Saturday, May 1, 2021

Child of the 1980's - The Rise of Nickelodeon


                As a child in the early 1980’s choices for television were limited.  In addition to the Big Three networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC there were Boston-based local stations like WSBK TV-38, and WLVI-56.  Though there was cable television offered it was not as common as it is today.  When cable finally came into my life there were channels like ESPN and MTV but they did not appeal as much to an elementary school aged child.  However there was one channel which came along that became my go to for afterschool viewing, perhaps yours too?  That was Nickelodeon.  These are some of the initial classic shows which brought my afternoons and weekends joy during the mid-1980’s.

                Nickelodeon was first launched in April 1979 and was commercial-free until 1984.  The channel was meant to appeal to elementary school aged children roughly 6-11 years old.  I first became aware of Nickelodeon when cable was introduced to my life in 1984.  The shows which were on the network then have remained big parts of my childhood.  Here are just a few of those shows.  How many will bring you flashbacks?

                I can’t begin without my favorite show from those days You Can’t Do That On Television.

    For younger viewers it was where the popular green slime was introduced.  This Canadian sketch show became the fledgling channel’s first hit.  Starring a mostly child cast it debuted in 1979 locally before going international in 1981.  There were tons of funny, gross-out jokes, Barth’s Burgers, locker jokes, and of course saying ‘I Don’t Know’ to get slimed, or ‘water’ to get the liquid poured on your head.  The show was also notable for being the launching point for the career of singer Alanis Morrissette before it was canceled in 1990.

    Perhaps almost as well known was Nickelodeon’s hit game show Double Dare with host Marc Summers.

     The show which debuted in 1986 consisted of families competing against each other in a trivia contest and physical challenges to start and then an obstacle course at the end.  This was what the show became known for with its eight obstacles where you had to capture the orange flags.  The giant nose and Sundae slide were two of the most common rotating obstacles.  The show would be revamped as Super Sloppy Double Dare and Family Double Dare before ending its initial run in 1993.

    Nickelodeon also dipped its toes into the music industry with its countdown show Nick Rocks.

     The half-hour music video show hosted by Joe from Chicago ran from 1984-1989.  The network debuted the show as a way to combat what was seen as more adult-oriented music videos running on MTV.  The show is also known for The Monkees premiering their video ‘Heart and Soul’ on it after a disagreement with MTV.

    Then there was also the network’s Nick at Nite which when it launched in 1985 introduced some classic 1950’s and 1960’s shows to a new generation.  Shows like My Three Sons, Donna Reed Show, Car 54, Dennis the Menace and others were broadcast nightly beginning at 8pm.  It is still running today.

    One of my personal favorites was the delightfully different cartoon Danger Mouse.  

     The British series starred the eye-patch wearing mouse who was billed as the world’s greatest secret agent, parodying James Bond and Danger Man.  The show ran from 1981-1992 and was a staple of early Nickelodeon.  Danger Mouse had his trusted sidekick Penfold and battled his archrival Baron Silas Greenback.  Another rival Count Duckula actually got a spinoff series in 1988.

    Of course no reminiscing about old school Nickelodeon would be complete without MrWizard’s World.

     It starred Don Herbert as Mr. Wizard and ran from 1983-1990.  This show was Herbert’s second as Mr. Wizard with the original, entitled Watch Mr. Wizard, airing from 1951-65 and 1971-72.  Just in case anyone was curious, Herbert did have a degree in general science, so he definitely was qualified to speak on the subject.  It had the popular Ask Mr. Wizard segment where he answered viewer questions and the show was a hit throughout its 78-episode run.

                There were many other shows and segments that I wanted to mention but perhaps those like Out of Control, Picture Pages, Pinwheel, and others can be saved for another time.  I hope that this has been a majorly awesome trip back to the 1980’s.  More to come so stay tuned!


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