Among first generation cable networks, Nickelodeon was second only to MTV in establishing a distinctive identity and attitude. Kids became fans of the network just as much as the shows, in much the same way teens embraced MTV and grown-ups would later feel about Fox News. Those who were too young for MTV’s glory years will probably feel waves of nostalgia for Nick’s pre-SpongeBob SquarePants era, chronicled in Scott Barber & Adam Sweeney’s documentary, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story, which is now available on DVD.
Nickelodeon actually grew out of a modest cable experiment launched in Columbus, Ohio, mostly involving puppets. In its earliest years, it almost entirely relied on licensed international programming, but a lot of it was pretty cool, like Danger Mouse. Some of us will be disappointed there is no discussion of the vintage British science fiction series The Tomorrow People, which was so popular during its Nick run that the network rebooted it in the 1990s. From this period, only You Can’t Do that on Television has significant screen time, because it gets credit for developing the network’s kid-power attitude and launching their long-time association with slime.
As the title suggests, Orange Years mostly covers the period shorty after Nick dropped its silver orb logo (weirdly reminiscent of the Loc-Nar in Heavy Metal), concentrating on Geraldine Laybourne’s tenure as president. Plenty of shows are discussed that may or may not mean anything to viewers, depending on their age.
Rugrats, Doug, and Ren & Stimpy. Somewhat logically, Orange Years gives more time to the first two, since Ren & Stimpy has its own documentary, Cicero & Easterwood’s Happy Happy Joy Joy—and the show’s behind-the-scenes drama is so awkward.
Even if you did not grow up with these shows, it is interesting to watch the Network’s rise to prominence. Like Measom & Waldrop’s I Want My MTV, Barber & Sweeney present an intriguing mix of pop culture reminiscences and media business history, making it an insightful branding case study. Still, there must have been some failures along the way, but Orange Years only remembers the successes. Of course, that is what fans will probably want. Recommended for the nostalgic, The Orange Years is now available on DVD and BluRay.