skip to: content | navigation | search | footer

Remember when children’s television was good?

I found a post at Failed Success talking about the golden age of children’s programming. What a rush of nostalgia! There really isn’t anything today that even comes close to the quality of Nickelodeon programming during the 90s.

From that list, there are a few shows I disagree with. My mother’s overbearing loving attention to the quality of television I was allowed to watch bred into me a certain snootiness for the more bourgeoisie shows- a pretention, I believe, that has persisted to this day. This included Salute your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Rugrats, and You Can’t Do That on Televison (which my mom flat-out forbade me to watch). Were these shows actually bad? Probably not, but I’ll never know.

The vast majority of the list I agree with whole-heartedly. I loved shows like Clarissa Explains it All, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Ren and Stimpy (which always left me a little uncomfortable but intrigued - my first experience with modern art), Double Dare, Eureka’s Castle, Hey Dude, and Doug. Including a few other Snick regulars that got left out:

What Would You Do
(1991 - 1993)
What Would You Do?This spin-off of Double Dare was also hosted by Marc Summers. Audience members were asked to vote on the outcome of various pre-recorded situations and certain families (usually a parent and child) were chosen for live competitions. Failure to complete a given task would result in a family member, usually the parent, being placed into some sort of pie-throwing contraption (like the pie-slide above).

While I preferred Double Dare, this show was always entertaining. Thad, a friend of mine from college, actually went on the show and had a chance to throw a pie in his dad’s face. That’s family bonding. I can’t stand Unwrapped so I like to remember Mark Summers from these shows, when I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever ran into in an airport when I was eight.

Round House
(1992 - 1995)
RoundhouseThis show, from the creators of In Living Color, was a collection of sketches, dance performances, and live music recorded in front of a live audience. All music was written and produced for the show, and performed by the house band.

I remember this being the first show I felt was edgy and cool. The sketches dealt with current events in pop culture and were more entertaining that moral-driven. I was from a small town and grew up mostly around adults so this was as hip as it got back then.

All That
(1994 - 2005)
All ThatThis show took the sketch format a step further and created what was basically Saturday Night Live for kids. Replete with a theme song by TLC, actors in drag, re-occuring characters, celebrity impersonations and musical performances, this was quality adolescent entertainment. This is where Kenan Thompson, currently an actor on Saturday Night Live, perfected his skills including his now-famous Bill Cosby impression. The movie Good Burger was based on a sketch from this show.

I had no idea this show went on for as long as it did. I stopped watching it around ‘97 and never looked back. I still have fond memories of “Coach Kreeton” and “Mary Beth Denberg with Vital Information for Your Everyday Life”.

(turn the sound off. best I could find on youtube)
The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994 - 1998)
The Secret World of Alex MackA replacement for Clarissa Explains it All, the show debuted on Snick in October 1994. Alex Mack, played by Larisa Oleynik, was a girl who had super powers-mainly telekinesis and the ability to morph into a silvery liquid-that were the result of accidental contamination from chemical GC-161. Her best friend and sister were the only ones to know of her power as she had to keep it secret since the company who produced the compound that contaminated her wanted to find her for experimentation. Several guest stars appeared on the show including Jessica Alba.

Larisa Oleynik was probably my first crush (nothing personal Melissa Joan Hart). Maybe it was the controversial nudity in the first episode (the first time Alex morphs into a liquid, her clothes are left behind. She materializes behind a set of strategically placed boxes) which went on to be included in the opening credits throughout the series. I wouldn’t see her again until 10 Things I Hate About You where she played the younger sister of that girl from Save the Last Dance.

Kenan & Kel
(1996 - 2000)
Kenan & KelA sitcom spin-off of All That featuring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, Kenan & Kel followed the classic comic duo setup with Thompson as the straight man to Mitchell’s crazy character. Kenan plays a smart kid who is always hatching some sort of nefarious scheme with Kel as his goofy sidekick who really loves orange soda. The theme “Aww, here we go” was by Coolio.

This show has the distinction, I believe, of being the first Nickelodeon/Snick show to feature a prominently African-American cast of major characters. For me, it was a segue into the other African-American family sitcoms I was so fond of like Family Matters, The Parent(hood), and, to a point, The Wayans Brothers and The Jamie Foxx Show.

The characters on these shows dealt with what we were dealing with - social cliques, popularity, new feelings for the opposite sex, responsibility, jobs, parents who didn’t seem to understand, and the simultaneous need for both independence and group acceptance. The characters weren’t adults yet but the themes were more mature. They captured that strange emotional fluctuation that is adolescence.

The actors on these series were famous, but it was a different celebrity climate then and the focus was more about the show than the actor. We never read about Melissa Joan Hart’s clubbing proclivity or which of the actors on Round House were sleeping with each other. Today’s programming seems to be one vehicle after another to launch an actress’s singing career or an obvious attempt for some kind of hip-hop street cred. From a story-telling standpoint, they’re all lacking in originality and substance.

Maybe it’s the Gen-X/Gen-Y gap (which I consider myself to be right in between, leaning slightly to the X side). There was an innocence and vulnerability to these shows that made them more real and accessible.

Justin Dickinson



Leave a Reply

Random Photo


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Recent Photos

  • dan-and-jenny
  • ezra
  • cupcake-sandwich
  • justin-and-jenny-2
  • justin-and-jenny-1
  • justin-and-laura
  • New Hat
  • IMG_0500
  • IMG_0493
  • IMG_0492
  • IMG_0491
  • IMG_0490


  • Amateur Gourmet - A NYC blog about food, restaurants, and culinary culture where I am a contributor.
  • Have You Met Ted? - The blog for all things How I Met Your Mother. Written by yours truly.
  • Maniacal Rage Podcast - The podcast that treads the line between precocious creativity and crippling cynicism.
  • Nobody Likes Onions - Not for the faint of heart.
  • - dinosaur comics - Funniest. Comic. Ever.