Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Friend Nick

"Pinwheel, pinwheel spinning around.
Look at my pinwheel and see what I've found."
Sometimes... half asleep... I'd catch a glimpse of a faded pinwheel. During the in-between of waking... I would hear the pinwheel spinning around... back down into the realm of the dreaming... the place where the forgotten can be found...

Come spin with me after the "JUMP!":
From time to time the pinwheel spins in my memory and spinning out a sense of longing... a nostalgic feeling. Strangely but not surprsingly, I'd get that same feeling when I see the color orange. The color reminds of orange soda and an orange couch. Then scary campfire stories would creep into my had. Memories of a stupid cat, an angry chihuahua, blue people and a pretty girl named Clarissa.

These feelings are much stronger recently, after finishing Avatar: The Last Airbender. This last great Nick Toon reminded me of the great Nickelodeon shows of the past. After a Youtube search, I found You Can't Do That on Television and Are You Afraid of the Dark? The old Nickelodeon commercial bumpers and other shows I used to watch were attached as referreing videos. This also lead me to The World of David the Gnome, Adventures of the Little Koala, Curious George, Picture Pages and the Sylvanian Families These were a handful of kids shows shown early in the morning on the Nick Jr. program block. The Nick Jr. block was geared more towards younger children. While, You Can't Do That on Television, Nick Arcade and Double Dare were shown in the afternoon for the older (cooler) kids. During the weekday prime time slots... I think they had the Adventures of Pete and Pete, Ren and Stimpy... I forgot what else. My memory is a little hazy (it's been years).

Nickelodeon is a huge influence in my life. Whenever I'm down, I'd go back to these old shows and they'd give me a warm comfortable feeling. No matter where I am in the world, Nickelodeon, my old friend, brings me back home. I grew up in the MTV generation when the TV was our baby sitter. This was during the time when it was ok to leave kids home alone. For better or worst, TV had assisted our parents in shaping us. The programs back then helped to promote positive values. Some of our happiest moments were spent with friends and family in front of the TV.

Going back a bit further, during the early 80's, before the orange couch, I used to go to my friend's house after school. As soon as we got through the front door, the TV was tuned onto Nickelodeon. Mr. Wizard, Black Beauty, the Tomorrow People and Kid's Incorporated played in the background while we rushed through our school assignments. Sometimes Mr. Wizard would be on the same chemistry assignments as we were and actually helped out with our school work. I also love how the show taught us how to make experiments with house hold items. Like sucking an egg into that tiny bottle neck on a 1 liter soda bottle. Ren would have been so proud of that egg sucking.

Another show that we liked was Kids Incorporated. It was about a rock band made up of kids dealing with school and every day issues. The band had Shanice Wilson and Mario Lopez before they became notable. The show was written in way that kids could understand and identify with the characters and their problems. This is a Nickelodeon tradition. With every generation of kid shows, these issues were explored and notable actors were cultivated. Melissa Joan Hart from Clarissa Explains it All, Jessica Alba from the Secret World of Alex Mack, Amanda Bynes from All That and, Keenan Thompson from Keenan and Kel just to name a few.

During that afternoon schedule, there was a program called Livewire that reported current events, sports, movies and music for kids by kids in order to get us interested in the world. At the time I thought it was cool to be a kid employed by Nickelodeon, reporting news on a movie set! I would have done it for free! These programs helped kids to be more aware of the world around them. This was before the internet and shows like Livewire brought news which we normally wouldn't be interested in. For starters, we wouldn't even know where to look. Years later, Livewire and another news show called Standby... Lights! Camera! Action! evolved into the Nickelodeon Magazine. Standby... Lights! Camera! Action! reported entertainment news. News that made us look cool during lunch at school. There was this one awesome day during school lunch... as I sat down at the table full of my peers, I loudly flicked the metal fasteners on my Transformers lunch box open to get attention. Then I asked everyone at the table, "do you know what I found out about Luke Skywalker in Revenge of the Jedi?" Then I cracked open my Optimus Prime thermos and took a swig of milk for dramatic effect as my ignorant wide eyed friends begged me to tell them what the news was. Remember, back then, there was no internet and not everyone had cable and cool news like this was considered insider's knowledge. A cocky smile crept onto my face as I reported the news, "he has a GREEN...LIGHTSABRE!" A euphoric satisfaction rushed through me as I hear my friends' excited chatter, "Wow! A Green Lightsabre?!" "Revenge of the Jedi?!" "A third Star Wars movie?!" "Radical! How did you find out!?" Thanks to my friend's parents' cable subscription, I had my five seconds of fame and... I HEARD IT ON NICK!

We didn't call the channel by it's full name as we got more acquainted with it. We referred to it as Nick, as if it was a close friend. A cool friend: "Hey did you check out the Third Eye on Nick?" "Go to Nick! They are showing the Back to the Future video on Nick Rocks!"

Speaking of cool, Nick Rocks... aired during the mornings over the weekend and it showed the latest music videos. That's the success of Nick, they treated kids as people and didn't demean them. We weren't mentally challenged. Immature? Sure! But definitely intelligent and our friend, Nick, gets us! We were understood! Nick, being an MTV affiliate, was able to get some of the best videos on the Nick Rocks' play list. Nick, our cool friend had an even cooler big brother!
Nick in the 80's had a commercial free airtime of 10am to 10pm. After 10pm, when the regular Nick programming stopped, there was dead air until 1985. In 1985 Nick started airing old TV shows from the 50's and the 60's as a separate TV affiliate called Nick at Nite. Even though Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite shared the same channel, they were treated as two different stations. This was where I watched my fill of I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, Bewitched, the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and the Donna Reed Show. Nick at Nite with its black and white programming represented simpler times in monotone. It seemed as though the different shades of complication came with technicolor. Even though it might be simpler, the characters in TV Land had our problems. Bills to be paid, cars to be slaved over, bullies to be dealt with and broken hearts to be mend. I used to stay up during weekend nights to get my Nick at Nite on but, during the summers, when school was out, I escaped to TV Land every night. Even when I was at camp, we got into trouble a few times for sneaking in some Nick at Nite when we should have been sleeping.

Summers were the best! When school was out, we'd be able to spend most of the day with Nick. We would find out what was shown on Nick Jr. instead of fighting boredom and awkwardness at school. Maya the Bee, Lil' Bits, Eureeka's Castle and Noozles. Also, to my surprise, they aired classic shows like Lassie, Flipper and the Monkees. Even though, the time slot had the suffix "Jr." and the programming was geared towards younger kids, I found some of these shows being awesome. Yes, Noozles was awesome. Laugh at me all you want but, the show had koala bears creating portals for inter-dimensional travel and it was anime. Nick imported a lot of shows from different countries years before they produced their own animation under the Nick Toons production. The one show from Nick Jr. that stood out the most for me was the World of David the Gnome. The show was originally from Spain based on a children's book called the Secret Book of Gnomes by a Dutch author, Will Huygen. It's about David, a gnome (duh), trying to go about his normal daily business but he'd get hassled by trolls. With his trusted friend Swift the fox, they're able to get out of any trouble and succeed in whatever quests that they were set out to do. The show taught lessons in friendship, courage, perseverance and other positive values. This was a precursor to what Nick Toons had to offer.

During Saturday night, Nick would air a block of programming called Snick (Saturday Night Nick). Snick was identified with an orange couch. We were invited to sit on the couch with our friends Pete, his brother Pete, the Midnight Society, Clarissa, Ren and Stimpy. At this time in my life we had cable and in return, I'd invite my friends over to my house instead of my mooching off them. We would have orange soda and Cheetos. The boys would "suffer" through Clarissa Explains it All just because it was first on the schedule (no one admitted to having a crush on Melissa Joan Hart). Then we'd laugh through Roundhouse and Ren and Stimpy. Finally, on the last time slot, the main event of the night, Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Midnight Society summoned by Gary would gather around a camp fire sharing tales of horror as we gather around our TV in attention of the urban legends and cautionary tales. It wasn't always at my house, we'd go over to Jason's house one night, then Ed's house the next weekend. It was great! Snick provided us with an excuse to leave the house and hang out with each other on Saturday night. Our parents loved it too since they knew exactly where we were.

In the 90's Nick started to develop their own animation shows. Ren and Stimpy, Doug and Rugrats were the first of the Nick Toons. A few years down the road Rocko's Modern Life, Hey, Arnold! and SpongeBob SquarePants were produced. Every one of these Nick Toons kept a certain quality that reflected the great standard of the imported Nick Jr. animated programming from the 80's. Nick knows there audience and how to treat their fans. Nick Toons along with a bunch of the Nickelodeon produced shows were done in the Orlando Studio (with their slime fountain) at Universal Studios until it's closing in 2005. Avatar: the Last Airbender was the last of the great Nick Toons produced at the Orlando studio.

After all these years, I still go back to Nick for quality television. I had never seen anything on American TV like Avatar: the Last Airbender. The elements (pun intended) of the show were treated with respect to the story and the audience. I haven't watched any of the recent Nick shows. I wonder if shows like iCarly is comparable the older shows like Clarissa or Alex Mack?

Throughout the years our friend Nick has been treating us well. In 2012 there will be a new Nick Toons. A continuation of the Avatar story, the Last Airbender: Legend of Korra. Recently, on July 25th, Nick started to air a block of programming called the 90's Are All That! It starts at midnight and the first shows included on this block are All That, Keenan and Kel, Clarissa Explains it All and Doug. Shows such as Salute Your Shorts, the Adventures of Pete and Pete and Are You Afraid of the Dark? are planned for future re-release. Nick, my old friend, you already
made me feel old by airing the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Nick at Nite and TV Land. Then you aired Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Teen Nick during the old people's time slot. Now, you're out right admitting that you're taking us back in time some 20 odd years? Wow! When did I get this old?
As I get older time gets less linear. A lot of events in my past became a series of disjointed emotions and "stuff" floating in a bubble. There's a pinwheel spinning around in there somewhere. I would not have remembered where this pinwheel came from if I didn't start to look up Nick again. Pinwheel was a show that aired on Nick from 1977 to 1990. Nickelodeon was actually known as the Pinwheel Channel (Nickelodeon Network) from 1977 to 1979. After 1979 the channel picked up more programming and this was when the name of the channel changed to Nickelodeon. Pinwheel, the show, was aired from a 3 to 5 hour block which was the original Nick Jr. time slot. The show collected animation from all around the world along with a couple of live action segments. Pinwheel is a part of my earliest memories and the theme song would never leave my head. It's the 2nd longest running show on Nick next to You Can't Do That on Television.

You Can't Do That on Television featured a comedic troupe from Canada made up of mostly kids. One of these kids later went on to become a signing artist you might know... Alanis Morrisette. The show used satire to talk about the issues of the 80's. It used jokes that the kids in that era liked. Such as knock knock jokes and "your mother is so _____" jokes. You Can't Do That on Television featured a secret word of the day and whomever spoke it would get green slime dumped on them. This slime became the trademark of Nick. Double Dare was a kid's game show that used the slime for their obstacle courses and wrong answers. Marc Summers hosted Double Dare. He later became the host of the Food Network's Unwrapped. The slime later went from green to orange and is still used as the logo for Nick.

You might think it's weird that I speak of a television channel as though it's my friend. Crazy maybe... weird? Ok, a bit, but during the 1980's our parents struggled to keep up with the high demand of living costs and that is when both parents needed to work. No more Dennis the Menace or Leave it to Beaver days when one working parent was enough to provide for the entire household. We were in the most part left to fend for ourselves against bullies, the unfairness of the world and the fear of nuclear war. Nick, like most of the children's programming of that time helped us realize our self worth and warned us of potential real life dangers while entertaining us at the same time. This is why we are so protective of our childhood shows; they (Nick) were protective of us. I will never forget Nick and the fun times I had sharing these shows with my friends and family. Even when I grow old and senile, I'll still remember a pinwheel... and I will hear an echo spinning me good morning and good night...

Nickelodeon Videos:

Pinwheel, pinwheel, spinning around.
Look at my Pinwheel and see what I've found.

Pinwheel, pinwheel, where have you been?
Hello, how are you, and may I come in?

Pinwheel, pinwheel spinning around.
Look at my Pinwheel and see what I found.

Pinwheel, pinwheel, breezy and bright.
Spin me good morning, spin me good night.

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