Having guaranteed Dustin Diamond and his management that I would remain “tasteful” in the publication of this interview, I’ll spare you the details of his sordid exposé on time spent as Saved by the Bell’s brainy misfit Samuel “Screech” Powers.
Yes, Diamond did write a book about SBTB (aptly titled Behind the Bell).
He nonetheless assured me during our hour-long tête-à-tête that he had little to do with the final product. Which is a good thing, as no matter how guilty of a pleasure the read might be (check it out immediately), it’s also rife with bafflingly egregious editorial errors, dubious-at-best rumors, racist inferences, and the gratuitous use of the invective “douchenozzle.”
“My close friends knew something was up because they know I never use that word,” Diamond laughed over the phone with me.
But… an editor friend of mine who was on the periphery of Behind the Bell alleges Diamond was indeed as much of a “diva” as one would expect from the book’s contentious depiction of him.
And then there’s Diamond’s notorious reality show persona culled from the likes of Celebrity Fit Club. Not to mention his infamous entry in the celebrity sex tape craze of the early 2000s. Which I’ll not go into here out of respect for his request to remain tasteful. READ MORE
Bill Plympton feels insulted. This despite the fact that the reigning guru of indie animation is celebrating the release of the feature-length documentary based on his life and artwork. Produced and directed by filmmaker/artist/actress Alexia Anastasio, Adventures in Plymptoons! will be available through Cinema Libre on September 18th.
There Plympton – with wide, tired eyes; sparsely tousled light-brown hair; and characteristically laid-back t-shirt and shorts – sprawls out on his couch in the corner of his modest one-room animation studio, politely arguing over the phone with a representative of whatever art show or film festival will be graced this week with the work of “one of the only people who makes a living doing indie animation.”
Above him hangs “Weird Al” Yankovic’s platinum album for Straight Outta Lynwood… next to Plympton’s two Academy Award nomination certificates and a brazenly loud air conditioning unit. Invoking the third person with a surprising degree of insouciance, the artist soon completes his call in order to speak with me, reminding the person on the other end of the phone that “Bill Plympton is being mistreated.” READ MORE
“What if the viewer could become her/his own programming director; what if s/he could define the very entertainment-happiness it was her/his right to pursue.” – David Foster Wallace
First of all, don’t get pissed: This is the last Nick of Time piece. Even worse, it’s not a real Nick of Time piece. Sorry.
Now, yes, I still have a few more shows left to investigate, analyze, and deconstruct, but, well, this modest little hat trick actually worked. That’s right: The history of Nickelodeon’s “golden age” I’ve been developing alongside my Nick of Time series will be published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin, next year. READ MORE
“Everybody wants to do something strange, and is. It remains for a few people to stand and watch them and report what it all looks like and sounds like.” — James Thurber in a letter to EB White, 1938
Running for 52 episodes from 1992 to 1996, Roundhouse was one of the shows on during Nickelodeon’s “golden era” that you may have some trouble remembering. That is until I tell you that it was part of the original wave of SNICK, airing just before The Ren & Stimpy Show.
Now you remember? The show with all the 20-year-old kids wearing bright colors and flannel, doing back flips and singing, looking rather like extras from Cameron Crowe’s Singles, and rapidly running through comedy sketches that all had to do with the elejaic awkwardness of growing up?
Roundhouse is indeed one of the shows on Nick that has never been given any kind of real re-release, and from what one of the primaries on the show told me, is hardly even acknowledged by the current executives at the network. So, don’t feel too bad if it’s a show that doesn’t quite light that memory spark for you. READ MORE
“The principle is: Do not fear the small number of people. Better three people fully linked together, than more but always disagreeing with each other.” – Daniil Ivanovich Kharms
Phil Moore, host of Nickelodeon Arcade (or better known to you and I as Nick Arcade), would probably agree with me that talking with show creators James Bethea and Karim (that’s Ka-Rim as in The Secret of NIMH) Miteff is absolutely entertaining… but also… extensive. Technical. Exhaustive? Maybe.
Both Bethea and Miteff, friends since high school who remain close two decades after their video game-based show originally aired in the early nineties (perhaps the first of its kind in history, actually), are garden variety, down-to-earth guys who make you think that you’re talking to an ol’ buddy you haven’t heard from in a while. Or, as Moore put it, spending time with them is like hanging with the characters from The Big Bang Theory. READ MORE
Out of Control is probably one of the more obscure programs from Nick’s golden era, even though it enjoys the honor of having been the first major series to be produced on American soil by the network. Originally airing in 1984, the show gave us Dave “Cut It Out” Coulier as “himself” hosting an outrageous news program (of sorts) that took on a metacognitive approach much in the same way You Can’t Do That on Television had with a kids show.
In layman’s terms, Out of Control was more about the “news” show being made than it was about the news being presented by its quirky cast of characters. There was Waldo the Technician, Scoop the Intrepid Reporter, Coulier as host, and, of course, the inimitable Production Manager Diz Asster (real name Diz McNally, and yes, “Diz” is her real name) who, as a poster child of the 80s (still to this day, in fact!) can be seen in the same vein as your erstwhile Cyndi Lauper or Julie Brown (with whom she was featured in the uber-80s film Earth Girls Are Easy).
Offering everything from shaky-hand, cut-out animation to corollary mini-features like “Let’s Eat” and “How Not To Do Things,” along with the ever-popular stunt spectacle “Fast Told Fairy Tales” (probably one of the most memorable elements of the show in which Diz would, in one take, speedily run through an entire “fairy tale” in under a minute), the show would go on to last only one season.
It would be continually re-run “to death” (in the words of creator Bob Hughes) thereafter, though to this day is still one of the only Nick shows you can’t get on DVD or even VHS (!). READ MORE
And then there’s Double Dare.
It was the show that helped usher Nickelodeon into a newly established administration with Gerry Laybourne re-branding and recreating the kid-friendly channel into the First Network for Kids (exclamation mark). You may have fond memories of Double Dare's super-sloppy obstacle courses and colander-hat-wearing-egg-throwing physical challenges, but what you might not have known then and probably don’t realize now is that Double Dare brought in a lot more green than just slime (or, in this incarnation, “gak”).
There’s a reason that, of all the other shows produced during the eighties and early nineties, Double Dare is the one that endured until a relatively recent end. Debuting for the first time as a featured host of his own television show was effervescent Marc Summers, who is as omnipresent on the Food Network today as he was on Nickelodeon back in the day. READ MORE
Your younger brothers and sisters (ah, hell, let’s be honest: Your kids) may know DJ MacHale as the author of the wildly successful YA novel series Pendragon. But you and I know him as the creator of Nickelodeon’s own version of The Twilight Zone, Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Originally running as an essential terminus to the four-part SNICK Saturday nights on Nickelodeon, Are You Afraid of the Dark? pre-dated Goosebumps as perhaps the first “tween horror/thriller series” on television. Screw Twilight (but not Let the Right One In); this was the real-deal in kids dealing with everything from supernatural monkey paws to devious urban legends and the true beyond.
Guest stars (oftentimes before they were famous) ranged from other Nick show primaries to the likes of: Ryan Gosling, Neve Campbell, Mia Kirshner, Hayden Christensen, and even full-grown comedians Bobcat Goldthwait and Gilbert Gottfried.
Unlike Nick cohort Steve Slavkin (who would go on to make fodder out of his personal camp experiences with Salute Your Shorts, coming to this series in a few weeks), MacHale’s only real “camping” time was spent a few times out of the year with the Boy Scouts.
Although he went on to tell me over our phone and email conversations that he therefore had no real-life counterpart to Are You Afraid of the Dark?'s circle of ghastly raconteurs known as the Midnight Society, he did have much to say about the show that, it turns out, almost never happened at all… READ MORE
“As we grow more literate, it seems we mature more in our collecting, passing from the kid stuff of stamps and bubblegum cards and butterflies to the more adult items such as ‘deep meanings.’” — Ken Kesey
Ever since taking on the charge of being the biographer for the “golden age” of Nickelodeon, a few executives’ names continually crop up in my interviews with terms such as, “He/she gave me my start.” Along with Gerry Laybourne, Bob Mittenthal, Scott Webb, and Vanessa Coffey, there was Geoffrey Darby. Barely 25 at the time, Geoffrey Darby was one of two creators of You Can’t Do That on Television.
Whereas Darby’s co-creator Roger Price (at almost twice Darby’s age at the time) moved on after YCDTOT, Darby stayed on at Nick to help make a bevy of other shows and, more than anyone else perhaps, would also go on to make the network particularly… well, messy.
Particularly during its embryonic stage, Nickelodeon was, of course, chocked-full of toilet humor. But it was also as-ever infused with the “toilet sadness, toilet triumph, toilet a lot of things” recently espoused by janitor-cum-artist/filmmaker David Russo.
So, I’ll just come right out and say it: Geoffrey Darby invented green slime. Today — over 30 years later — he runs Martha Stewart TV. And if that’s not weird enough for you (perhaps the stories of Alfred Nobel and Joseph Pulitzer come readily to mind?), wait until you hear about his story of the show that first put Nickelodeon on the map. READ MORE
Today was certainly peculiar.
We all have weird, wacky lives these days. But, this morning I was talking to the set designer of Double Dare — yes, the man responsible for the physical challenges and obstacle courses — while scanning through a series of possible photographs to employ as centerpiece for my forthcoming erotica novel. So there I was with this extremely graphic and at times disturbing machination that aspires to be Salò that I have to pay attention to (contractually)… while hearing about “huge wedges of cheese we had to keep making” from the set designer on speaker phone (more on him and the rest of the gang in a few weeks).
Like I said, it’s been weird. No: Peculiar. Peculiar is the way I’ve been feeling as of late (that and completely enervated and elated constantly). Peculiar must also have been the way that Billy West felt when he was (concurrently!) voicing Ren and Stimpy, Doug Funnie, plus a treasure trove of other completely disparate characters. All the while fervently engaged in what he himself referred to as “the devil’s work,” known to us mortals as The Howard Stern Show. READ MORE
“The business of America is business.” – Calvin Coolidge (misquoted)
People who espouse the cloying concept of l’art pour l’art tend to royally piss me off. Anyone who alleges that he produces art without consciousness of or care for commercial viability does so for one of three reasons: 1) He’s totally full of shit (audiences do love a good myth), 2) He’s secretly plutocratic; one doesn’t care about money if one doesn’t need to make any, 3) He has a last name that you would recognize (“2” and “3” often go hand-in-hand, especially in the culture industry).
I don’t know ‘bout ch’all, but I have rent to pay. And food ain’t free yet, either. Typically, when I invest time, energy, and occasionally my own start-up funds into a project, the finished product better damn well pay off what our old Joy of Painting friend Bob Ross referred to as “great dividends.” (Coincidentally, I just this moment turned down some voice-over writing work to finish this freebie article, so who’s the hypocrite now?).
Sure, after making enough here or there on whatever paid projects I can scrounge up during this inclement economic season of ours, I knock off for a bit and indulge in quixotic endeavors such as this series. I’m not merely a professional writer. I’m also a hopelessly compulsive graphomaniac. READ MORE
I’m not going to lie. Rugrats is one of the “golden age” Nickelodeon shows that I was never really that into. Sure, I would watch episode after episode as would any devoted Nick acolyte (I mean, what else would I do? Go outside and play?). And it did tend to come on between other shows more my style like Ren & Stimpy. So, I definitely gave it a day in court. Frequently.
But why was it that Rugrats has blazoned itself so indelibly on my mind, then? Maybe because, well, it was kinda a weird show, if you remember correctly. Something about it was rather off-putting. There were all these strange Kubrick-esque wide-angle shots that ostensibly mimicked the perspective of a baby crawling around on the floor (the “big wide world” all around him or her).
Christ, maybe the show was supposed to be kind of… scary. And strange. (Note that Klasky-Csupo — the close-knit team that put out Rugrats — would three years later concoct Aaahh! Real Monsters, not to mention the equally queer Duckman that gave me as many nightmares as a kid as anything on MTV’s Liquid Television).
Whereas Jim Jinkins’ Doug had all of the playfully innovative “mouth sounds” of the incomparable Fred Newman, one of the things that I most remember about Rugrats was its off-the-wall noises, sound effects, and music cues that made it ever-the-more unnerving for an imaginative boy barely out of elementary school. Not to mention the theme song itself. READ MORE
“Take your pleasures seriously.” — Charles Eames
Before grabbing my crème brûlée latte at the café round the corner in preparation for putting this “Nostalgnick” piece to bed, something about my lovely young barista struck me as fairly reminiscent of what I was about to write.
“Did you ever watch Clarissa Explains It All?” I blurted out to her, trying to avoid eye contact with her rather lascivious décolletage cresting her folksy-DIY blouse. “Hell yeah!” she told me. “That was my show!”
Not too surprising. She’s probably either a little younger than I, or my age. And she’s a girl. Cleaning the dishes behind her was a fairly epicene duder who loudly announced the same thing. “Oh, I loved that show!”
A few days earlier, a selfsame fey IT girl who works at my buddy’s place told me that one of the main reasons she initially got into technology was because of Clarissa’s preternatural interest in computers and videogames. I have to admit, I was a little less than astonished that the show still holds such resonance for these lumpen laborers. It wasn’t just, “Oh, yeah, I remember that show. Want any cream?” or “Clarissa explains what exactly?” READ MORE
“Teen-agers, bohos, camp culturati, photographers – they have won by default, because, after all, they do create styles.” — Tom Wolfe
One of the blazing revelations I’ve had over the last few whirligig weeks of reading about, seeking out and conversing with the progenitors of our favorite old Nickelodeon shows is that, for the most part, this was a bunch of ragtag art kids in their twenties and thirties who — in lieu of heading to the West Coast to fuse a punk-rock ethos to mainstream accessibility in music — brought the “alternative” sensibility to an even more unlikely place than the radio: shows for kids (and, when they really nailed it, shows for each other).
They worked together, played together, traveled similar circles and many of them have maintained their friendships twenty years later.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete remains a gleaming paragon of this DIY/indie/punk-integrated-into-children’s-programming mentality. READ MORE