7 forgotten early Nickelodeon shows that will give '80s kids deep feelings
We spent our afternoons with Mr. Wizard, Barth, Leonard Nimoy and Danger Mouse.
It was an after-school ritual — video games, Nickelodeon and snacks. Our weekday afternoons were made for Nintendo, King's Quest, Inspector Gadget, Double Dare, Slim Jims and Star Crunch. Afterward, we'd head outside to play Butts Up and Capture the Flag.
Even if your family did not have cable, you could always go to the kid's house with Nickelodeon. Because Double Dare was a must. We all dreamed of digging around in the giant PB&Js and noses on Double Dare. The success of the sloppy and slimy game show led Nickelodeon to a slew of similar series — Legends of the Hidden Temple and GUTS. For a certain generation, few TV titles stoke nostalgia like these.
Beyond games and cartoons, Nickelodeon offered talk shows, sketch comedy, sitcoms and educational content. If you grew up on the network, you can be excused for thinking you had a Canadian childhood. The cable channel got so much of its early programming from north of the border.
Nickelodeon is celebrating its 40th birthday. Yep, the ultimate children's channel is over the hill. To celebrate, we're rummaging through its past for shows that now go overlooked.
Kicking off in December 1977, the network originally carried the name Pinwheel. Its flagship program was traditional children's fare — ABCs, puppets, people and animation. Essentially, it was a Sesame Street clone. It's theme song was just as catchy. Its buried in the back of your brain if you ever caught the opening credits: "Pinwheel, pinwheel, spinning around…" Aurelia was the main puppet. She looked like a sort of bohemian offspring of Madame and Kukla.
Image: The Everett Collection
Nick's youth-oriented chat show, a kind of Donahue for tweens and teens, became its top-rated program in 1982. The blond Fred Newman was the host, though it's the guest list that makes Livewire so important in hindsight. R.E.M. made its television debut here. KISS, the Ramones and Afrika Bambaata performed, too. Outside the world of music, TV luminaries (and MeTV icons) like Valerie Harper and Gene Roddenberry popped in, too.
Image: The Everett Collection
You Can't Do That on Television
This Canadian hybrid of Monty Python and SNL delivered two massive contributions to pop culture — "sliming" and Alanis Morissette. The adolescent comedy troupe (which at one point included Alanis), alongside their adult foil Les Lye, created several memorable recurrings skits. There was Alisdaire tied to a post trying to talk his way out of a firing squad. There was the digusting Barth, Lye's most popular character, serving up health-code violations disguised as hamburgers. In the intermittent studio bits, the kids would have to be careful not to say "Water" or "I don't know." Spouting these words would lead to a bucket of water or green slime being dumped on your head. The green slime became a key part of Nickelodeon's branding, from its award shows to its logo. And it all traces back to some delightful oddballs from Ontario.
Standby… Lights! Camera! Action!
Leonard Nimoy was a big get for the nascent network. The Star Trek star hosted this behind-the-scenes look into the world of filmmaking. There was one catch — he would not allow Nickelodeon to identify him as "Star Trek's Mr. Spock." Still, he took a significant pay cut to host such a show, because he believed in its principles, and the network at large. "Nickelodeon has a good attitude toward children," he told The New York Times in 1984.
Image: The Everett Collection
Mr. Wizard's World
Mr. Wizard was certainly no newcomer to television. Don Herbert, a WWII Air Force veteran, began playing the science expert Mr. Wizard on television way back in 1951. His simple, fascinating science experiments demonstrated physics to some wowed youth at his side. By the time he hit Nickelodeon, Mr. Wizard was an old pro, like a sterner Mr. Rogers with a bunch of liquid nitrogen and magnets in his kitchen. There was a bit of a fictional narrative underlying it all, as we were to believe young neighbors were dropping by Mr. Wizard's house for some fun lessons. Lessons like "How many pretzels can you eat in one minute?" Hey, if that's science, we'll take a Ph.D., please!
Nickelodeon plucked much of its live-action content from Canada, and several cartoons from the Brits. Danger Mouse had originated a few years earlier in the U.K., a spoof of classic British spy stuff like James Bond, The Avengers and Secret Agent. It was far and away the biggest animated hit for early Nick, spawning a spin-off (Count Duckula) and allowing other quirky English superhero satires to piggyback (Bananaman). With his trusty hamster sidekick, Penfold, Danger Mouse brought to mind another rodent agent, Secret Squirrel.
Image: FreeantleMedia Enterprises
If Double Dare tapped into our adolescent urges to be disgusting, Finders Keepers scratched our itch for destruction. Contestants ransacked a massive, dollhouse-like set for prizes, trashing stuffy old libraries, tearing through kitchens, pilfering in garages, all to find a prop that would answer a riddle. It looked like a blast. Honestly, if we could play this game right now, it would make our life.
The Olsen Twins were not the child stars using "dude" to achieve fame. This wonderfully named sitcom centered around a dude ranch in Arizona, bringing back the feel of classic comedies like Petticoat Junction and Hee Haw, with enough adolescent drama and young idols to fill Degrassi scripts and Tiger Beat centerfolds. After its original run ended in 1991, Hey Dude continued to cross over into Millennials' memories as reruns aired through 1999.
SEE MORE: 8 EXPERIMENTAL '80S SHOWS YOU WATCHED ON HBO AND TOTALLY FORGOT UNTIL NOW
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