I thank Mathew Klickstein for reconnecting me with an old friend. Klickstein’s Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age shows Nickelodeon was “the first network for kids.” Back then, war was cold and dirty kids equaled good, clean fun. Slimed explores how Nickelodeon was “pro-kid,” gives actors and executives a platform to talk about their joys and struggles, and allows Phil Moore to explain why he was so annoying on Nick Arcade.
Ah, yes. Nick and I were good childhood friends. Nick showed me the many ways kids have fun. I was wowed when Nick decided to do some Saturday night work. Nick’s brought new friends in 1991; Doug, Tommy, and Ren & Stimpy were a good reason for me to watch TV on Sunday mornings. I had so much Nick stuff: magazines, Gak, toy blimps, etc. Eventually, Nick and I changed tastes. The parting was amicable and I still check on Nick from time to time.
Nickelodeon had little competition in the 1980s through the early 1990s. Disney Channel was a pay channel, Cartoon Network started in the early 90s but I didn’t see it until 1995, USA and TBS only had blocks of kids shows. If the reason you stuck with Nick is wild kids entertainment like You Can’t Do That On Television, Clarissa Explains It All, Pete and Pete, and Double Dare then Slimed will be fine reading.
While readers find out the ins and outs of running Nickelodeon and its hit shows, Slimed isn’t a thorough history of the network. Chapters are organized by topics were the actors and makers of shows from the classic era. Unlike the ESPN oral history, Those Guys Have All The Fun, Slimed has starting questions in the chapter subheadings instead of framing narration. Nickelodeon’s “Golden Age” may have been from the change in brand identity in 1985 to around the time All That debuted in 1994. All That isn’t discussed in depth in Slimed, though Keenan Thompson contributes several quotes.
Double Dare is the most influential, if not best, game show Nick ever had. Other shows have retread the “kids get messy” formula and featured terrible emcees (Moore again, for one). Double Dare had that incredible chemistry between its personnel, host Marc Summers, announcer Harvey, and assistant Robin Russo. DD’s quiz-and-stunts format was solid. The obstacle course endgame was the messiest 60 seconds on television, but it was also the most exciting at times. I’d say that Double Dare shaped Nick’s identity as much as YCDTOT.
Slimed also features the infamous original Nicktoon conflicts: Nick vs. Spumco for Ren & Stimpy and Nick ignoring Rugrats creator Paul Germain. There was far less drama going on with Doug creator and Jumbo Pictures founder Jim Jenkins. It’s amusing that these original Nicktoons had divergent second runs, Doug became part of the Disney behemoth, John Kricfalusi created new, self-indulgent tales of Ren & Stimpy, and Rugrats snowballed into a profitable phenomenon for Nickelodeon.
Reminisces from the cast and crew of You Can’t Do That On Television and Are You Afraid of the Dark made me appreciate the fine country of Canada more. Klickstein made the effort to get comments from YCDTOT creator Roger Price and producer-turned-Nick-exec Geoffrey Darby. Price and Darby lets us in to the methods behind the messy madness. Though Dark isn’t my favorite classic Nick show, I gained the desire to find episodes due to insights of its creator, D.J. MacHale.
Having chapters arranged by topic instead of show is a good idea. Slimed opens with child actors discussing the challenges they face as stars. Having topics allows the book to flow from show to show. It’s odd at first, but then readers may have a better chance to get to know the shows they didn’t watch. What I also learned, thanks to a possibly tongue-in-cheek comment, is that a redhead is a valid ethnic substitute for a Hispanic. Only Wild & Crazy Kids & (maybe) RedHeadedMule.com can get away with that.
People who’ve shared their experiences aren’t given their roles. For every Melissa Joan Hart, there are several Blake Sennetts. Everyone can be figured out by looking up the exhaustive “Cast and Characters” section. I have Slimed as an Kindle ebook, so it’s a baffling limitation to have to manually reference names in the age of hypertext. (Sennett played Pinsky on Salute Your Shorts.)
Another point: I enjoyed Nick plenty back in the day. However, how many kids consumed Nickelodeon by the barrel? Furthermore, how many parents would allow that? Readers may not get a better understanding on some these shows because actors are explaining “what it’s like” than “what it’s about.” Nick had several shows that stood out like Hey Dude (kids on a ranch), Clarissa Explains It All (adventures of a free-spirited girl), Salute Your Shorts (kids in camp). But how was Welcome Freshmen distinct from other high school comedies? Reading thoughts from the guy who played Merv didn’t stir up strong feelings for the show.
Don’t expect a discussion of every show Nick had in Slimed. Nick Jr. and Nick at Nite are off-topic. While there’s a focus on original programming, not all Nick shows from the “Golden Age” are represented. Mr. Wizard gets a fair, but token, acknowledgement as a TV legend near the end. Obscure shows like Don’t Just Sit There, Total Panic with Greg Lee, who had also been an audience warmup guy on Double Dare aren’t discussed. Of course, it’s NOT FAIR that nothing from Kids Court is included.
All that said, Klickstein shows little sloppiness putting together Slimed. If you like showbiz oral histories, add this book to your collection.