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