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Friday, July 29th, 2011

Checking In with…the Creators of Nickelodeon's Golden-Era Shows

Whatever happened to predictability, the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV…and the creators of the Golden-Era shows of Nickelodeon?

Earlier this week, as you might have read about on every nostalgia-loving website on the Internet, Nickelodeon began airing episodes of All That, Clarissa Explains It All, Doug, and Kenan & Kel between midnight and 4 a.m. For anyone born in the early- to mid-1980s, it was a wonderful blast from the past, full of orange soda and banjos. And Nick will soon introduce other Golden-Era shows to the schedule, like Salute Your Shorts. But who are the minds behind Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats, and what are they doing today? READ ON.

Craig Bartlett, Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
Craig Bartlett, who is married to Matt Groening’s sister Lisa, was writing and editing episodes of Rugrats when he pitched the idea of having a full-length show about a character he had created in the late-1980s, a show about a football-headed boy named Arnold. Hey Arnold! would become one of Nick’s most successful and longest-running shows, and it kept Bartlett, who produced, directed, and wrote episodes for it, as well as provided the voices for Brainy and Arnold’s pig Abner, for nearly a decade. Hey Arnold!: The Movie was released in 2002, and when the show finally ended in 2004 (after a dispute between Bartlett and Nickelodeon over a second film), Bartlett began working on Party Wagon for Cartoon Network. It was intended to be a series, but only one 90-minute animated TV movie ever aired. In 2009, Bartlett’s new show, Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train, which has an amazing theme song, began airing on PBS, and has since become one of the network’s most beloved programs.

Kim Bass, Kenan & Kel (1996-2000)
Kim Bass created not only Kenan & Kel, but also Sister, Sister, and she wrote a lot of episodes of In Living Color and worked as a creative consultant for Men In Black: The Series, too. After K&K, which I always thought was a lot better than people gave it credit, or lack there of, for, went off the air in 2000, Bass wouldn’t have another TV or film credit until 2007’s Succubus: Hell Bent (awesome). Then in 2010: Junkyard Dog (awesomer) and Kill Speed (awesomest), starring Greg Grunberg and Tom Arnold.

Gabor Csupo, Arlene Klasky, and Paul Germain, Rugrats (1991-2004)
One hundred and seventy-two episodes. That’s how long Rugrats ran for on Nickelodeon, not including 55 episodes of All Grown Up!, four episodes of Rugrats Pre-School Daze, and three feature-length films. Former husband and wife duo Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky founded Klasky-Csupo in 1982, and outside of Rugrats, the production company worked on the early shorts and first three seasons of The Simpsons, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Duckman, and the Spy vs. Spy cartoons on MADtv. Csupo also directed 2007’s Bridge to Terabithia.

Paul Germain, meanwhile, has had an equally impressive career. According to his bio, Germain was asked by none other than James L. Brooks (who he had previously worked with on the sets of Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News) to assist a young whippersnapper named Matt Groening with The Simpsons, working as a director for the voice actors. Outside of his role with the greatest TV show of all time, Germain co-created Recess and Lloyd in Space and worked on Even Stevens.

Jim Jinkins, Doug (1991-1994, 1996-1999)
To produce and animate episodes of Doug for Nickelodeon, Jim Jinkins, whose name sounds like a character from the show, created Jumbo Pictures, Inc. Their egg logo became instantly recognizable for millions of kids everywhere, who watched not only Doug, but later, after the company was sold to Disney, Brand Spanking New Doug, PB&J Otter, and 101 Dalmatians: The Series. In 2001, Jinkins co-founded Cartoon Pizza, an animation company whose work includes Stanley and Pinky Dinky Doo. To paraphrase Mr. Dink, “Very impressive.”

John Kricfalusi, The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1996)
I would just pretty much stop trying if I directed the music video for “Harlem Shuffle” by the Rolling Stones — I mean, how can get it any better than being in charge of a video for a song off one of the Stones’ worst albums? Luckily, I’m not Kricfalusi, whose creative drive led to not only Ren & Stimpy, but also Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, 2 Stupid Dogs, and the music video for Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently,” which he produced. In the late 1990s, he created Weekend Pussy Hunt for MSN (they referred to it as the “world’s first interactive web-based cartoon”); when they halted production, it aired on Icebox.com. He’s done about a billion other wonderful things, too (Super Friends! Tiny Toon Adventures!), so instead of listing them all, I’ll just redirect you to his awesome blog.

Mitchell Kriegman, Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994)
Mitchell Kriegman’s first TV gig was as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1980-1981. Not a bad beginning. Things only got better from there, because not only did Kriegman create Clarissa, and therefore create a pre-teen show with a female protagonist who both girls and guys could enjoy (a rarity at the time), he also worked on Rugrats, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Rocko’s Modern Life. Kriegman also created Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House, which utilized the similarly Kriegman-invented Shadowmation, a process of incorporating puppetry with digital sets. He is the owner of Wainscott Studios.

Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1993-1996)
Unlike much of Nick’s ‘90s programming, Pete and Pete still holds up remarkably well, largely because creators McRobb and Viscardi were smart enough to make a children’s show that adults would want to watch, with enough pop culture icons (Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, etc.) to satisfy entertainment nerds everywhere. Since Pete Squared went off the air in 1996, McRobb and Viscardi have continued to work together, creating KaBlam!, The War Next Door, and The N’s The Assistants, and writing Snow Day, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and The Tale of Despereaux. The duo is currently working on the script for a Thomas the Tank Engine movie, scheduled to be released in 2014.

Joe Murray, Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
Rocko’s Modern Life was the best of the Nicktoons bunch, because Joe Murray, who created, directed, and produced the show, wasn’t afraid of throwing a dirty joke or two (or 23) into every episode. Amazingly, Rocko is funnier now than it was when I was a kid. Post-Modern, Murray illustrated two children’s books, Hugville and Funny Cryptograms, and wrote two others, Who Asked the Moon to Dinner? and The Enormous Mister Schmupsle: An ABC Adventure. In 2005, he created the wonderful Camp Lazlo, which aired on Cartoon Network until 2008. Murray also wrote Creating Animated Cartoons with Character and developed KaboingTV, an “alternative channel for quality animation that serves both the cartoon fan and the animation community of artists and writers.” He also teaches animation through his Joe Murray Cartoon Master Class.

Brian Robbins and Mike Tollin, All That (1994-2005)
Arguably Nickelodeon’s most influential live-action show, All That launched the careers of Amanda Bynes (Hairspray), Kenan Thompson (SNL), and Nick Cannon (um…married Mariah Carey), and it also gave us Lori Beth Denberg, which isn’t a bad thing. Brian Robbins had previous TV experience before All That, including playing Eric Maridan on ABC’s Head of the Class, and in 1994, Robbins, working with Mike Tollin, who had mostly worked on sports documentaries before then, came together to create the variety show. Since then, their Tollins/Robbins production company has had its name attached to Kenan & Kel, Smallville, One Tree Hill, Norbit, and Wild Hogs. (Although he wasn’t credited as a creator, producer Dan Schneider supposedly was a huge creative driving force behind All That. Schneider, who the New York Times called “the Norman Lear of children’s television,” has also worked on iCarly, Zoey 101, and Drake & Josh.)

Buddy and Rita Sheffield, Roundhouse (1992-1994)
Before All That, there was Roundhouse, an educational sketch comedy series that was part of the original SNICK lineup. Buddy, real name Morris Taylor Sheffield, had previously written for Dolly Parton’s show, Dolly, and been the head writer for Fox’s In Living Color. In 1982, he wrote a Broadway musical, Cleavage, which closed after one performance, and he more recently penned another musical, a send-up of Oklahoma! called Idaho! In 2007, Buddy sued Disney, claiming that the House of Mouse had stolen the idea of Hannah Montana from him. In 2001, Buddy claimed, he submitted a pitch for a show about a high school student named Roland Dillard who leads a double life as pop star Rock Ryder. The case was settled out of court. Rita’s only other TV credits were in 1998, as an executive producer and director of the Hal Sparks-starring Cheap Theatrix, and 2000, as executive producer of Mr. Chi Chi’s Guide to the Universe.

Steve Slavkin, Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992)
Salute Your Shorts: The TV Show was based on Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp: The Book, written by Steve Slavkin, who adapted the show for Nickelodeon. He also wrote, produced, and provided the voice of Dr. Kahn for the series. When the shorts were saluted no more, Slavkin went on to creating Running the Halls and producing USA High (ohhhh, how I hated that crusty old headmaster). In 1997, Slavkin wrote an episode of Extreme Ghostbusters; in 2002, Even Stevens; in 2003, Power Rangers Ninja Storm; and finally, in 2004, Power Rangers DinoThunder.

Josh Kurp would like to forget Cousin Skeeter ever happened

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  • cooldude69

    I have never seen "Snow Day" but the IMDB page for the movie claims it was originally going to be a Pete and Pete movie. I really hope there is an alternate dimension somewhere where that actually happened, and it was the best movie ever, and then we find a way to get into that dimension.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    This is great! I babysit kind of a lot and was watching this kid's show called The Fairly Odd Parents which turned out to be kind of funny, so NATURALLY, I imdb-ed the writers.

    And no wonder it's so good: their writers' past credits include Carlin, Carson, In Living Color, SCTV, etc…

    I guess that's only tangentially related to your post, but ever since I imdb-ed those writers, I've been doing the same for other kids shows and it's kind of shocking – the folks they've got behind the scenes.

    Love this post, Joshua!

  • jfruh

    Wait, "You Can't Do That On Television" isn't considered the Golden Era of NIckelodeon? Shit, I feel old.

    • Megh Wright

      @jfruh For people who are in their mid-20s like me, You Can't Do That On Television was barely on when we started watching. I remember it really well because of that awesome intro, but our generation definitely can't take ownership of it as a 90s show. Sadly, it belongs to our older siblings. Great show though. The beginning of slime!

    • HerooftheBeach

      @jfruh Also, despite its association with Nickelodeon and introducing the iconic slime, You Can't Do That On Television was originally a Canadian import. It was an essential part of Nickelodeon's rise, but it actually wasn't an original, at least at first.

      I'd love an update on it though!

    • Brad Anders@twitter

      @jfruh There might be rights issues with You Can't Do That on Television since it was imported from Canada.

      p.s. Are you the dude that does the Comics Curmudgeon? I love that shit!

  • Matthew Milo

    Just a quick edit. Kim Bass (creator of K&K) is a man, not a "she". I was a PA on Junkyard Dog when it shot in Nashville and got to spend some time talking with him about the show and Kenan's success on SNL. He was a very kind dude, though I dont think he understood that his horror movies would only be enjoyed "Ironically".

    Thanks for the article!

  • Doctor Girlfriend

    I lived next door to Bartlett's sister! As a 25-year-old, I was star-struck from afar. :D

  • kiara ink

    Na-na-na-na-na
    Na-na-na-na-na

    • Xander Wuollet@facebook

      @kiara ink

      Hey cool!

  • grovberg

    Dan Schneider might be one of the most powerful men in Hollywood that you've never heard of. I'm always amused when people dismiss those shows. iCarly is one of the highest rated shows on television.

    Also of note, Savage Steve Holland, writer and director of Better Off Dead (which features Dan Schneider as Little Ricky) directs a ton current Nick shows including the pilot for Big Time Rush, which is WAY better than it has any right to be.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @grovberg I've watched iCarly a few times, and it's a pretty clever show, for what it is. Or at least not as grating as, say, Hannah Montana, which I just don't get. And you're right about the ratings: they're massive. As in, over seven million viewers massive.

  • Salander

    Someone sent me your article and I had to laugh. Remarkable what you included and what you left out about both Buddy and Rita and their show Roundhouse on Nickelodeon, such as, together they had the largest kids touring company in America, they opened the Kennedy Center Family Art Series for kids, they won the Jennie Heiden Award for excellence in Professional Theater for Young Audiences, on and on.

    There is an actual story about Roundhouse, that in reality, it was nominated for 9 Cable Ace Awards (there were no Emmys for cable then) – 3 best “Variety Special or Series” – 7 best “Original Song”, winning the Cable Ace for “Original Song” for “I Can Dream” – awarded Outstanding Young Ensemble Cast” Series or Variety Special & best “Original Song” for “Can’t Let Go” – Youth in Film Awards (important for kids entertainment at the time) and the prestigious “Ollie Award” for “Excellence In Television Programming For America’s Children”.

    Billboard Magazine summed it up in their 1993 feature article, “Roundhouse gang puts out TV’s hippest, funniest show”.

    I’ll just add this commentary. There’s a story, and it’s about those who want to continue to keep the bar low for programming for our kids, teens and tweens because it is more controllable, less work, and, in there minds, more profitable (not sure what the shareholders would think about that). And, about who those people are that keep the bar low, what are their names, or maybe the question is why are they allowed to continue to keep it so low?

    “Educational”? Roundhouse was a lot more than that. It was the forerunner to the music comedy shows we enjoy today and there’s been nothing like it on television since.

    Check out the MTV Newsroom poll results from last week, taken during the 90sareallthat premier night. Read the piece on RH by the MTV Social Media Editor as well as reader comments http://newsroom.mtv.com/2011/07/26/teen-nick-90s-are-all-that-block/
    One groundbreaking show conspicuously not aired. Roundhouse