.
8. Nickelodeon Missed Out On Adventure Time
As much as Nickelodeon took part in a ton of shows that entertained kids for decades, they missed a few major gold mines. One of the most egregious oversights on Nickelodeon’s part was passing up on Adventure Time, the show that arguably resurrected Cartoon Network. Passing up on this show is widely considered to be one of the worst decisions Nickelodeon has ever made.
While many networks have ended up passing up on a major show before (NBC turning down American Idol, for example), Nickelodeon has the distinction of turning Adventure Time down twice, with the reason that Adventure Time was just too weird. Yes, the network that greenlit CatDog, Ren & Stimpy, and SpongeBob Squarepants thought this show was too weird.
Eventually, Cartoon Network picked it up and the show became a monster hit with kids and adults alike, becoming the first mainstream kid’s cartoon to become a major hit with adults since Invader Zim, a Nickelodeon show. Needless to say, the network is probably still kicking itself.
7. How Slime Is Really Made
Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty easy to make Nickelodeon slime. Slime became a thing when a sketch on You Can’t Do That On Television required “this kinda disgusting slimy green stuff,” according to Bill Buchanan, a crew member on the show. However, they didn’t know how the stuff would be used when they were trying to make it. The director and scriptwriter wouldn’t say, so it was left to Paul Copping to make the slime.
He did it by mixing a whole garbage can of the stuff. Buchanan knew that the color came from green latex paint but nothing else about its ingredients, so he didn’t know why the slime smelled terrible or why bits of sausages were floating in it. Once they found out that the slime was meant to be dumped on someone, the prop guys freaked out and the sketch got pulled until they could figure out how to make the stuff safely.
The second batch was made of green Jell-O, but that recipe got scrapped because of the amount of preparation needed to make it. They also tried Quaker Oats Creme of Wheat but found that the actors couldn’t get it out of their hair once the time came to wash it out. According to Double Dare host Marc Summers, most of the slime used on that show is made out of “vanilla pudding, applesauce, oatmeal, green food coloring, and by the third day, anything else that was on the obstacle course.” To be honest, that sounds like my personal worst nightmare.
6. Ren And Stimpy Things
The Ren and Stimpy Show was a weird one, but for the kids who weren’t scared of them, the show as hilarious. Even over 25 years later, the show is seen as a stroke of genius. One look back at the show by Splitsider touched upon why Ren and Stimpy was relevant when it was airing and why it might even be relevant now. “Though some of the politically subversive rhetoric seems a bit worn, Ren and Stimpy taps into the timelessly unnerving fear that even in our ordinary lives we constantly suppress a frothy brew of cruelty, sadism, jealousy, and bodily smells. In other words, we’re all pretty freaked out just beneath the surface.” Unfortunately, Nickelodeon pushed out the creator of the show when creative differences got the better of everyone. USA Today reported, “The future of Nickelodeon’s cult hit The Ren & Stimpy Show is in doubt after reports that creator John Kricfalusi was ousted for failing to produce new episodes in time.”
5. They Owe Basically Everything To One Woman, Geraldine Laybourne
The success of Nickelodeon is largely the result of the world of Geraldine Laybourne, who was in charge of the network from 1980 to 1996. She’s the reason why Nick At Nite even exists. She expanded the network to other countries, establishing theme parks and making Nickelodeon Magazine.
She also made up a movie, toy and publishing division, growing the network even more. She turned a small network that was always behind in ratings into the biggest juggernaut in kid’s entertainment. Under her leadership, she turned Nickelodeon into the first international television network to profit from advertising specifically targeted at kids, which is a big deal. Without her, Nickelodeon would still be a tiny cable network with only five employees, like it was in 1980.
After she left Nickelodeon, she became president of Disney-ABC Cable Networks for a couple of years before moving onto Oxygen. Every network she ever worked with, she brought massive profits. She was considered the single most influential woman in entertainment back in 1996, and she’s still a force in the industry today.
4. The Story Behind The Logo Colors
The old Nickelodeon logo broke the mold for that time. At first, the logo for Nickelodeon was just a silver pinball, but it got changed to the iconic orange splash in 1984. Famous Logos looked into the history of the Nickelodeon logo and found that there really wasn’t anything like it in the corporate sphere. “The old Nickelodeon logo, as compared to other corporate logos of the time, was conservative and experimental. Considering the rounded, oblique and friendly logotype consistently reversed out of orange blobs of different shapes, the emblem remarkably satisfied the challenge of looking fresh, yet consistent and instantly recognizable.” They chose orange because the color denotes cheerfulness and energy. The logo changed again in 2009, retaining the orange color but replacing the splash with a bubbly font in lowercase letters.
3. Double Dare Drama
Double Dare was by far one of the network’s biggest shows of the day. There’s a lot to talk about here. First off, the show refused to let people onto the show if they had lots of injuries before auditioning. This makes sense considering what people often had to do on that show. On top of that, the slime on the show had to be specially made with applesauce so it wouldn’t bake under the hot lights on the set. The regular recipe involved Cream of Wheat at the time, and that would literally cook under the lights. The crew used to call it “gak” because that was the street name for heroin at the time. The behind-the-scenes crew on that show was notorious for using recreational drugs when they weren’t on the set. That gives a new meaning to that name for slime, which is what I remember the substance being called as a kid. Weirdly enough, Marc Summers has OCD and hated all the slime and mess he had to deal with on the job!
2. Nickelodeon And Doo-Wop
There was a point where Nickelodeon was considered the best place to advertise things. Back in the day, Casio offered Nickelodeon a million dollars to put their logo on the clock in Double Dare, and Nickelodeon said no. The network also recorded a ton of bumpers that were made up of doo-wop music, to be played between a show and a commercial. Research showed that kids responded well to doo-wop music, so they made the clips to capitalize on that. I vaguely remember watching these clips, and while doo-wop music isn’t really my thing, I remembered liking them, so maybe the research isn’t totally off base on this one. They don’t do these bumpers anymore, but they make others that are similarly effective. The Disney Channel also did bumpers between shows and commercials as well, the most famous being the stars tracing Mickey Mouse’s ears before every block of programming.
1. Pete And Pete Things
Pete and Pete was a popular show created by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. It was about two boys who were both named Pete Wrigley, and it ran from 1993-1996. It had more than a few stars and future stars on the show, like Danny Tamberelli and Michelle Trachtenberg. Jason Ankeny of AllMusic called the series “the greatest children’s show ever”, while IGN called it “one of the most well-written kids shows ever” so the show has no shortage of praise. The show drew some inspiration from classic literature, believe it or not. For example, Little Pete’s signature hat was a red hunting cap, which paid homage to the Catcher in the Rye‘s Holden Caulfield. As for the theme song, the only person who knows what the song is about and can easily decipher every work is Mark Mulcahy, the guy who wrote and sang the song for the show.
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